Attempts to Obtain Shanghai Permits in 1941: A Case of Rescue Priority during the Holocaust
Following the Red Army’s conquest of Poland in 1939, Vilna was returned to Lithuania, which was annexed to Russia in mid-1940. Some 14,000 Jews including 2,500 rabbis and yeshiva students from both parts of occupied Poland found refuge in Vilna. The Soviet authorities consented to permit Jews to leave provided they had transit visas to Japan and entry visas to Curacao. Refugees traveled eastward to Japan, which they could not leave as their Curacao visas were invalid. Japan decided to bar the admission of additional Jews. Accordingly, the International Settlement in Shanghai was considered an alternative destination in the Far East. The rabbis were only interested in saving their peers and made no efforts to include secular Jews. Entry permits to Shanghai were obtained by Shanghai Rabbi Ashkenazi and Frank Newman, an American businessman. Another group of Polish rabbis was stranded in Vladivostok having been refused entry to Japan and under threat of the Soviets to send them back to Lithuania. Rabbi Ashkenazi dispatched entry permits from Shanghai to Vladivostok, and on May 1, 1941, fifty refugee Jews landed in Shanghai. Many more permits became available but transportation and financial problems from Vladivostok to Shanghai were not solved, and hundreds remained stranded in Lithuania. Exit priority was left to the discretion of leading rabbis who also canvassed for their own yeshivot and relatives. Many were dissatisfied by the final selection. A total of 1,500 permits were requested. Lack of funding held up further progress. Once the Germans declared war on Russia escape to the Far East ceased. Only about 860 Polish Jews eventually reached Shanghai. Another 112 may have entered China directly from Russia.