The Building in Shanghai That Became a Home to Jewish Refugees During World War II

Shanghai’s Embankment House was once the largest apartment building in Asia, and it remains an impressive feature of the city’s skyline. Writing from one of its apartments, Eleanor Goodman reflects on its history:

In the late 1930s, as the United States and many other countries were closing their doors and denying visas to Jewish applicants, . . . Shanghai was one of the few places where Jews could flee without any paperwork. It was a long journey from Germany, but once they arrived, they would be welcomed into an established community [consisting] largely of Russian and Baghdadi Jews. After Kristallnacht [in November 1938], nearly 20,000 Jews made it to safety in Shanghai. When they landed in the ports, many of them were taken here to Embankment House, where Victor Sassoon—the developer and owner, himself of Baghdadi Jewish origin—had converted the first several floors of the 1936 building, originally seven stories, into a receiving hall for refugees.

They were fed, registered, and given safe haven until they could find more permanent lodgings, often in the nearby Jewish quarter, where they were helped in myriad ways by the local population. Sassoon worked in concert with the Shanghai city government, aided by diplomats like He Fengshan, who issued visas to Jews in Austria—these allowed them not to enter Shanghai (it was an open port), but to leave their home country. For many of the lucky ones who made it out, Embankment House offered them their first sanctuary.

Read more at Paris Review

More about: History & Ideas, Holocaust, Refugees, Shanghai Ghetto, World War II

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem