Jewish Refugees in Post-war China
Researcher name:
Kimberly Cheng (Ph.D. Candidate, New York University, Hebrew & Judaic Studies and History)
Fellowship:
2018-2019 Breslauer, Rutman & Anderson Research Fellow
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Kimberly Cheng’s dissertation research focuses central European Jewish refugee life in Shanghai from 1937 to 1951. She viewed the VHA as indispensable to her research, arguing that no other archive has such a vast holding of material on Shanghai’s Jewish refugees. In addition to filling a scholarly gap on postwar life in Shanghai, Cheng’s project importantly reconfigures Holocaust geography to include Asia and bridges East Asian Studies and Holocaust Studies to bring the Jewish and Chinese parts of the story together. One of her findings with testimony complicates the notion that refugees universally embraced the promise that American troops and liberation represented. She discovered accounts of ambivalence, fear, and animosity towards the troops that resulted from fears of sexual assault and experiences of anti-Semitism.

Despite the considerable number of Central European Jews who found refuge in Shanghai (more than 20,000), most scholars have neglected the postwar period in Shanghai altogether, focusing instead on refugee emigration out of China and resettlement abroad. The existing scholarship on Jewish refugees in Shanghai is split between the fields of Holocaust studies and East Asian studies.

In addition to filling a scholarly gap on postwar life in Shanghai, Cheng’s project also importantly reconfigures Holocaust geography to include Asia and bridges East Asian Studies and Holocaust Studies to bring the Jewish and Chinese parts of the story together. Additionally, Cheng benefited a great deal from the photographs in the VHA, which were as valuable to her research as the testimony she watched.

One major focus during her residency was exploring the impact of American troops on the ground in Shanghai. In the testimonies, while survivors mostly recall positive feelings about liberation, the presence of American troops, and the work and futures the American troops and liberation represented, Cheng also discovered survivor accounts of ambivalence, fear, and animosity that resulted from fears of sexual assault and experiences of anti-Semitism from the troops. These insights complicate the notion that the refugees all embraced the promise that American troops represented.

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