Jewish settlement in the Japanese Empire

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Shortly prior to and during World War II, and coinciding with the Second Sino-Japanese War, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were resettled in the Japanese Empire. The onset of the European war by Nazi Germany involved the lethal mass persecutions and genocide of Jews, later known as the Holocaust, resulting in thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing east. Many ended up in Japanese-occupied China.

The memoranda[edit]

Memoranda written in 1930s Imperial Japan proposed settling Jewish refugees escaping Nazi-occupied Europe in Japanese-controlled territory. As interpreted by Marvin Tokayer and Swartz (who used the term "Fugu Plan", "河豚計画", that was used by the Japanese to describe this plan), they proposed that large numbers of Jewish refugees should be encouraged to settle in Manchukuo or Japan-occupied Shanghai,[1] thus gaining the benefit of the supposed economic prowess of the Jews and also convincing the United States, and specifically American Jewry, to grant political favor and economic investment into Japan. The idea was partly based on the acceptance of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as being a genuine document by at least part of the Japanese leadership.[2]

The detailed scheme included how the settlement would be organized and how Jewish support, both in terms of investment and actual settlers, would be garnered. In June and July 1939, the memoranda "Concrete Measures to be Employed to Turn Friendly to Japan the Public Opinion Far East Diplomatic Policy Close Circle of President of USA by Manipulating Influential Jews in China" and "The Study and Analysis of Introducing Jewish Capital" came to be reviewed and approved by the top Japanese officials in China.

Methods of attracting both Jewish and American favor were to include the sending of a delegation to the United States, to introduce American rabbis to the similarities between Judaism and Shinto, and the bringing of rabbis back to Japan in order to introduce them and their religion to the Japanese. Methods were also suggested for gaining the favor of American journalism and Hollywood.

The majority of the documents were devoted to the settlements, allowing for the settlement populations to range in size from 18,000, up to 600,000. Details included the land size of the settlement, infrastructural arrangements, schools, hospitals etc. for each level of population. Jews in these settlements were to be given complete freedom of religion, along with cultural and educational autonomy. While the authors were wary of affording too much political autonomy, it was felt that some freedom would be necessary to attract settlers, as well as economic investment.

The Japanese officials asked to approve the plan insisted that while the settlements could appear autonomous, controls needed to be placed to keep the Jews under surveillance. It was feared that the Jews might somehow penetrate into the mainstream Japanese government and economy, influencing or taking command of it in the same way that they, according to the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, had done in many other countries. The world Jewish community was to fund the settlements and supply the settlers.


Before World War II[edit]

Originally the idea of a small group of Japanese government and military officials who saw a need for a population to be established in Manchukuo (otherwise known as Manchuria) and help build Japan's industry and infrastructure there, the primary members of this group included Captain Koreshige Inuzuka and Captain Norihiro Yasue, who became known as "Jewish experts", the industrialist Yoshisuke Aikawa and a number of officials in the Kwantung Army, known as the "Manchurian Faction".

Their decision to attract Jews to Manchukuo came from a belief that the Jewish people were wealthy and had considerable political influence. Jacob Schiff, a Jewish-American banker who, thirty years earlier, offered sizable loans to the Japanese government which helped it win the Russo-Japanese War, was well known. In addition, a Japanese translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion led some Japanese authorities to grossly overestimate the economic and political powers of the Jewish people, and their interconnectedness across the world due to the Jewish diaspora. It was assumed that by rescuing European Jews from the Nazis, Japan would gain unwavering and eternal favor from American Jewry. However, this was not always the case. Anti-semitism had greatly expanded in Japan following Russia's 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.[3]

In 1922, Yasue and Inuzuka had returned from the Japanese Siberian Intervention, aiding the White Russians against the Red Army where they first learned of the Protocols and came to be fascinated by the alleged powers of the Jewish people. Over the course of the 1920s, they wrote many reports on the Jews, and traveled to the British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel) to research the subject and speak with Jewish leaders such as Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion. Yasue translated the Protocols into Japanese. The pair managed to get the Foreign Ministry of Japan interested in the project. Every Japanese embassy and consulate was requested to keep the ministry informed of the actions and movements of Jewish communities in their countries. Many reports were received but none proved the existence of a global conspiracy.

