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Thu Dec 26, 2019, 12:29 PM

CITIES OF ICE A dispatch from frozen Harbin, where Jews once flourished--and melted away

This was in my email this morning and I found it to be fascinating. More of our history!


<snippet> The first Jews arrived in 1898 and incorporated an official community in 1903, by which time this plan was working splendidly. A 1904 National Geographic article written by a U.S. consul to Manchuria reported, wide-eyed, that “one of the greatest achievements in city construction that the world has ever witnessed is now going on in the heart of Manchuria,” and that “the capital for most of the private enterprises is furnished by Siberian Jews.” These Jewish entrepreneurs created Harbin’s first hotels, banks, pharmacies, insurance companies, department stores, publishing houses, and more; by 1909, 12 of the 40 members of Harbin’s City Council were Jewish. These initial entrepreneurs were joined by Jewish refugees fleeing the 1905 pogroms, then by even more refugees fleeing World War I and the Russian Civil War.

At its peak, Harbin’s Jewish community numbered around 20,000. The “Old” Synagogue was built in 1909, and by 1921 there was enough demand for a “New” Synagogue a few blocks away, as well as a kosher slaughterer, ritual bath, and matzo bakery, not to mention a Jewish elementary and secondary school, a hospital, a charity kitchen, a free loan association, an old-age home, multiple magazines and newspapers, performances of Jewish music and theater, and Zionist clubs that were the center of many young people’s lives. Harbin hosted major international Zionist conferences that drew Jews from all over Asia. Zionist parades were held in the streets.

You already know this story has to end badly. Like almost every place Jews have ever lived, Harbin was great for the Jews until it wasn’t—but in Harbin, the usual centuries-long rise and fall was condensed into something like 30 years. The flood of refugees from the 1917 Russian Revolution included many non-Jewish “White” (anti-Communist) Russians, whose virulent anti-Semitism was soon institutionalized in a fascist party that burned the Old Synagogue in 1931. That was also the year the Japanese occupied Manchuria, noticed rich Jews there, and decided they wanted their money. Conveniently, White Russian thugs were ready to help.

The Japanese gendarmerie embarked on a partnership with White Russian criminals, whom they used to target Jewish business owners and their families for extortion, confiscation, kidnapping, and murder. Later they manipulated the Jewish community for their purposes, sending Abraham Kaufman, a respected physician and the community’s elected leader, off to two separate audiences with the Japanese emperor, and forcing him to publish official statements from Harbin’s Jewish community announcing their love for Nazi-allied Japan. Things did not improve when the Soviets took over in 1945; the first thing they did was round up the city’s remaining Jewish leaders, including Dr. Kaufman, and send them to gulags. Dr. Kaufman endured 11 years in a gulag and then five years in exile in Kazakhstan before he was allowed to join his family in Israel. He was the luckiest; no one else survived. Then again, dying in a gulag was less dramatic than the fate of some Jews under the Japanese. While retreating from the Manchurian town of Hailar, the Japanese military beheaded its Jewish residents.

By 1949 Chinese Maoists controlled Harbin. The thousand-plus Jews still in town were gradually stripped of their businesses and livelihoods, while Israel’s government made secret contact with Harbin’s remaining Jews and began arranging for them to leave—a process that mostly involved submitting to extortion. As one Israeli official explained, “It is obvious that the Communist government is keen to clear the country of the foreign element. However … the authorities make things very difficult as long as the person who wants to leave is still in funds, and lets the person go only after making quite sure that his personal funds are exhausted.” The last Jewish family left town in 1962. After that, only one Jew remained in the city, a woman named Hannah Agre who refused to leave. Leaning into the crazy-old-lady motif, she moved into a tiny room in the Old Synagogue (by then the building, its interior subdivided, was being used as government office space) and died there in 1985, the official Last Jew of Harbin.


