From Kobe to Shanghai 

After the yeshiva and the refugees left Kobe by ship, Wednesday, 27th of Av, (August 20, 1941), they arrived in Shanghai on Friday, a few hours before Shabbos. 

The situation in Shanghai was quite different than in Kobe. Shanghai was a far more “Western” city. The Europeans there had a stronger presence and a longer history than they had in Japan. For example, the European community included 20,000 German Jews who had escaped to Shanghai fleeing from the Nazis.

Compared to Kobe, the Jewish Community was much stronger. The Sefardic community had two shuls, and the Russian community had one. Their Rav, Rabbi Ashkenazi, served as Rav of the entire European community.   Shanghai had kosher food, shechita and other cornerstones of an established community. Politically, the city was divided into 4 quarters: the French Quarter, the American section, etc.                  

The refugees initially stayed in one of the Sefardi shuls, but later moved into the Jewish Community Center. This was in the American quarter. As soon as it was possible, they re-established their Bais Medrosh, established a kitchen, and assigned sleeping quarters. Although they were establishing themselves in Shanghai, their stay in Kobe was still lingering with them.  

Many of the students and refugees started getting unusual medical symptoms which involved a swelling of the lips and a blistering of the tongues. A physician from Poland, Dr. Steinmetz, examined them and prescribed a vitamin regimen, which was not very effective. Finally, he ordered them to add raw yeast to their diets. It didn’t taste good, but in relatively short order, the symptoms went away!

But they still had “diet” worries. The flour was infested with worms, and it needed to be sifted, and re-sifted. After cakes or breads were baked, they were sliced into small pieces for re-examination.

Rabbi and Rebitzen Ashkenazi were very committed to the Lubavitchers in their care. Others that helped were Mr. Chanin and Boruch Stein, who, with Rebitzen Ashkenazi, made sure that they had all of the necessities for farbrengens, especially on Yud Tes Kislev and Yud Beis Tammuz.

As we discussed earlier, nine of the senior bochurim were able to leave to Canada two days before Yom Kippur, 5702 (via America). Rabbi Hendel relates that they went to Rabbi Ashkenazi, told him there was room on a ship departing before Yom Kippur, and asked that arrangements be made for their departure. Rabbi Ashkenazi was somewhat reluctant, since it was just before Yom Kippur, and the bochurim would be leaving the new Yeshiva. Motza’ei Shabbos, Rabbi Ashkenazi called the bochurim in and told them “You won. The Previous Rebbe telegrammed me and told me to do everything in my power to help you leave. “

After they left, Rabbi Garfinkle, Rabbi Moshe Feder, Yosef Bornstein obm, and my father Rabbi Raichik shouldered the responsibility for the rest of the bochurim. (These were the same four who received the letter from the Rebbe regarding learning while in Vilna.) My father told one “Tamim,” Mordechai Lurie, “Mottle, sit and learn. I will take care of you.”

All the Yeshivas needed money, but the one with the least support was the Lubavitch Yeshiva. The Vaad Hatzoloh was a group based in New York that supported all of the Yeshivas stranded during the war. The Mir Yeshiva had reliable and steady funding. In Chabad, there were certain months when the money arrived and certain months when it didn’t. (See Previous Rebbe’s letters, Vol. 5 pg. 368 - Vol. 6 pg. 171-173, 196-197) 

The Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelovitch, saw that the Lubavitch Yeshiva boys literally went without basic food and other necessities, so he graciously offered to absorb the Lubavitchers into his Yeshiva. He would tell his committee of supporters that he had 30 more talmidim. They sent the yeshiva a stipend ($19 a bochur according to my father’s records).

Nevertheless, the Lubavitchers would not abolish one of the Rebbe’s Yeshivahs. Moreover, the seder of the yeshiva was quite different from that of Mir, and the times for learning, davening and meals were quite dissimilar. So, the Lubavitchers decided to “stick it out.”

Rabbi Ashkenazi collected funds for the yeshiva, and kept extensive records and a clear accounting of monies collected and dispersed. This became the preferred channel for baale battim to contribute funds to the yeshiva.

