History of the Jews in Vietnam

History of the Jews in Vietnam

The first Jews to visit Vietnam likely arrived following the French colonization of the country in the latter half of the 19th century.

There are a handful of references to Jewish settlement in Saigon sprinkled through the pages of the Jewish Chronicle in the 1860's and 1870's.

The Jewish Encyclopedia mentions a French merchant and ship-owner named Jules Rueff being active in Indochina in the 1870s, becoming "one of the pioneers of French influence in that country." Rueff was cited to have been the "originator of the plan for the railroad of Saigon-My Tho, in Cochinchina, and the founder and general director of the 'Messageries Fluviales de Cochinchine,' which greatly facilitated the spread of French trade in Indo-China by the route of Mekong." [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=464&letter=R] A steamship that traversed the Mekong was later christened the Jules Rueff to recognize his role in the region's maritime activities. [Madrolle,Claudius "To Angkor" Société d'éditions géographiques, maritimes et coloniales, 1939 and additional reference is made to travel on this ship in Horace Bleackley's "A Tour in Southern Asia: (Indo-China, Malaya, Java, Sumatra, and Ceylon, 1925-1926)", published by John Lane, London 1928] Rueff was still active in regional trade as late as April 1889, when he co-signed a petition to the French government requesting relief on duties being charged on cotton imports from Indochina. [See [http://pionnierstonkin.canalblog.com/] and footnote xxxv for original French source material, noted as "Datée de Paris le 16 avril 1889. Reproduite dans l’ Avenir du Tonkin du samedi 8 juin 1889, N° 156." ]

Between 1883 and 1886 Jewish soldiers and officers fought in the French army in the Tonkin campaign. One such soldier, from a family of multiple members in the French military was Louis Naquet. Naquet, who eventually achieved the rank of Captain and was killed in action during World War I, received the "Medaille du Tonkin [http://www.geneawiki.com/index.php/M%C3%A9daille_du_Tonkin] " for his actions in Tonkin and Annam, becoming "chevalier" of the 'Ordre Royal du Cambodge. [http://www.geneawiki.com/index.php/Ordre_royal_du_Cambodge] [Birnbaum, Pierre "The Jews of the Republic: A Political History of State Jews in France from Gambetta to Vichy" Stanford University Press, 1996 ISBN 0804726337 Pages 47-48]

The Alliance Israélite Universelle appears to have had some activity in Haiphong during the 1920s [http://www.aiu.org/biblio/Archives/Weill/Nord_Vietnam.htm] .

According to the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, between 1929-1932, the U.S. Consul in Saigon was a diplomat named Henry Samuel Waterman, who was Jewish. In 1930, Waterman reported back the the United States about the growth of communism in Vietnam, but his superiors at the State Department discounted his report saying that the "French authorities have been stuffing him with a lot of hot air about the communistic menace." [Appy,Christian G. "Cold War Constructions: The Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945-1966" University of Massachusetts Press, 2000, Page 279] It turned out however, that Waterman's reports describing the Cong Sanh were accurate, and referred to the Dang Cong San Viet Nam (Vietnamese Communist Party), directed from Moscow and Canton, and indeed there was a "growing threat to colonial rule in Southeast Asia." [ Blatt Young,Marilyn and Buzzanco, Robert "A Companion to the Vietnam War" Blackwell Publishing, 2002, Page 122 ISBN 063121013X]

As late as 1939, the estimated combined population of the Jewish communities of Haiphong, Hanoi, Saigon and Tourane in French Indo-China numbered approximately 1,000 individuals. [http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1939_1940_8_Statistics.pdf] There were also reportedly eighty Jews in Tonkin during the period of Vichy rule, of which forty-nine were in the military and twenty-seven were in the foreign legion. [Jennings, Eric "Vichy in the Tropics: Petain's National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940-44" Stanford University Press, 2004 ISBN 0804750475 Page 145]

