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"As an Emigrant in Shanghai"

As an emigrant in Shanghai, Vienna Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, newspaper article 1939
Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, Vienna, April 4, 1939

In the initial years of Nazi rule, Jewish newspapers found it increasingly difficult to operate. Because the Third Reich was an authoritarian dictatorship that did not tolerate criticism in the press, and because Jewish life itself was under assault, Jewish newspapers found themselves in a precarious position after 1933.

The Nazis had always railed against the "Jewish press" because they believed that the "Jewish conspiracy"—which they were convinced was driving world events, against German and European "interests"—was manipulating news for its own purposes and spreading anti-German messages. The strong prevalence of Jewish journalists and editors in all German news media—a consequence of an uneven, century-long process of Jewish emancipation in the German lands—allowed the Nazis to accuse the Jews of "running" the press in Germany. From the early years of their rule, as part of a strategy of removing Jews from civil service and other public positions, the Nazis thus stripped Jewish owners of their newspapers, and fired Jewish journalists and editors.

But what was to be done with the actual Jewish press? What was to be done with publications that were not German outlets supposedly infiltrated by the Jews, but rather newsletters, journals, and newspapers published by Jewish organizations—the press, that is, by the Jews and for the Jews? The Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith), the largest German Jewish organization, ran its own weekly, distributing it among hundreds of thousands of Jews in Germany. Even as it had to tone down its reporting—much of the pre-1933 reporting alerted its readers of Nazi antisemitism and related issues—the newspaper continued its run into the Nazi period. Despite the threat of regime censorship and intervention, it nevertheless strove to provide information and news that was pertinent and useful to its readership.

The Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938 changed this radically. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis banned all Jewish newspapers and seized their assets. Simultaneously, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry mandated the founding of a single, Nazi-controlled Jewish information sheet, Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt ("The Jewish news journal"), published by the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland. The organization was set up and tightly controlled by Himmler's experts on anti-Jewish policy, and was, since September 1939, part of the SS Reich Main Security Office.1 This "Jewish" newspaper would have a wholly different function than the pre-Kristallnacht Jewish press. The new, Nazi-controlled publication was designed to convey the key points of Nazi policy and restrictions placed upon the Jews.

Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt offered news of the tightening Nazi regulations and orders pertaining to Jews in Germany, as well as reports and articles following current Nazi policy. Between 1938 and 1941, this meant Jewish emigration, and much space in the journal was devoted to information about possibilities of emigration, emigre stories and experiences, and related matters. The newspaper also featured a busy section of advertisements and notices, which inadvertently testified to the dire situation in which the Jews found themselves. Doctors unable to practice medicine sold their medical instuments and tools; single men and women looked for other singles with visas and exit permits, hoping to marry them and flee; people leaving the country sold entire households for next to nothing.

The Nachrichtenblatt was published in Berlin, and was supervised directly by the Propaganda Ministry, which approved all articles and print items in advance of publication. In two former capitals of countries swallowed up by the Reich—Vienna and Prague—other Nazi agencies supervised the publication of two "local" issues along the same lines and with largely similar content. Over time, the demographic consequences of emigration, deportation, and genocide shrunk the numbers of German Jews in the Reich, so did "their" journal shrink in size and frequency. By mid-1943, the publication of Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt ceased.2

This article, published in the Vienna edition of Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt a few months after Kristallnacht, illustrates well the key features of the journal. "As an Emigrant in Shanghai" was one of the many articles on the topic of Jewish emigration from the Reich, and especially from Vienna. Unlike German Jews, who had been persecuted since 1933, Austrian Jews had begun to live under Nazi rule only very recently, since the Anschluss of March 1938. Many Jews from Austria were now eager to emigrate to countries that would accept them, and leave the Reich and the Nazis behind. This, however, was very difficult, and was increasingly becoming impossible. The Nazis themselves, however, favored Jewish emigration as a "solution" to the "Jewish question" in this period and were eager to to spread the word among the Jews on the possibilities, benefits, and prospects of emigration. Thus, articles like "As an Emigrant in Shanghai" reflect a confluence of Nazi and Jewish concerns in this period, and a role that the Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt played in this confluence. Of course, the relationship between the Nazi state and the Jews was not one of two equal sides; and while the Nazis, who pulled all the levers of the state, favored emigration as a "solution" to a "problem" conjured up by their racist worldview, many Jews were eager to emigrate in order to save their lives.