In 1931, the officers joined forces to an extent with the Manchurian faction and a number of Japanese military officials who pushed for Japanese expansion into Manchuria, led by Colonel Seishirō Itagaki and Lieutenant-Colonel Kanji Ishiwara just before the Mukden Incident.

Kitaiskaia Street in Harbin, before 1945
Harbin, before 1945

Of Harbin's one million population, Jews represented only a tiny fraction. Their numbers, as high as 13,000 in the 1920s had halved by the mid-1930s in response to economic depression and after events relating to the kidnapping and murder of Simon Kaspé by a gang of Russian Fascists[4] and criminals under the influence of Konstantin Rodzaevsky.[5]

Although Russian Jews in Manchukuo were given legal status and protection, the half-hearted investigation into Kaspé's death by the Japanese authorities, who were attempting to court the White Russian community as local enforcers and for their Anti-Communist sentiments,[6] led the Jews of Harbin to no longer trust the Japanese army. Many left to Shanghai, where the Jewish community had suffered no anti-semitism,[7] or deeper into China. In 1937, after Yasue spoke with Jewish leaders in Harbin, the Far Eastern Jewish Council was established by Abraham Kaufman, and over the next several years, many meetings were held to discuss the idea of encouraging and establishing Jewish settlements in and around Harbin.

In March 1938, Lieutenant General Kiichiro Higuchi of the Imperial Japanese Army proposed the reception of some Jewish refugees from Russia to General Hideki Tojo. Despite German protests, Tojo approved and had Manchuria, then a puppet state of Japan, admit them.[8][9][10]

On December 6, 1938, Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Foreign Minister Hachirō Arita, Army Minister Seishirō Itagaki, Naval Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, and Finance Ministry Shigeaki Ikeda met to discuss the dilemma at the "Five Ministers' Conference". They made a decision of prohibiting the expulsion of the Jews in Japan, Manchuria, and China.[11][12] On the one hand, Japan's alliance with Nazi Germany was growing stronger, and doing anything to help the Jews would endanger that relationship. On the other hand, the Jewish boycott of German goods following Kristallnacht showed the economic power and global unity of the Jews.

Panorama of Shanghai Bund in 1930
Shanghai in 1930s

As an immediate result of the Five Ministers' Conference, 14,000–15,000 Eastern European Jews were granted asylum in the Japanese quarter of Shanghai; the European quarters, in contrast, admitted almost no Jews. 1000 Polish refugees who had not been able to obtain visas for any country were also given asylum in Shanghai.[13]

The next few years were filled with reports and meetings, not only between the proponents of the plan but also with members of the Jewish community, but was not adopted officially. In 1939, the Jews of Shanghai requested that no more Jewish refugees be allowed into Shanghai, as their community's ability to support them was being stretched thin. Stephen Wise, one of the most influential members of the American Jewish community at the time and Zionist activist, expressed a strong opinion against any Jewish–Japanese cooperation.

During World War II[edit]

In 1939 the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, making the transport of Jews from Europe to Japan far more difficult. The events of 1940 only solidified the impracticality of executing the Fugu Plan in any official, organized way. The USSR annexed the Baltic states, further cutting off the possibilities for Jews seeking to escape Europe. The Japanese government signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, completely eliminating the possibility of any official aid for the plan from Tokyo.

Despite this, the Japanese Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, began to issue transit visas to escaping Jews against orders from Tokyo. These allowed them to travel to Japan and stay for a limited time on their way to their final destination, the Dutch colony of Curaçao, which required no entry visa. Thousands of Jews received transit visas from him, or through similar means. Some even copied, by hand, the visa that Sugihara had written. After receiving exit visas from the Soviet government, many Jews were allowed to cross Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, taking a boat from Vladivostok to Tsuruga and eventually settling in Kobe, Japan.

By the summer of 1941, the Japanese government was becoming anxious about having so many Jewish refugees in such a major city, and near major military and commercial ports. It was decided that the Jews of Kobe had to be relocated to Shanghai, occupied by Japan. Only those who had lived in Kobe before the arrival of the refugees were allowed to stay. Germany had violated the Non-aggression Pact, and declared war on the USSR, making Russia and Japan potential enemies, and therefore putting an end to the boats from Vladivostok to Tsuruga.

