Reviewing Michael Meyer’s recent book on the history of Manchuria, Susan Blumberg-Kason notes the attention paid to the city of Harbin and its once-thriving Jewish community:
Harbin is probably the best known city in Manchuria and was once home to 30,000 Jews who either moved to China from Russia for economic reasons or [came to escape persecution]. Most were stateless, no longer citizens of Russia but also not of China. According to Meyer, in the heyday of Jewish Harbin, the city boasted two synagogues and twenty Jewish periodicals, including something called the Siberia-Palestine Weekly.
It was this community where the grandfather of the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert lived. Olmert’s grandfather is buried in the Jewish cemetery there. A century later, the Chinese government has restored one of the two former synagogues in Harbin and has turned it into a Jewish-history research center. Meyer writes that the last Jew left Harbin as late as 1985, a solid decade after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Just a few years ago the Chinese government announced that it would restore the other synagogue, which had been used as a hostel.
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