China – Unusual Resources for Family Research

Published in the Syllabus of the 26th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in New York, New York, August 2006


Family research for former residents of China relies on finding resources outside of China. As with all areas of Jewish genealogical research, valuable resources have become available in more recent years in addition to those that existed earlier.

Although Judaism was never a recognised religion in China, today there is a surprising interest in Jews and Judaism. This follows the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Israel in 1992 and close cultural and academic exchanges. Five tertiary centers of Jewish studies exist. Seminars on the centuries-old Jewish presence and connection in China, Judaism and Jewish thought are frequently held. The semi-permanent Jewish population is now only in the hundreds. Preservation of former Jewish buildings or landmarks is currently a priority by the various Chinese civic authorities.


The first reference to family research for former China residents should be the Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy. The chapter on China describes a methodology for research in the absence of locally available vital records. This has not changed since the Guide’s publication in 2004, except that a number of very significant resources have come to light in various archives and elsewhere.

Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP), Jerusalem

JGSNY generously provided the funds to microfilm the original CAHJP-held Shanghai HIAS Lists with vital data on 8528 family units. These can now be searched at the CAHJP and at YIVO.

CAHJP also holds archives of the pre-war Jewish Community of Vienna known as Archiv der Israelitischen Kultusgemeinde Wien or Archives of IKG Wien. A complete inventory of the massive 700,000 pages relevant to Holocaust research is available on the CAHJP website. For China research there are files with various lists of emigrating Austrians in the period 1940/1941 mostly on subsidised travel via Siberia.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Washington DC

In 2001, the IKG reclaimed a very large collection of their Holocaust documents found in a vacant apartment in Vienna. The collection of about 350,000 pages includes deportation lists, name and card files, photographs, etc. Decades of neglect caused deterioration. An agreement between the USHMM and the IKG Wien allowed the USHMM to fund the microfilming of the whole collection in Vienna as well as the larger IKG collection at the CAHJP.

Austrian Deaths in Shanghai: The above collection also includes a card index file for about 300 Austrian refugees who died in Shanghai with vital and other data.

Small collections: The USHMM Archival Guide to the Collections contains many donated items related to former China residents. Some contain genealogical data as well as other personal correspondence and files related to their survival in Shanghai.

US National Archives

Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) Records: As the Chinese Communists were taking over Shanghai in 1949, many boxes of SMP files were handed over to the Americans. They are held at Archive II in College Park, Maryland. The Finding Aid for the files known as CIA Record Group 263 is M1750 and it covers Records of the SMP as well as the Tsingtao (now Qingdao) Municipal Police for the period 1894-1949.

Most of the files deal with police investigation or authoritative matters but there are files with significant genealogical data, such as “List of German Refugees arrived in Shanghai since 1937”, (with nearly 1,000 names); 500 Russian Ashkenazi family names participating in an old clothes collection; “Certificates of Character” with biographic information on Russian Jews for the years 1933 to 1940.

US Foreign Service (Shanghai) – Ql10ta Registration Book 1946-1950: This is a visa application register with mostly Central European refugees. A Mormon filmed copy of the register contains 550 frames with over 1000 names.

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York

YIVO in New York accumulated many materials on the Shanghai Jewish community directly from their representatives in Shanghai from 1946 to 1948. This collection is known as RG 243.

YIVO has extensive files on the activities of HIAS in the Far East. Collection RG 352 covering the period 1918-1955 comprises material relating to Jewish immigration to the Far East, when HIAS was based first in Harbin and later in Shanghai. There is substantial correspondence with lists of names from 1946 onwards relating to the immigration of refugees to various destinations around the world, such as Israel.

Cemeteries and Tombstones

Shanghai Cemeteries: before the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, there were four Jewish cemeteries filled with about 3700 graves. The oldest cemetery was founded in 1862 following the arrival of the Sephardi Jews and the last cemetery in 1941 after the influx of the European refugees.

In 1958 the tombstones of the four cemeteries were dismantled and then re-interred in one large cemetery in an outer suburb of Shanghai, but were desecrated during the PRC’s 10-year cultural revolution from 1966 onwards. During the 1990s the first signs appeared that a small number of tombstones still existed, some whole, some partial. More recently, largely due to an Israeli, Dvir Bar-Gal, close to 90 have been found. Their names and other details are posted on the website – see

Harbin Cemetery: the Huangshan (Royal Hill) Jewish Cemetery is located on the eastern side of Harbin. In 1958 the tombstones were moved there from its original site. Today it holds 583 well­ preserved graves. The names of 515 of these with dates of death are searchable on-line on two websites, JewishGen’s JOWBR database (with names in English) and the website for the Jews of China under the Harbin section (with names in Russian Cyrillic).

Tienstin (Tianjin) Cemetery: the Chin Lin Chwang Jewish cemetery no longer exists but there is a list of tombstones in the Tienstin Archives maintained by Igud Yotzei Sin in Israel.

Bremen Passenger Lists: Ships that sailed from Bremen, Germany, to destinations all over the world, including Shanghai for the years 1920-1939 are found on a website

There are a number of websites with a good perspective on the former Jewish communities of China. Noteworthy are : – this is hosted in Tel Aviv by Igud Yotzei Sin, which translated from Hebrew stands for The Association of Former Residents of China. It was founded in 1951 by mainly Russian Jews that immigrated to Israel. Search enquiries are welcome. – this has a stronger but not exclusive focus on the former European refugees that found a haven in Shanghai. Many articles on Shanghai life and activities are featured, as well as the latest memoir books.

Both websites have ready linked access to other China-related websites of interest.

In The Future…

The prospects for public viewing of the personal data of former residents of Harbin and also smaller Jewish communities in other parts of the former Manchuria are very good. According to the Igud Yotzei Sin’s President, Ted Kaufman, birth, marriage and death records for Harbin Jews exist for the years 1903 to 1963 in the form of a card index.

The existence of personal data on those that came through Shanghai has not yet been confirmed but may be in the near future.

Bibliography (selected)


Goldstein, Jonathan.(Ed). The Jews of China. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000 Vols I, II
Meyer, Maisie J. From the Rivers of Babylon to the Whangpoo. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003
Pan Guang, Prof (Ed). The Jews in China. Shanghai: China Intercontinental Press, 2005
Ristaino, Marcia R. Port of Last Resort. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2001
Sack, Sallyann & Mokotoff, Gary (Eds). Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy. Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu Inc., 2004

Reference Articles:

Nash, Peter. “Shanghai HIAS Lists”. Avotaynu 17 no.4 (Winter 2001): 19
Steck, Anatol. “The Archives of the Jewish Community of Vienna”. Stammbaum no.24 (Winter 2004): 4
“Shanghai and Tsingtao Municipal Police Records in the U.S. National Archives”. Avotaynu 16 no.l (Spring 2000); 33.
Goldstein, Jonathan. “Consular Records in Shanghai about Jewish Refugees”. Avotaynu 10 no.2 (Summer 1994); 23
Bar-Gal, Dvir. “In Search of Shanghai’s Tombstones”. IgudYotzei Sin Bulletin #373 Sep-Oct 2002; 29
Sack, Sallyann: “Exotic Jewish Holdings of the Mormon Library System”, Avotaynu 18 no.2 (Summer 2002); 23


Eisfelder, Horst P. Chinese Exile. Caulfield, Vie. Australia: Makor Jewish Community Library, 2003
Grebenschikoff, I. Betty. Once My Name Was Sara. Ventnor, NJ: Origin Seven Publishing Co., 1992
Heppner, Ernest G. Shanghai Refuge. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993
James, Ross R. Escape to Shanghai. New York: The Free Press, 1994