Although allied with Nazi Germany during World War II, the Japanese did not share their Axis partner’s solution to the Jewish question. The government, however, was influenced by Nazi propaganda and “specialists” on Jewish affairs, who wrote and translated anti-Semitic works into Japanese. Nevertheless, prior to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, 15,000 stateless Russian Jews were recognized as an autonomous community in Japanese-occupied Manchuria and northern China. The Japanese also provided a sanctuary in occupied Shanghai in 1938 to approximately 17,000 Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and Poland.
   The ambivalent attitude of the Japanese toward the Jews may be explained by the absence of a tradition of anti-Semitism. Their ambiguous reaction manifested itself in the so-called Fugu Plan, whereby Japan adopted its pro-Jewish policy. The Japanese calculated that by providing a safe haven for Jewish refugees, “world Jewry,” as an expression of its gratitude, would bring pressure on the United States government to accept Japan’s “New Order” in Asia. Although many of Japan’s Jewish “experts” accepted the negative imagery of Jews depicted in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they also believed that Jewish wealth and political influence could be turned to Japan’s advantage. Ironically, the same anti-Semitism that resulted in Jews being sent to gas chambers in German-occupied Europe served to inspire Japan’s pro-Jewish policy. This policy was further evident between December 1940 and November 1941, when approximately 3,500 to 5,000 Jews from Poland and Lithuania found sanctuary in Kobe, Japan. The fortunate Jewish refugees were the recipients of the travel visas issued by Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese vice-consul in Kaunas (Kovno).
   Although 40 Jewish families already lived in Kobe, they did not have the resources to care for the large number of refugees. The necessary help came, however, from an unexpected source, the Japanese citizens of Kobe. They provided ration cards so that the Jews could purchase food, and in general showed many kindnesses to the newly arrived refugees. For example, they presented gifts to the synagogue on the Jewish holidays and helped the Talmudic students of the Mir Yeshiva (Hebrew house of study) to reconstitute their academy. Toward the end of January 1942, however, the Germans placed pressure on the Japanese to change their policy toward the Jews. To please its Axis partner, the Japanese government established a ghetto for all Jews in February 1943. But because of Japan’s sensitive relationship with the Soviet Union, approximately 3,500 stateless Russian Jews were exempted from residing in the ghetto. While Jews endured many hardships in the ghetto, it did not compare with its European equivalent. Thus, the Jewish refugees of Japan lived in relative safety throughout the rest of the war.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.


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