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More than a transit port, but less than a refuge : Hong Kong and Jewish refugee transmigration, 1938-1941 Sun, Cheuk Him Ryan


This thesis examines and situates Hong Kong within the context of Jewish refugee transmigration between 1938 and 1941. The necessity for Austrian and German Jews to escape persecution in Europe meant that some fled across the globe to Shanghai. However, the dominant image of Shanghai as the sole Jewish refuge in East Asia downplays the role of intermediaries along the path to safety. Centering on Hong Kong, I argue that these sites facilitate the movement of refugee Jews but also acted as refuges, albeit temporarily. Furthermore, I argue that Hong Kong specifically cannot be easily categorized as either. In addition to its role as an in between place or transit point, Hong Kong was also a temporary refuge for a small minority of escapees. Responses towards Jewish refugees emphasized either the individual‘s Jewish-ness or German-ness, both unstable and fluid social categories. I argue that the charity provided by local Jewish leaders to their refugee co-religionists was a way to avoid reifying older stereotypes of Jewish migrants as destitute, and to maintain the privileges held by Jewish elites. In contrast, the Hong Kong government was apathetic towards these refugees, until the outbreak of the Second World War, after which these individuals were primarily viewed as Germans or enemy aliens. The eventual Internment of such Jewish refugees at La Salle College represented a major manifestation of the perceived German threat. Despite local officials knowing that Jewish refugees were among those interned, German-ness was constructed and linked to the individual‘s nationality and passport. Scrutiny over characteristics of German-ness by local officials intensified in June 1940 with controversial decision to expel all enemy aliens from Hong Kong. I contend that this action can only be understood by considering larger geopolitics. In light of the rapid occupation of France and the Low Countries by Nazi Germany, as well as the Japanese occupation of South China, Hong Kong officials panicked. I argue that Hong Kong was more than a transit point, but less than a permanent refuge.

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