Introducing ‘The Holocaust and Hong Kong: an overlooked history’

Today we are introducing an article ‘The Holocaust and Hong Kong: an overlooked history’ by Cheuk Him Ryan Sun, University of British Columbia.

This passage discusses the overlooked role of Hong Kong as a colonial entrepot in facilitating human mobility, trade, and refuge within the networks of the British Empire. While Hong Kong served as a transit port and refuge for various groups throughout history, the movement of Austrian and German-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust has often been neglected. Traditional narratives of Jewish refugee migration have focused on European and Western destinations, with Shanghai being mentioned as the primary port of refuge in Asia. However, recent scholarship adopting a Global Holocaust perspective has expanded the understanding of Jewish exile and the impact of the Nazi genocidal project worldwide. The author aims to elevate Hong Kong’s significance as another site within this broader landscape and examine the marginalized relationship between Hong Kong and the Holocaust.

As the avenues of escape began to close for Jews in Nazi Germany, one destination remained open: Shanghai. In the historiography about Jewish emigration to East Asia, Shanghai occupies the pedestal of being the only place in the world that did not have immigration barriers. This unique status came from the city’s position as a site of European semi-colonialisms: in addition to Chinese jurisdiction, parts of the city was divided between the French Concession and the International Settlement.

Many of the movement of Jewish refuge through Hong Kong was no secret. One South China Morning Post article published on December 19, 1938 painted a striking image: of the 538 German-Jewish refugees onboard the Conte Biancamano, few had any belongings besides their clothes, and fewer still had jobs lined up or spoke English. Most were families that included the elderly and young children. And many onboard were victims of the November Pogrom.

Hong Kong, as a British colony, had similar restrictions that regulated mobility as Britain did. Non-Chinese individuals seeking entry to Hong had to hold a valid passport or travel document accompanied with a valid entry visa. For most Jewish refugees, this was the major barrier that made Hong Kong inaccessible. However, the local Jewish Refugee Society, founded in response to the 1938 November pogroms, headed by Albert Raymond and other prominent members of Hong Kong’s Jewish community like Moses Talan and Lawrence Kadoorie, provided support by soliciting donations and offering temporary accommodations. They also obtained permission from the colonial authorities to allow refugees to enter the city during stopovers, providing a lifeline for some.

Jewish refugees who managed to secure entry visas often did so after arriving in Shanghai and obtaining a job in Hong Kong. Another option was family sponsorship visas, which was made possible by the government only after petitions from the Jewish Refugee Society. Yet few were able to breach Hong Kong’s ‘paper walls.’ The unfortunate reality was that for most Jewish refugees, their first and last encounter with Hong Kong occurred on the way to Shanghai.

For those Jewish refugees who found shelter in Hong Kong, a sense of normality briefly returned despite living in a foreign environment. However, the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent declaration of war by Britain against Nazi Germany on the morning of September 3 1939 changed everything. Governor Geoffrey Northcote and members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council followed in the response, placing Hong Kong under wartime rule. Immediately, Jewish refugees along with other German nationals, were considered “enemy aliens”, overnight, 99 male “enemy aliens” were sent to La Salle College in Kowloon for internment, but treated them with “respectable” European standards compared to those of Chinese refugees, for example they were initially allowed to hire Chinese staff to prepare meals, clean dishes, and do other chores. Although some internees were quickly released between late-September and early-October, they were required to carry pink identification cards, weekly check-ins at local police stations, and faced various restrictions on their activities, effectively turning Hong Kong into a colony-wide internment camp as they were forbidden to leave.

Eight months later, in the summer of 1940, Jewish refugees in Hong Kong faced expulsion due to fears of sabotage and fifth column activities following Nazi Germany’s rapid victories in Europe. However, the order of expulsion was retracted on the following day, June 7, the Hong Kong colonial government replaced it with a vague statement about a potential but undetermined action, causing uncertainty among the Jewish community. Eventually, the colonial authorities declared that those who did not leave by the new deadline of July 8 would not be assured separate internment from Nazi Germans and might not be interned in Hong Kong at all. With the possibility of finding refuge in Hong Kong eliminated, the Jewish Refugee Society and Lawrence Kadoorie collaborated with their counterparts in Shanghai to arrange for the remaining 60 Jewish refugees to leave Hong Kong by securing necessary documents. By the end of July 1940, all Jewish refugees, except for two families, had departed from Hong Kong.

