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Victor Sassoon

  • Victor Sassoon was a descendant of the Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant family. He contributed significantly to a real estate boom in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s and helped European Jews in the Shanghai Ghetto. An ambitious amateur photographer, he produced many images of people and events of the time.
  • Victor
  • Sassoon
  • 20-12-1881
  • Napoli (IT)
  • 10-08-1961
  • Nassau (BS)
  • Entrepreneur
  • Victor Sassoon was a descendant of the Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant family. He contributed significantly to a real estate boom in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s and helped European Jews in the Shanghai Ghetto. An ambitious amateur photographer, he produced many images of people and events of the time.

    Word Count: 50

  • Photograph of Victor Sassoon. G. L. “Die Immigration – ein Problem.” Shanghai Woche (Weekly Review), 30 March 1939, p. 3.
  • The Sassoon family can be traced back to the Mauritanian late Middle Ages. In the 16th century, they fled from Spain to Iraq, from where they were forced to migrate to India in the 19th century after Baghdadian Jews were threatened by pogroms in Iraq as well.
    Victor Sassoon was born in Italy, while his family were on their way to India. On the death of his father, he inherited the family business, E.D. Sassoon & Co. Limited, which was globally connected and operated worldwide, with interests in Bombay, Shanghai, Baghdad and Japan.
    After the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, following the First Opium War between China and Great Britain, the Sassoon family prospered by participating in the opium business and running cotton mills. Sassoon House, the company's headquarters, was opened in Shanghai in 1930.
    Victor Sassoon started travelling the world quite early and was raised and educated in Cambridge, UK.
    Between 1920 and 1930 he transferred business interests from India to Shanghai, where he invested heavily in the local economy and infrastructure.
    He continued to travel the world, spending most of his time in India and China. He acquired several hotels and other companies and contributed to the distinct urban architecture of Shanghai, favouring an elaborate Art Deco style. Sassoon built several large-scale buildings and skyscrapers that housed offices, factories, residential apartments and hotels. The latter featured exclusive nightlife venues, such as the Tower Night Club on the 9th floor of the luxurious Cathay Hotel, which was located in the Sassoon Building in the Bund at the corner of Nanking Road. For a while the club was managed by Freddy Kaufmann (neé Alfred Cohn), a Jewish émigré from Germany who arrived in Shanghai around 1935. He had been a prominent figure in the nightlife scene in Berlin, but his Jewish background had required him to flee Hitler’s Germany.
    In 1936 Kaufmann managed another exclusive nightclub owned by Sassoon – the newly opened Ciro’s at Bubbling Well Road (now Nanjing Xi Lu). However, his time in Shanghai was brief. He died in the Cathay Hotel in December 1939.
    A passionate amateur photographer, Sassoon opened photographic studios in Shimla in Bombay, perhaps inspired by his friend Leonid Skvirsky, a Russian émigré, who had done the same in Shanghai. With India under British colonial rule at the time, most photo studios in India had been established by Europeans. Sassoon's Hamilton Studio in Bombay, opened in 1928 in a textile mill he owned, is one of the city's oldest studios and is still open to the public today. In the beginning, it was mainly frequented by members of the colonial and local elites.
    Sassoon himself was a member of the international elite in Shanghai. During the city's jazz-inspired "golden age", he met frequently with artists and actors and actresses like Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich. He was also a close friend of the prolific American writer Emily Hahn, who was famously photographed by Sassoon when she arrived in Shanghai after travelling in East Africa. A member of an eccentric high society, Hahn wrote for the North China Daily News and the New Yorker and, in the course of a notoriously hard-working and eventful life, published more than 50 books, including the biography The Song Sisters. Her network extended to the local intellectual and artistic elite as she established a relationship with the famous poet and publisher Shao Xunmei, who ran the prominent Modern Publishing Ltd. She witnessed the arrest  of the German architect Rudolf Hamburger in Chongqing, who at the time was involved in intelligence activities. In the wake of the Japanese invasion, the National Government of the Republic of China (1925–1948) had retreated to Chongqing (1937–45).
    Sassoon’s work and life in Shanghai is strongly connected to the building of foreign settlements, the city's eccentric nightlife and the rise of modernity, all soon to be overshadowed by the outbreak of many wars in China.
    In 1941 – when cultural and business life had declined under Japanese imperial rule – Sassoon, an enemy alien, was forced to leave China. After the revolution and the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, he sold his remaining businesses in China and relocated to the Bahamas, where he died in 1961.

    Word Count: 692

  • Hahn, Emily. China to Me. A Partial Autobiography. BCE, The Blakiston Company, 1944, cover.
  • Betta, Chiara. "From Orientals to Imagined Britons. Baghdadi Jews in Shanghai." Modern Asian Studies, vol. 37, no. 4, 2003, pp. 999-1023
    Field, Andrew David. Shanghai's Dancing World – Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919-1954, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press 2010.
    Kögel, Eduard. Architektur im Widerstand. Rudolf Hamburger im Netzwerk der Geheimdienste. DOM publishers 2021.
    Ti, Wei Peh. "A Peek Backwards into the Jewish Community of Shanghai." Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 32, 1992, pp. 149-163.

    Word Count: 77

  • Mareike Hetschold
  • Sassoon Building, 20 Nanking Road, International Settlement (now Fairmont Peace Hotel, 20 Nanjing Dong Lu, Huangpu Qu) Shanghai

  • Shanghai
  • Mareike Hetschold. "Victor Sassoon." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Victor Podgoursky

    Victor Podgoursky spent more than twenty-five years in Shanghai, working as an artist, teacher and designer. As a long-standing member of the Shanghai Art Club, he acted as the resident art critic and an instructor in life drawing and painting for the members.

    Word Count: 43

    Leonid Skvirsky

    Leonid Skvirsky was one of the most successful photographic artists in Shanghai. His experimental take on lighting and staging of the models ensured him critical acclaim, awards in international competitions and patronage of the elites.

    Word Count: 35

    Sam Bejan Tata

    Sam Tata, descendant of a Parsi family of merchants from India, was a photographer and photojournalist. He is known for his documentary style, his portraits and his documentation of the arrival of the victorious Communist troops in Shanghai in 1949 at the end of the Sino-Japanese War (1946) and the Civil War.

    Word Count: 50

    Hermann Schieberth
    PhotographerArt dealer

    Hermann Schieberth was a successful photographer who had two studios in Austria (from 1909/10? onwards): one in Vienna and the other in Kaltenleutgeben. Due to his Jewish background he had to flee in 1938 and arrived in Shanghai in 1939.

    Word Count: 37

    Modern Homes
    Architecture and Furniture Company

    The three firms The Modern Home, Modern Home and Modern Homes existed from 1931 until 1950. Run by the Paulick brothers together with the Jewish emigrant Luedecke, the firms provided work for many emigrants.

    Word Count: 32

    Ward Road Gaol; Tilanqiao Prison

    The Ward Road Gaol (today Tilanqiao Prison) had space for 7000 prisoners.The rather small new extension for foreign prisoners designed by the architect Rudolf Hamburger consisted of two buildings and a pavilion for the guards.

    Word Count: 35