During World War II, as many as 20,000 Jews lived and took refuge in Old Shanghai.
Prior to 1951, there were four Jewish cemeteries in Shanghai with up to 3,700 graves, according to historic records. In 1951, the four cemeteries were moved to an international cemetery located in the western suburbs of the city. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) the cemeteries were demolished and the graves and headstones were smashed and thrown away.
No one knew what happened to the graves and stones, nor how or where to look for them. Until now.
In November 2001, we first got news that two Jewish old headstones were up for sale in an antique shop in Shanghai. When we arrived, unfortunately, one of the stones had already been sold. We bought the other one.
This was quite a discovery, since there are only four known Jewish graves still intact in Shanghai. These are the graves or Sir Elly and Laura Kadoorie, and the graves of Charles Aaron and Joseph Sassoon.
We inquired to the antique dealer if he had access to any more stones. At first he said it would take months to find another such stone. However, two days later the antique dealer called us saying he had more stones.
Thus, we learned that somehow the Jewish headstones could be located even after almost 35 years since they had disappeared.
We paid the dealer to take us to the place from where the stones came. He brought us to rural areas west of Shanghai. One by one, we found a number of stones, some broken some in tact. We were sad to find the stones being used as stepping-stones, to wash laundry on, as part of walls, or for walkways in muddy areas.
We immediately approached the Consul General of Israel in Shanghai, who promised to apply the Chinese authorities to collect those stones and to relocate them to safe place (possibly the Buddhist cemetery). Almost seven months have passed, but only 18 stones have been collected by the authorities.
Our goal is to save, restore and document this piece of Jewish history of Shanghai, an important part of the Jewish heritage of China.
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