The postwar period saw Hong Kong resume its function as a transit port – this time for Shanghai Jewish survivors eager to leave the city for home in Europe, or to new permanent destinations. The Jewish Refugee Society and Lawrence Kadoorie played a significant role in organizing the transit of these refugees through Hong Kong, working with organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the Joint) and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in organizing the transit of Shanghai-based refugees through Hong Kong and to Australia. Meticulous planning was necessary due to the reluctance of the Hong Kong colonial government to accommodate a large number of refugees. 286 Stranded refugees were provided with housing and catering at the Peninsula Hotel by Lawrence Kadoorie while efforts were made to find transportation solutions between August 1946 and January 1947. The refugees themselves benefited from Kadoorie’s generosity with picnics on Chinese junks for children or outing to Kadoorie’s mansion located on the exclusive Victoria Peak. Eventually, the crisis was resolved, and by late January 1947, the last of the Shanghai Jewish refugees departed for Australia. Hong Kong continued to be an important financial and migration hub until its handover to China in 1997.

Integrating Hong Kong into Holocaust narratives entails shifting the focus from mass murder to mass migration and emphasizing the agency of individual refugees and their responses to displacement. It also involves adopting a refugee-centered approach that engages with British colonial politics. The passage argues that integrating Hong Kong into the Holocaust has broader implications beyond methodology, as it reveals an unsettling relationship where British colonial administrators and officials both saved and contributed to the displacement of refugees.



猶太難民途經香港並不是秘密。1938年12月19日刊登在《南華早報》上的一篇文章描繪了一個引人注目的場景: Conte Biancamano遠洋輪船上的538名德國猶太難民,除了衣物外幾乎沒有財物,更不要說已經找到工作或會講英文。其中大多數是包括老人和幼童在內的家庭。許多人都是「碎玻璃之夜」的受害者。(1938年11月9日至10日凌晨,納粹黨員、德國反猶民眾與衝鋒隊襲擊德國全境的猶太人的事件,且黨衛隊、警方和德國政府皆冷眼旁觀,沒有出手阻止。這被認為是對猶太人有組織的屠殺的開始)

作為英國殖民地,香港對人口流動實行與英國相似的限制。非華裔進入香港必須持有有效護照或旅行文件,並附有有效入境簽證。對大多數猶太難民來說,這是無法進入香港的主要障礙。然而,因應「碎玻璃之夜」而成立,由Albert Raymond與其他香港猶太群體知名成員如 Moses Talan和羅蘭士嘉道理(Lawrence Kadoorie) 領導的猶太難民協會(Jewish Refugee Society),通過募款和向難民提供臨時住所。他們還獲得了殖民當局的許可,允許難民在通往其他城市間中途停留香港,這成為了他們的救命草。


對於在香港找到住所的猶太難民來說,儘管生活在陌生環境中,卻也短暫重回日常。然而,二戰爆發以及隨後英國在1939年9月3日上午對納粹德國的宣戰改變了一切。香港總督羅富國(Geoffrey Northcote)和香港立法局成員隨即宣佈香港進入戰時狀態。猶太難民以及其他德國國民立刻被視為「敵國僑民」(enemy aliens),99名男性「敵國僑民」被送往位於九龍的喇沙書院拘留,但與中國難民相比,他們受到更好的「體面」待遇,例如最初允許他們聘請中國員工為他們準備飯菜、洗碗和做其他家務。儘管一些被拘留者在9月底至10月初被迅速釋放,但他們被要求攜帶粉紅色的身份證,每週到警察局報到,並面臨各種活動限制,他們被禁止離開,香港變成他們的拘留營。


戰後香港恢復作為轉運港的功能,這次是為急於離開上海返回在歐洲家園或新定居地的猶太倖存者。猶太難民協會和羅蘭士嘉道理在組織這些難民以香港作為中轉發揮了重要作用,他們與美猶聯合求濟委員會(American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee)和聯合國善後救濟總署(United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration)等組織合作,協助來自上海的難民途經香港往澳洲。由於香港殖民政府不願收納大量難民,因此他們需要仔細規劃。1946年8月至1947年1月期間,在努力尋找交通解決方案的同時,羅蘭士嘉道理為286名受困香港的難民提供半島酒店住所和餐飲。這些難民受惠於嘉道理的慷慨,孩子得以在中式船上野餐,或者前往嘉道理位於太平山的豪宅郊遊。最終,危機得到解決,至1947年1月底,最後一批上海猶太難民離開香港前往澳洲。


‘The Holocaust and Hong Kong: an overlooked history’ by Cheuk Him Ryan Sun, University of British Columbia.
Screen Captured From:
香港社會發展回顧項目 The Hong Kong Heritage Project