Street in the shanghai ghetto area around 1943
"Shanghai ghetto" around 1943

Several months later, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japan seized all of Shanghai. Monetary aid and all communications from American Jews ceased due to the Anglo-American Trading with the Enemy Act and wealthy Baghdadi Jews, many of whom were British subjects, were interned as enemy nationals. The US Department of Treasury was lax regarding communications and aid sent to the Jewish refugees in Shanghai,[14] but the American Jewish organizations provided aid.[citation needed]

In 1941 the Nazi Gestapo Obersturmbannführer (Lt. Col.) Josef Meisinger, the "Butcher of Warsaw", acting as the Gestapo's liaison with the German Embassy in Tokyo and the Imperial Japanese Army's own Kenpeitai military police and security service, tried to influence the Japanese to "exterminate" or enslave approximately 18,000–20,000 Jews who had escaped from Austria and Germany and who were living in Japanese-occupied Shanghai.[15] His proposals included the creation of a concentration camp on Chongming Island in the delta of the Yangtze[16] or starvation on freighters off the coast of China.[17] The Japanese admiral who ran Shanghai would not yield to pressure from Meisinger. However, the Japanese built a ghetto in the Shanghai neighborhood of Hongkew[18] (which had already been planned in Tokyo in 1939), a slum with about twice the population density of Manhattan, which remained strictly isolated by Japanese soldiers under the command of the sadistic official Kanoh Ghoya,[19] and which Jews could only leave with special permission. Some 2,000 Jews died[how?] in the Shanghai ghetto.[when?][20] The Japanese government did not accept Meisinger's requests, and never persecuted the Jews under its control.[21] Meisinger's plans were reduced to the creation of what came to be known as the Shanghai ghetto.

Jews entering and residing in Japan, China, and Manchukuo were treated the same as other foreigners and, in one instance, Japanese officials in Harbin ignored a formal complaint by the German consulate which was deeply insulted by one of the Russian-Jewish newspapers' attack on Hitler. In his book, "Japanese, Nazis and Jews", Dr. David Kranzler states Japan's position was ultimately pro-Jewish.

During the six months following the Five Minister's Conference, lax restrictions for entering the International Settlement, such as the requirement for no visa or papers of any kind, allowed 15,000 Jewish refugees to be admitted to the Japanese sector in Shanghai. Japanese policy declared that Jews entering and residing in Japan, China, and Manchukuo would be treated the same as other foreigners.

From 1943, Jews in Shanghai shared a "Designated Area for Stateless Refugees" of 40 blocks along with 100,000 Chinese residents. Most Jews fared as well, often better than other Shanghai residents. The ghetto remained open and free of barbed wire and Jewish refugees could acquire passes to leave the zone. However it was bombed just months before the end of the war by Allied planes seeking to destroy a radio transmitter within the city, with the consequential loss of life to both Jews and Chinese in the ghetto.

Japan's support of Zionism[edit]

Japanese approval came as early as December 1918, when the Shanghai Zionist Association received a message endorsing the government's "pleasure of having learned of the advent desire of the Zionists to establish in Palestine a National Jewish Homeland". It indicated that, "Japan will accord its sympathy to the realization of your [Zionist] aspirations."[22]

This was further explicit endorsement in January 1919 when Chinda Sutemi wrote to Chaim Weizmann in the name of the Japanese Emperor stating that, "the Japanese government gladly takes note of the Zionist aspiration to extend in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people and they look forward with a sympathetic interest to the realization of such desire upon the basis proposed."[23] Japan recognized British policies in Palestine in return for British approval of Japanese control over the Shandong Peninsula in China.