One such donor was a Mr. Aryeh Leib Berelovsky, a Russian Jew who lived in Shanghai. My father became closely attached to both Aryeh Leib and his son. Reb Mordechai Bryski relates that after Mr. Berelovsky donated funds, they were able to cook a soup, and they celebrated as if it were a Yom Tov!

Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet obm related a story that happened to Rabbi Ashkenazi. One of his Baale Battim said “I had a dream where an honorable-looking Rabbi asked me ‘Why are you not taking care of my children?’” Rabbi Ashkenazi showed him a photograph of the previous Rebbe, asking “Is this him?” “Yes!” Rabbi Ashkenazi continued, “You must support the Yeshiva to have all that they need.”   And he did.

Even though the Lubavitchers could merge with the Mir Yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuelovitch was concerned about the welfare of the Lubavitchers.   Rabbi Shmuelovitch arranged that two of his students would meet the Lubavitchers, who could pick up unmarked sacks of basic provisions clandestinely from the Mir Yeshiva weekly at 4 o’clock in the morning. Rabbi Chaim M. Bukiet was one Lubavitcher that was assigned to pick up the rice and onions from the Mir commissary in the darkness of night. Many years later, in Chicago, Illinois, Rabbi Bukiet came across his Mirrer colleague. They hugged and reminisced about the situation in Shanghai. (This story was related by his son, Rabbi Levi Bukiet.)

To collect money to help support the Yeshiva, Rabbi Garfinkle and Shmuel Moshe Lederhandler traveled from Shanghai to Teintsin. They had very successful trip and the kehilla in Teintsin offered to support the entire Yeshiva.   Rabbi Garfinkle departed as soon as possible with the bulk of the funds, but on his train ride back to Shanghai, soldiers confiscated the money. After pleading, the soldiers returned half of the money. The community to Tseintsin wanted to host the yeshiva and cover all expenses, and Shmuel Moshe was left to finish the details.

As it always seemed to happen in this saga, the unplanned and unpredictable occurred. Japan attacked and invaded Pearl Harbor and invaded China. Travel within China became impossible, and Lederhandler was trapped in Teintsin for the remainder of the war.

The morning after their Yud Tes Kislev farbrengen, the bochurim in Shanghai heard the tragic news about Pearl Harbor. Hopes for departure to America were dashed, and the situation in Shanghai also changed dramatically.

In February 18, 1943, the Lubavitch and Chochmei Lubliner Yeshivas were ordered to move, within 90 days, to a different quarter, the Hongkew (or Chinese) section. This was a much poorer area with fewer Europeans. (The Sefardic and Russian communities were not ghettoized, and the Mir was not uprooted, however.) To leave Hongkew, they needed permission to exit. To be caught going between the two quarters without a pass would incur a significant fine.

The one way to get a pass was to visit the Japanese military government officials. A short and very heavy Japanese officer, Officer Goya, went crazy when he saw tall, fair, Europeans. He had a very unique way of “charging” for a transit pass to the other quarters. He would stand on a chair and slap the face of the applicant. My father, needing to meet with Rabbi Ashkenazi, met with Officer Goys daily. It was not pleasant, but not life threatening, and this was part of the process to keep the yeshiva financially viable.

The Germans were telling their allies, the Japanese, how to deal with the Jews. After all, they were spies! At one time, they ordered the leader of the Jews to the Japanese Military command. The Amshinover Rebbe was ordered to their office.

They curtly asked him why their allies, the Germans, hated the Jews so deeply.

The Amshinover Rebbe answered, without a pause, “They hate us because we are from the East. They believe that all Easterners, including those from Japan, are inferior to them.”

With that succinct reply, the attitude of the Japanese military immediately changed.  

To be continued.

I would like to express my appreciation to Reb Shimon Goldman, Rabbi Avrohom Garfinkel, and Chaim Rosenberg (grandson of Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Rosenberg, one of the T’mimim of Shanghai) for their contributions to this article.