Emigration was a key topic in all editions of the Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt in the period between Kristallnacht and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. After the failure of the Évian conference, the places where Jews could go and hope to stay became increasingly scarce and remote. The Chinese city of Shanghai, under Japanese occupation, was one of the few places that was open to Jews who could leave Europe and reach east Asia.3 These emigrants were mostly wealthy Jews who were able to book around-the-world cruises that would make a stop in Shanghai; many people also disembarked in the Egyptian Mediterranean port of Alexandria, hoping to reach Palestine. 

The anonymous article featured here is a matter-of-fact early account of refugee life in a faraway land. It contains useful information about the cost of living in Shanghai, as well as interesting observations of a Central European middle-class man, reflecting the stereotypes and worldviews of the time.

For more on the Reichsvereinigung, see Beate Meyer, A Fatal Balancing Act: The Dilemma of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, 1939-1945 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013).

For more details on the history of the newspaper, see Clemens Maier, "The Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, 1938-43" in Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon, and Chana Schütz, eds., Jews in Nazi Berlin: From Kristallnacht to Liberation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 100-21.

For a detailed history of Jews and other émigrés and refugees in Shanghai, see Marcia Reynders Ristaino, Port of Last Resort: The Diaspora Communities of Shanghai (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).

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"As an Emigrant in Shanghai"

A young Jew from Vienna who emigrated a few months ago to Shanghai writes to his family, among other things:

I came ashore in Hong Kong, where I was able to get the first cholera vaccination; if they are repeated twice in eight-day intervals, the inoculation lasts for 6 months. After completing the formalities in Shanghai (3 hours), I put my luggage in the depot and went to the American Navy Home (2 Shanghai-Dollars per night.) The exchange rate is 28 Shanghai-Dollars to 1 English Pound, and 1 Shanghai Dollar = 45 Reichsmarks. Then I looked for a room to rent and found a nice one in the French Konzession for 60 Shanghai-Dollars a month. That is a lot for here, but there is a serious housing shortage. In a boarding house, there isn't any food served. I'll eat in the Russian restaurant Altmann, 30 Shanghai-Dollars monthly for lunch and dinner. Laundry costs 5 cents per piece, the telephone 3 cents per call, rides 5 to 15 cents, breakfast 10 to 15 cents, so that the cost of living comes to around 130 Shanghai-Dollars per month. There is a relief committee, where it's possible to get some support.

The city of Shanghai has 3 million permanent Chinese residents and an additional 1.5 million Chinese refugees (sleeping on the street and working for 3 cents per day). In addition, there are 40,000 Russian refugees, not counting all of them, and 30,000 Europeans. The city is divided into the Chinese part, the International Settlement, Frenchtown (French colony), and the practically closed-off Japanese district. One [generally chooses to] live in Frenchtown. The city [center] with skyscrapers, etc. is located along the water in the settlement about 6 to 8 kilometers away.

Life here is very Chinese. Seeing a white man in the street is [as common as] meeting a Chinese man in Vienna. For every three white men, two are wearing uniforms. It's English, French, American, and Italian military personnel, then four kinds of police in the settlement and three in Frenchtown. It's arduous to have to constantly wash with Karabol etc. because of diseases (cholera). You can only drink bottled water or bottled water from Tsingtau.

I'll get a job as a technician in the near future.


In the second half of December, 562 Jewish immigrants came to Shanghai, 109 of whom were children. As a result, the number of [Jewish] emigrants in Shanghai has increased to 1,100. About a thousand new immigrants are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, Vienna, April 4, 1939
Date Created
April 4, 1939
Page(s) 1
Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt
Vienna, Austria
Vienna, Germany (historical)
Reference Location
Shanghai, China
Hong Kong, Great Britain (historical)
Document Type Newspaper Article
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