Influential Japanese intellectuals including Uchimura Kanzō (1861–1930), Nitobe Inazō (1862–1933), Kenjirō Tokutomi (1868–1927) and professor in colonial policy at Tokyo University Tadao Yanaihara (1893–1961) were also in support. "The Zionist movement", claimed Yanaihara, "is nothing more than an attempt to secure the right for Jews to migrate and colonize in order to establish a center for Jewish national culture", defending the special protection given to the Jews in their quest for a national home based on his conviction that, "the Zionist case constituted a national problem deserving of a nation-state".[24] The Zionist project, including the cooperative modes of agricultural settlements, he saw as a model Japan might emulate.[25][26]

A high-level Japanese government reports on plans for mass emigration to Manchuria in 1936 included references to ethnic conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine as scenarios to avoid.[27] These influential Japanese policy makers and institutions referred to Zionist forms of cooperative agricultural settlement as a model that Japanese should emulate.[citation needed] A colonial enterprise having parallels with Japan's own expansion into Asia.[citation needed] By 1940, Japanese occupied Manchuria was host to 17,000 Jewish refugees, most coming from Eastern Europe.

Yasue, Inuzuka and other sympathetic diplomats wished to utilize those Jewish refugees in Manchuria and Shanghai in return for the favorable treatments accorded to them. Japanese official quarters expected American Jewry influence American Far Eastern policy and make it neutral or pro-Japanese and attract badly needed Jewish capital for the industrial development of Manchuria.

Post-war, the 1952 recognition of full diplomatic relations with Israel by the Japanese government was a breakthrough amongst Asian nations.


Approximately 24,000 Jews escaped the Holocaust either by immigrating through Japan or living under direct Japanese rule by the policies surrounding Japan's more pro-Jewish attitude.[28] While this was not the 50,000 expected,[29] and those who arrived did not have the expected wealth to contribute to the Japanese economy, the achievement of the plan is looked back upon favorably. Chiune Sugihara was bestowed the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1985. In addition, the Mir Yeshiva, one of the largest centers of rabbinical study today, and the only European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust, survived as a result of these events.

Inuzuka's help in rescuing Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe was acknowledged by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States which saved him from being tried as a war criminal. He went on to establish the Japan-Israel Association and was president until his death in 1965.

Popular accounts[edit]

There is little evidence to suggest that the Japanese had ever contemplated a Jewish state or a Jewish autonomous region,[30] something that the Soviet Union had already established in 1934. In 1979 Rabbi Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz authored a book called The Fugu Plan. In this partly fictionalized account, Tokayer & Swartz gave the name the 'Fugu Plan' to the 1930s memorandums. They claim that the plan, which was viewed by its proponents as risky but potentially rewarding for Japan, was named after the Japanese word for puffer-fish, a delicacy which can be fatally poisonous if incorrectly prepared.[2] (The memorandums were not actually called The Fugu Plan in Japanese.) Tokayer and Swartz base their claims on statements made by Captain Koreshige Inuzuka and allege that such a plan was first discussed in 1934 and then solidified in 1938, supported by notables such as Inuzuka, Ishiguro Shiro and Norihiro Yasue;[31] however, the signing of the Tripartite Pact in 1940 and other events prevented its full implementation.

