Scholar offers intriguing take on Japan and the Shoah
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Scholar offers intriguing take on Japan and the Shoah

The Jews owe a debt to Japan, which never really wanted to go to war with the United States. So says Dr. David Kranzler, a retired history professor from Queensborough Community College and the author of "Japanese, Nazis and Jews: the Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai 1938-45" (Yeshiva University Press, 1976, translated into Chinese, 1993).

Kranzler, who emigrated with his family from Germany to the United States in 1937, will address his book’s central question, "Why the Japanese, Hitler’s Axis Partner, Saved 18,000 German, Austrian, and Polish Refugees During the Holocaust?" in a talk at Bergen Community College in Paramus on Thursday, April 1′, at 11:30 a.m. The complicated story of the migration of European Jews to Shanghai following Hitler’s rise to power, Kranzler told The Jewish Standard in a telephone interview, was preceded by a history of the Japanese having welcomed Jews to the region. First, the wealthy Sassoon family arrived, fleeing the British opium wars that engulfed 19th-century Baghdad. Ashkenazi Jews followed in two waves — after the Japanese victory over czarist Russia in 1904 and again after the Japanese occupation in 1931 of Manchuria, where many Jews had taken refuge after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

With Japan’s control of Shanghai Harbor, beginning in 1937, visas were not required for entry, Kranzler explained, making it a logical destination for anyone with a "ship card," said Kranzler, easily acquired from one of the many European luxury shipping liners. Those who couldn’t afford the fees received aid from American Jewish agencies, like the Joint Distribution Committee, and other Jewish relief organizations still operating in Europe through 1941. In fact, Kranzler contended, the Germans were initially more interested in deporting Jews than in warehousing them in concentration camps. "Judenrein meant getting the Jews out of Germany, even out of concentration camps [there]," said Kranzler.

A trickle of families — about 1,000 — began arriving in Shanghai from Austria.

Kristallnacht in November 1939 proved a wake-up call to German Jews. After the single night of burning and looting synagogues, 100,000 left Germany. Between 15,000 and 16,000 made their way to Shanghai, aided by a pro-refugee policy set at a conference a year earlier by Japan’s top five ministers.

Among Kranzler’s more startling assertions is that Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, which forced the United States into World War II, was one the Japanese had hoped to avoid by accommodating the European Jewish refugees. The Japanese assumed — according to Kranzler — that they could count on the refugees to convince their affluent relatives in the United States to use their influence to pressure President Franklin Roosevelt into lifting the steel and oil embargo he had imposed to pressure Japan into vacating Manchuria.

"They wanted to take advantage of ‘Jewish power,’ the [long-held] anti-Semitic idea that Jews control the world," said Kranzler. "Contrary to Western anti-Semites who wanted to get rid of Jews, this was a unique pragmatic Japanese perspective: ‘Let’s make use of the Jews.’"

Therefore, along with their embrace of the Jews, they bought into historic anti-Semitism, Kranzler said, which they spread through the publication of virulent tracts, some even written by the very government officials who were facilitating refugee entry. These included Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul-general to Lithuania, who issued thousands of transit visas to Polish-Jewish refugees to enter the Soviet Union in 1940 and was named a righteous gentile; about 1,000 came to Shanghai. Another was Captain Korshige Inuzuka, who helped set up the elite Mirrer Yeshiva of Poland in the international sector of Shanghai at the same time he was having the infamously false "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" translated into Japanese.

Kranzler has been fascinated by the Shanghai Jewish community since his days as a graduate student in East Asian history at Brooklyn College. His master’s thesis, on the Jews of Shanghai, was completed in 1956. Years later, he expanded his research, completing a doctorate in Jewish history at Yeshiva University in 1971, his doctoral thesis forming the foundation for the 650-page published work. He also holds a master’s in library science from Columbia University. Since his retirement in the 1980s, he has focused his research and writing on rescue and rescue attempts during the Holocaust by Jews.

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