In 1940 the anti-Semitic Vichy-France "Statute on Jews" was implemented in French Indo-China (Vietnam) by its Governor Jean Decoux. In November of 1940, Jewish people were limited to certain professions, and in July 1941 Jewish children were not allowed to comprise more than 2% of public school students. By October 1942, fifteen government employees were dismissed from their positions for being Jewish (among the fifteen was Suzanne Karpeles, the director of the Buddhist Institutes in Phnom Penh [Marston,John Amos, et al "History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia" University of Hawaii Press, 2004 ISBN 0824828682] and Vientiane), and Jews were "fired from a wide range of professions,from banking to the insurance, advertising, administration and business sectors." One such individual, Leo Lippmann, the former director of the Hanoi tram company, was dismissed from his position even after resigning from his post to assume a lesser position. [Jennings, Eric "Vichy in the Tropics: Petain's National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940-44" Stanford University Press, 2004 ISBN 0804750475 Pages 144-145] When it was deemed by state officials that the statute would have an adverse affect upon their racial Vichy motives for the region - such as the case of George Coedès, an employee at the government sponsored École française d'Extrême-Orient (French School of the Far East), who was deemed useful by the "resident superier" of Tonkin - an exemption to the discriminatory laws could be made. [Raffin,Anne "Youth Mobilization in Vichy Indochina and Its Legacies, 1940 to 1970" Lexington Books, 2005 ISBN 0739111469 Pages 65-66] The anti-Jewish laws were repealed in January 1945. [Dommen,Arthur J."The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam" Indiana University Press, 2001 ISBN 0253338549 Page 69]

In 1954, Vietnam achieved independence as a divided state, with a communist north and a capitalist south. The French Premier who negotiated France's pullout from the Indochina region thus granting Vietnam its independence was Pierre Mendes France, who happened to be Jewish. Prior to the French evacuation the Jewish population in Indochina (which encompassed Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) was reportedly 1,500, and most of those Jews were said to have left with the French, leaving behind no organized Jewish communal structure. [Elazar, Daniel J. "People and Polity: The Organizational Dynamics of World Jewry" Wayne State University Press, 1989 ISBN 0814318436 Page 472] On May 25, 1954 Robert Capa, a photo journalist made famous for providing the first photographs of the Allied landing on Omaha Beach was killed while on assignment covering the French-Indochina War. The 1956 American Jewish Yearbook listed the Jewish population of French Indochina at 1,500, as noted above, but in its 1957 printing, there is no mention of a Jewish population in the region. During the Vietnam War, temporary Jewish communities were organized throughout South Vietnam, comprised largely of United States military personnel. Approximately 30,000 Jewish-Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam; amongst them, Colonel Jack H. Jacobs won the Medal of Honor for heroism for his service. [http://www.gordon.army.mil/EOO/jewish3.htm] After the defeat of South Vietnam in 1975, almost no Jews remained in the country. Fact|date=February 2008

Gradually, as the communist government began accepting economic reforms, the number of Jewish visitors to the country increased. Vietnam and Israel established diplomatic relations on July 12, 1993. Israel opened its resident Embassy in Hanoi in December 1993 with D. Matnai appointed as the first Ambassador to Vietnam. Vigorous efforts have been devoted by both sides to enhancing mutual understanding and deepening the bilateral cooperative relations, especially in agriculture, water resources and health services. [http://www.mofa.gov.vn/en/cn_vakv/nr040830134623/nr040920144424/ns070925132521] Every year, the embassy holds an annual humanitarian mission that sends a convoy of doctors and support staff with supplies into Vietnam’s poorest mountain regions. [Cassedy, Ellen "Economic opportunities lure Jews to land of Ho Chi Minh" Jewish Telegraphic Agency 9/30/2007 http://jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/news/article/20070930vietnamjews.html]

In 2005, the U.S. State Department's "International Religious Freedom Report" noted "There were no reported anti-Semitic incidents during the period covered by this report. The country's small Jewish population is comprised almost entirely of expatriates." [http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51535.htm"] In 2006, Chabad opened a center in Ho Chi Minh City, which is considered to be the economic center of Vietnam. It is used largely by business people and tourists from Israel and the United States. As of 2007, there are some 100 “Do Thai,” or Jews in Hanoi and about 200 in Ho Chi Minh City. [Cassedy, Ellen "Economic opportunities lure Jews to land of Ho Chi Minh" Jewish Telegraphic Agency 9/30/2007 http://jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/news/article/20070930vietnamjews.html]

References


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