Ben-Ami Shillony, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, confirmed the statements upon which Tokayer and Swartz based their claim were taken out of context, and that the translation with which they worked was flawed. Shillony's view is further supported by Kiyoko Inuzuka (wife of Koreshige Inuzuka).[32] In 'The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders', he questioned whether the Japanese ever contemplated establishing a Jewish state or a Jewish autonomous region.[33][34][35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tokayer. p58.
  2. ^ a b Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe. A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West. Pages 196–197.
  3. ^ "Japan & the Jews During the Holocaust". Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  4. ^ Strangers Always: A Jewish Family in Wartime Shanghai by Rena Krasno. Published by Pacific View Press, 1992. ISBN 1-881896-02-1
  5. ^ My China: Jewish Life in the Orient 1900–1950 by Yaacov Liberman. Gefen Publishing House, Ltd.
  6. ^ Dubois, Thomas David, "Rule of Law in a Brave New Empire: Legal Rhetoric and Practice in Manchukuo." Law and History Review 26.2 (2008): 48 pars. 1 May 2009
  7. ^ Japanese, Nazis and Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938–45 by David Kranzler, Abrahm G Duker revised Published by Yeshiva Univ. Pr., Sifria, 1976 ISBN 0-89362-000-9
  8. ^ "Sugihara Not the Only Japanese To Save Jewish Lives". Asahi shimbun. 2010-05-04. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  9. ^ Fern Chandonnet (2007). Alaska at War, 1941–1945: The Forgotten War Remembered. University of Alaska Press. p. 112. ISBN 1-60223-013-7.
  10. ^ David G. Goodman, Masanori Miyazawa (2000). Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype. Lexington Books. p. 113. ISBN 0-7391-0167-6.
  11. ^ "Question 戦前の日本における対ユダヤ人政策の基本をなしたと言われる「ユダヤ人対策要綱」に関する史料はありますか。また、同要綱に関する説明文はありますか。". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  12. ^ "猶太人対策要綱". Five ministers council. Japan Center for Asian Historical Record. 1938-12-06. p. 36/42. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  13. ^ Kranzler, David (2000). "Shanghai Refuge: The Jewish Community of Shanghai 1938–1949". In Roman Malek (ed.). From Kaifeng ... To Shanghai: Jews in China. Nettetal: Steyler Verl. p. 403. ISBN 3-8050-0454-0.
  14. ^ Tokayer, p. 220.
  15. ^ Wasserstein, Bernard, Secret War in Shanghai: An Untold Story of Espionage, Intrigue, and Treason in World War II. 1999
  16. ^ Mark O'Neill, "A saved haven: Plans to rejuvenate Shanghai's rundown former Jewish ghetto will celebrate the district's role as a sanctuary during the second world war," South China Morning Post, August 1, 2006; Features: Behind the News; Pg. 11.
  17. ^ "Jane Shlensky, "Considering Other Choices: Chiune Sugihara's Rescue of Polish Jews," North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics Durham, NC, 2003, p. 6" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-01-23. Retrieved 2010-10-27.
  18. ^ Patrick E. Tyler, "Jews Revisit Shanghai, Grateful Still that it Sheltered Them." New York Times, June 29, 1994.
  19. ^ Heppner, Ernest G., "Strange Haven: A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Shanghai (review)" in Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Volume 19, Number 3, Spring 2001, pp. 160-161.
  20. ^ Ernest G. Heppner, Shanghai Refuge - A Memoir of the World War II Jewish Ghetto, 1995.
  21. ^ Kranzler David, Duker, Abrahm G. Japanese, Nazis and Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938–45. Yeshiva Univ. Pr., Sifria, 1976 ISBN 0-89362-000-9.
  22. ^ Maruyama, Naoki. "Japan's Response to the Zionist Movement in the 1920s," Bulletin of the Graduate School of International Relations, No. 2 (December 1984), 29.
  23. ^ World Zionist Organization, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, Copy Z4/2039.
  24. ^ Tadao, Yanaihara. Yanaihara Tadao Zenshū, Vol. 4, 184, edited by Shigeru, Nambara (1965).
  25. ^ Boer, John de. "In Promotion of Colonialism: Yanaihara Tadao's Rendering of Zionist Colonial Settlements", Western Conference of the Association of Asian Studies, 1 October 2004.
  26. ^ Tadao, Yanaihara. "Yudaya Mondai" in Yanaihara Tadao, Nihon Heiwaron Taikei. (1993) pages 269–277
  27. ^ Nihon Gakujutsu Shinko-Kai Gakujutsu-bu Dai-2 Tokubetsu Iinkai, Manshu Imin Mondai to Jisseki Chosa, (December 1936), page 41.
  28. ^ Kranzler, "Japanese, Nazis, and Jews", page 563
  29. ^ "INVITES GERMAN JEWS; Japan Willing to Have 50,000 Settle in Manchukuo." New York Times, Aug 6, 1934. p. 4.
  30. ^ Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan by Ben-Ami Shillony. p 209
  31. ^ Shillony Ben-Ami. The Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan page 170
  32. ^ Inuzuka Kiyoko, Kaigun Inuzuka kikan no kiroku: Yudaya mondai to Nippon no kōsaku (Tokyo: Nihon kōgyō shimbunsha, 1982)
  33. ^ Ben Ami-Shillony, The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1991)
  34. '^ Origins of the Pacific War and the importance of 'Magic by Keiichiro Komatsu, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. ISBN 0-312-17385-7
  35. ^ Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan by Ben-Ami Shillony. Edition: reprint, illustrated Published by Oxford University Press, 1991.


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