Jewish Transit to China: “Die Gelbe Post”: A German Newspaper in Shanghai, 1939 – 1940

By Lea Katharina Neikes

The German Historical Institute (GHI) Washington DC, in collaboration with external partners, has organized an ongoing conference and workshop series about Jewish refugees in global transit between the 1930s and 1960s. The workshop was held 2018 in Kolkata, 2019 at the GHI Pacific Regional Office in Berkeley, and 2020 and 2021 as an online workshop due to the pandemic. As former interns, Paul Diekmann and I were invited to participate as guests at the Oct. 25-26 online workshop. Especially the discussion about the destination Shanghai, a rich and multifaceted topic, turned out to be fascinating.

After the November pogrom in 1938, while almost all other countries had closed their borders to German Jews, only Shanghai remained as one of the last places of refuge from the German Reich. Until 1941, it was still possible to enter the French and international parts of the city without a visa. Around 18,000 to 20,000 German-speaking refugees came to Shanghai. First by sea via Italian ports, later via the Soviet Union with the Trans-Siberian Railway or via intermediate stops in Africa and Asia. In addition, around 1,500 Jewish refugees from Japan were deported to Shanghai in 1941. The community grew to about 20,000 members during this time.

Cartoon, Die abgewiesenen Flüchtlinge, in: Die Gelbe Post, vol. 1, no. 2 (May 16, 1939), 28, original: Ken Magazine Chicago, cartoonist and copyrights unknown. Please contact href if you have any information about the rights holder.

The refugees had to adjust to the poor living conditions on site. Their experience offers a perspective on the war that is markedly different from the experiences of emigres to other countries. The history of Jewish refugees in Shanghai highlights that World War II was a complex combination of events, reflecting a variety of entanglements and disentanglements. After the beginning of WWII in the Pacific in December 1941, Shanghai came under full control of an Axis power: Japan. While Japan itself committed egregious war crimes, it shared neither the priorities nor the methods of the of the Germans who committed and supported the genocide.

The situation for the refugees worsened when the Japanese military authorities set up a ghetto for Jewish refugees in the Hongkou district in February 1943. Despite the adverse conditions, the emigrants developed a diverse cultural and social life with theater and music programs, newspapers, and the establishment of synagogues and schools. Still, the majority of Jews knew only German. There were no German-language newspapers and magazines in Shanghai at that time. Therefore, it was not easy to get information about what was going on in the world.

Josef Storfer, a disciple of Sigmund Freud, went into exile in Shanghai in 1938. In July 1938, he founded the magazine die  Gelbe Post (the Yellow Post), which appeared twice a month and dealt primarily with the daily struggle for survival of Jewish émigrés in Shanghai. In November 1938, the  Gelbe Post was transformed into a newspaper. It appeared daily until it was sold in September 1940. The newspaper quickly established international recognition.

Gelbe Post, vol. 7, no. 78 (May 5, 1940), LBI periodical collection online, https://archive.org/details/gelbepost

This did not go unnoticed in Nazi Germany.  Just two months after it was published, a well-informed, extensive article about Storfer and his magazine appeared in the vulgar anti-Semitic hate newspaper “Der Stürmer”. The name of the German author, who apparently had to live in Shanghai, is deliberately not mentioned: “From our collaborator in Shanghai,” is all it says. For them, Storfer who even in exile tried not to give up his Viennese cultural heritage, was also subject to racist persecution and demonization in Shanghai. The Stürmer wrote: “The Jew A. J. Storfer has now settled in Shanghai. He is working to inject his Jewish poison into wide circles of the Chinese people. Through his poison the Chinese people, who are already very decomposed by communism, shall perish completely.”[1] This example shows that the Nazi persecution did not end during the transit of the refugees. It had to be expected that Nazi supporters would remain in their environment.

The Jews in Shanghai, who had successfully escaped from the Nazi regime, continued to care and worry about the war in Europe, especially about the policies of Nazi Germany. Even though Shanghai was and felt far away from Europe, the emigrees were very worried that the war would extend further and come closer to Shanghai. Die Gelbe Post reported in almost every issue on political events, assessments of the war’s development and possible new immigration opportunities.

In Storfer’s obituary, a friend wrote: ” (…) He was always preoccupied with getting to the bottom of things (…) as deeply as possible.”[2] And in fact, there were entire articles in his newspaper devoted to the beauty and distinctiveness of Chinese and Japanese culture and language. Why were Jewish journalists and intellectuals in the changed political situation in Shanghai still focusing their attention “on the content and value of the superior Chinese culture”?

