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Free Presidio Exhibit Explores Jewish Experience in China


Presidio of San Francisco (February 12, 2010) — A unique and little-known chapter in Chinese and Jewish history comes to life in a new exhibit opening at the Presidio Officers’ Club. Through dozens of photographs, documents and other memorabilia, “The Jews in Modern China” traces the experience of Jewish refugees who sought, and found, sanctuary in China in the mid-19th and 20th centuries. The free exhibit opens February 24 and runs through May 16.

“This is such a relatively unknown piece of history, I was excited to have the opportunity to tell the story”, says Jeff Weik, public programs manager for the Presidio Trust. “Much of what the Presidio is about is history. Though this exhibit is not specifically a part of the Presidio’s history, it is a chance to bring the Chinese and Jewish communities together and for them to explore this shared part of their histories.”

“I think there is something really communal and neutral about the Presidio,” says Linda Frank, a board member of the American Jewish Committee of San Francisco (AJC-SF) and the chairperson of the exhibit. “There’s nothing inherently Jewish or Chinese about it, rather it’s a landmark, a symbol of the United States – with its picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge – and of people being welcomed here.”

Co-sponsored by the AJC-SF and the China International Cultural Exchange Center, the exhibit follows three distinct waves of Jewish immigrants that sought refuge in China between 1840 and 1949. The refugees found Shanghai, and other cities in which they settled, welcoming and lived in harmony with their Chinese neighbors.

The first of the refugees – Sephardic merchants from Iraq – came largely for business reasons and were instrumental in the architectural and commercial development of Shanghai. They built synagogues and established Jewish social service agencies, schools and other institutions that laid a foundation for Jewish communal life.

The Sephardim were followed by Russian Jews fleeing czarist pogroms and the Russian Revolution. This community brought Zionist organizations, Yiddish publications, and other cultural activity to Shanghai’s French Concession, as well as to Harbin, further north.

Later, European Jews escaping Nazi persecution landed in Shanghai, which was an open city that did not require visa or passports to enter. Despite the Japanese occupation of the city, the refugees lived in relative comfort thanks to the established Jewish community. However, in 1942, the Japanese, bowing to the wishes of their German allies, confined the newest immigrants (those who had come from Europe after 1937) to a squalid ghetto until the end of the war.

“The Jews in Modern China” runs February 24 through May 16 at the Presidio Officers’ Club, 50 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. For more information, and a schedule of special events accompanying the exhibit, visit or call the Presidio events line: (415) 561-5500.

The Presidio Trust was established by the United States Congress in 1996 to administer the Presidio of San Francisco, an urban national park located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The areas overseen by the Trust include expansive open space and spectacular views, a 300-acre historic forest, and rare and endangered plants and wildlife. The park comprises nearly 6 million square feet of buildings, including 469 historic structures that contribute to the Presidio’s status as a National Historic Landmark District.

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Lisa Petrie

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