Shanghai revives Jewish architecture
A once-thriving Jewish culture in Shanghai's Tilanqiao area is to be revived on the site of its former heyday.
Almost 30,000 Jewish refugees settled in the area, around the northern Bund, during World War II, and set up schools, libraries, cafes, synagogues and even their own newspapers.
Many of the exiles were highly talented professionals -- teachers, editors, reporters, writers, painters, musicians and sportsmen.
At the end of the war, they gradually left for Israel, the United States and Canada.
After nearly five decades ignoring its Jewish legacy, Shanghai is waking up to this unique part of the city's history and looking at preserving aspects of the Tilanqiao area, which has been listed as one of the 12 key historical zones in the city.
"To return the old Jewish neighbourhood culture back to Tilanqiao, an urgent task is to get rid of widespread temporary cabins illegally put up by locals. It has already ruined the original look of the community and obscured those nice historical buildings," said Wang Weiqiang, a professor with Tongji University, at a hearing held by Hongkou District People's Congress on Monday.
"The famous Ohel Moishe Synagogue, one of the only two surviving synagogues in Shanghai, built in 1927 by a Russian Jew, has already been crowded with illegal constructions around, making an unharmonious scene in the area."
He said the renovation of Tilanqiao should introduce some high-end businesses to the area. The current rash of low-standard eateries and food stands not only affects the street scene but also ruins the look of existing old buildings.
"The renovation should be focused on the protection of historical sites rather than on exploiting its commercial potential," Wang Fengqing, a local pensioner, said at the hearing.
Jewish houses, synagogues, parks and cafes still stand in Tilanqiao, but most have either been converted to other uses or fallen into ruin.
"Although the city in 2002 put forward regulations on the protection of historical architectural zones, there is still no specific protection commission or team," Wang said.
Hua Jian, a researcher from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, suggested some of the old architecture in the area could be vacated to attract artists or writers to the area. "It would help in providing some cultural atmosphere which is important for such historical zones," he said.
Records show that shortly before World War II broke out, doors throughout the world began closing to Jewish refugees -- leaving Shanghai as one of the only places they could go to without a visa. Thousands of Jews poured into Shanghai in the 1930s.
In 1948 the population had dwindled to 10,000, and by 1976, there were only about 10 Jews left in Shanghai.