A few years after his arrival in Shanghai, the Jewish jurist and journalist Dr. Victor Sternberg stated in this regard:  “Above all, we have come to know the people of China, in that section which lives in Shanghai, to some extent, during the years of our stay here, and we have made a great discovery: the Chinese are people just like us. […]”[3] This discovery was partly owed to those exile journalists, like Storfer, who helped the Jewish emigrants in Shanghai to overcome the linguistic difficulties, especially the problems of understanding the Chinese mentality and Chinese culture.

The Jewish refugees living in Shanghai were considerate of their fellow residents and of their surroundings. For example, they reported on initial mistakes made by newcomers or advised on the proper, polite, way to treat rickshaw drivers. The report “Gangsterversicherung gegen Gangster in Hongkew”, published on the 5th of March 1940, speaks of thugs on Huoshan Street, who often came into the stores and collected the protection fees. Those who paid the protection fees had a note with “under protection” taped to the door of the store. Reports like this informed the Jewish businessmen about the various gangs in Shanghai and urged them to be careful. The Jewish refugees cared very much for their countrymen and wished that more refugees would be taken in by Shanghai.

Shanghai’s unique perspective and newspapers like the Yellow Post are a good reflection of the experiences and observations of the Jewish refugees stranded there. However, in order to evaluate these experiences in depth, one must evaluate biographical aspects to reconstruct time and feelings. There are always certain types of religious and cultural knowledge that have been passed down through generations, which may not be documented by documents and other sources While transit is frequently associated with trauma, it can also be associated with other aspects of the experience, such as humor, love or sexuality. Die Gelbe Post and Josef Storfer’s work demonstrate just that. A wide range of Exilpresse publications like the Gelbe Post and other journals (not only from Shanghai) can be accessed via the online catalog of the German national library, which also includes various exhibitions, publications and events. https://www.dnb.de/DE/Sammlungen/DEA/Exilpresse/exilpresse_node.html;jsessionid=58CB1B342758D91C72DBA2346543D980.internet532

See also:  Gelbe Post: ostasiatische Halbmonatsschrift. (Shanghai, China: 1939-1940), Leo Baeck Institute Periodical Collection, NYC, online at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/gelbepost (last accessed January 17, 2022).

[1] Kaufhold,Roland: Ein Wiener in Asien. https://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/kultur/ein-wiener-in-asien/ (Stand: 12.12.2021).

[2] Goddemeier, Christof: Adolf Josef Storfer: „Geist von der Eindringlichkeit eines Drillbohrers“. https://www.aerzteblatt.de/archiv/210735/Adolf-Josef-Storfer-Geist-von-der-Eindringlichkeit-eines-Drillbohrers (Stand: 12.12.2021).

[3] Lukoschik, Rita Unfer: Deutsch-chinesische Literaturbeziehungen. In: Hans-Gert Roloff (Hg.): Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik. Jahrgang XLVII – Heft 1, 2015.

References

  • Eber, Irene. Wartime Shanghai and the Jewish Refugees from Central Europe: Survival, Co-existence, and Identity in a Multi-ethnic City. 2012.
  • Kaufhold, Roland. Ein Wiener in Asien. Jüdische Allgemeine, Aug. 7, 2017 https://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/kultur/ein-wiener-in-asien/ (Accessed 12.12.2021).
  • Lämmert, Eberhard, Mencke, Eva, Maas, Lieselotte. Handbuch der deutschen Exilpresse 1933-1945. Bd. 3 1976.
  • Lukoschik, Rita Unfer. Deutsch-chinesische Literaturbeziehungen. In: Hans-Gert Roloff (Hg.): Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik. Jahrgang XLVII – Heft 1, 2015.
  • Lukoschik, Rita Unfer. Deutsch-chinesische Literaturbeziehungen. In: Hans-Gert Roloff (Hg.): Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik. Jahrgang XLVII – Heft 1, 2015.
  • Mars, Alvin. A Note on the Jewish Refugees in Shanghai. In: Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 31, Nr. 4, 1969.
  • Rosdy, Paul. Adolf Josef Storfer, Shanghai und die Gelbe Post. Dokumentation von Paul Rosdy zum Reprint der Gelben Post. 1999.
  • Rosdy, Paul. Adolf Josef Storfer, Shanghai und die Gelbe Post. Dokumentation von Paul Rosdy zum Reprint der Gelben Post. 1999.
  • Stiftung Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Hg.). Heimat und Exil: Emigration der deutschen Juden nach 1933. 2006.
  • Yutong, Wang/Yongting, Pan. Was stand in der Gelben Post? SISU, Sept. 25, 2016, http://de.shisu.edu.cn/resources/features/content5127 (Accessed 12.2021).


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