The sale of the Russian share in the Chinese Eastern Railway to the Manchukuo authorities is causing much anxiety among the Jewish population of Manchuria. The negotiations now going on in Tokio will decide not only the fate of the railway, but also that of the largest and most influential Jewish community in the Far Eastâ€”the Jewish Community of Harbin.
The Chinese Eastern Railway is a section of the Trans-Siberian Railway which was constructed by Tsarist Russia some 33 years ago, with definitely imperialistic aims. The most important town on the line is Harbin, a town with a large Jewish and Russian population, depending almost entirely on the railway for their existence. By the treaty of Mukden in 1924, the railway was formed into a commercial enterprise and half the shares were kept by the Soviet Government while the other half became the property of the Chinese Government. According to the Treaty, half the staff was to consist of Chinese, and half of Russian citizens. The Russian section, which was responsible not only for the railway itself, but also ran various cultural and social services, such as schools, hospitals, clubs, co-operative societies, printing and publishing works, meteorological stations and so on, as well as many industrial enterprises such as mills, timber concessions and factories, gave employment to a very large number of people, numbering, with their families, some 50,000 souls.
These officials, clerical workers and engineers and mechanies enjoy a very high standard of living and have many privileges, such as free medical treatment. free education, pensions and so on, and have a large purchasing power. In fact, the whole of the remaining European community, consisting mainly of Jews and Russians, is almost entirely dependent on this income, directly or indirectly. The importance of the railway for the Jewish community is thus very great. It may even be said that their existence depends on it.
It is practically certain, however, that if the railway is sold, the whole Russian staff will be replaced by Chinese and Japanese, who will not buy from Europeans, and will do their best to drive the remainder of them out. The whole economic foundation of the Jewish and the other European population will be destroyed. Those who will suffer most are the Jews and the Russians, who were the pioneers of the town, and came to Manchuria when it was a wild and undeveloped land. In the dark days of Tsarist anti-Semitism in Russia, when the Jews were not allowed to settle beyond the Pale, they were permitted to settle in the then new territory of the Chinese Eastern Railway. Many went there, and formed the nucleus of what is now the largest and most important Jewish settlement in the Far East.
In addition to those only indirectly dependent on the railway, there are some 500 Jews who, together with their families, form a community of several thousand souls, who hold excellent positions on the railway staff, as engineers, doctors, teachers, mechanics and so on.
It would perhaps be too much to say that the 14,000 Jews of Harbin and the rest of Manchuria are entirely dependent on the railway. But it is a fact that the vast majority of them do depend on it, either directly or indirectly, for their living. And so the anxiety with which they are awaiting the result of the present negotiations for its sale can be imagined. Some are hoping that the negotiations will last a long time, others that they collapse altogether. But it seems certain that the sale will be concluded.