Entire article here: https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/283410/cities-of-ice?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=e71ccfd396-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_12_24_06_26&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-e71ccfd396-206808209

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Reply CITIES OF ICE A dispatch from frozen Harbin, where Jews once flourished--and melted away (Original post)
EllieBC Dec 2019 OP
CanonRay Dec 2019 #1
COLGATE4 Dec 2019 #2
marble falls Dec 2019 #3
Behind the Aegis Dec 2019 #4
EllieBC Dec 2019 #5

Response to EllieBC (Original post)

Thu Dec 26, 2019, 12:55 PM

1. Great read, thanks

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Response to EllieBC (Original post)

Thu Dec 26, 2019, 01:00 PM

2. Another demonstration (if one were necessary)

of the wisdom of the saying that "Jews always have one bag packed".

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Response to EllieBC (Original post)

Thu Dec 26, 2019, 05:17 PM

3. Got this from Wikipedia ...

The first generation of Harbin Russians were mostly the builders and employees of the Chinese Eastern Railway. They moved to Harbin in order to work on the railroad. At the time Harbin was not an established city. The city was almost built from scratch by the builders and early settlers. Houses were constructed, furniture and personal items were brought in from Russia. After the plague epidemic, Harbin's population continued to increase sharply, especially inside the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone. In 1913 the Chinese Eastern Railway census showed its ethnic composition as: Russians – 34313, Chinese (that is, including Hans, Manchus etc.) – 23537, Jews – 5032, Poles – 2556, Japanese – 696, Germans – 564, Tatars – 234, Latvians – 218, Georgians – 183, Estonians – 172, Lithuanians – 142, Armenians – 124; there were also Karaims, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, and some Western Europeans. In total, 68549 citizens of 53 nationalities, speaking 45 languages.[30] Research shows that only 11.5 percent of all residents were born in Harbin.[31] By 1917, Harbin's population exceeded 100,000, with over 40,000 of them were ethnic Russians.[32]

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In the early 1920s, according to Chinese scholars' recent studies, over 20,000 Jews lived in Harbin.[39] After 1919, Dr. Abraham Kaufman played a leading role in Harbin's large Russian Jewish community.[40] The Republic of China discontinued diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1920, so many Russians found themselves stateless. When the Chinese Eastern Railway and government in Beijing announced in 1924 that they agreed the railroad would only employ Russian or Chinese nationals, the emigres were forced to announce their ethnic and political allegiance. Most accepted Soviet citizenship.


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dropped to around 30,000.[58]

Many of Harbin's Jews (13,000 in 1929) fled after the Japanese occupation as the Japanese associated closely with militant anti-Soviet Russian Fascists, whose ideology of anti-Bolshevism and nationalism was laced with virulent anti-Semitism.[59] The Kwantung Army sponsored and financed the Russian Fascist Party, which after 1932 started to play an over-sized role in the Harbin's Russian community as its thugs began to harness and some times killed those opposed to it. Most Jews left for Shanghai, Tianjin, and the British Mandate of Palestine.[60] In the late 1930s, some German Jews fleeing the Nazis moved to Harbin. Japanese officials later facilitated Jewish emigration to several cities in western Japan, notably Kobe, which came to have Japan's largest synagogue.


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Harbin once housed one of the largest Jewish communities in the Far East before World War II. It reached its peak in the mid-1920s when 25,000 European Jews lived in the city. Among them were the parents of Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister of Israel. In 2004, Olmert came to Harbin with an Israeli trade delegation to visit the grave of his grandfather in Huang Shan Jewish Cemetery,[66] which had over 500 Jewish graves identified.[33]



An extraordinary history.

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Response to EllieBC (Original post)

Thu Dec 26, 2019, 05:50 PM

4. Love "The Tablet"!

This is history I'd never heard. It is very, very interesting, especially given all the geo-political bullshit currently happening in that area of the world.

THANKS!!

Chag Chanukah sameach!

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #4)

Fri Dec 27, 2019, 01:46 AM

5. I hadn't heard of this community either!

Fascinating to say the least but the ending is sad. Like another poster said, we always have one bag packed.

Chag sameach!

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