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Victor Sassoon

  • Given name:
  • Last name:
  • Date of Birth:
  • Place of Birth:
    Napoli (IT)
  • Date of Death:
  • Place of Death:
    Nassau (BS)
  • Profession:
  • Introduction:

    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

  • Signature Image:
    Photograph of Victor Sassoon. G. L. “Die Immigration – ein Problem.” Shanghai Woche (Weekly Review), 30 March 1939, p. 3.
  • Content:

    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

  • Media:
    Hahn, Emily. China to Me. A Partial Autobiography. BCE, The Blakiston Company, 1944, cover.
  • Bibliography (selected):

    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

  • Author:
    Mareike Hetschold
  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

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

  • Metropolis:
  • 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

    Victor Podgoursky, photography (© Nikolay Kradin).
    Street plan of the corner of Avenue Dubail and Avenue Joffre, where Podgoursky’s studio was located (© Institut d’Asie Orientale).Interior showing the card room of the French Club, postcard, collection of the author. The murals were made by Victor Podgoursky.Victor Podgoursky, Peking Street Scene, oil painting, 1938 (© Podgourski Family Club).Musicians, oil painting, photographed in Podgoursky’s studio, Shanghai, 1940 (© 2012 Mei-Fang Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China, Podgoursky's studio at 6 Avenue Dubail, 1940, Shanghai (© 2012 Mei-Fang Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China,
    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

    Vladimir Zhiganov. Russkie v Shanghai (Russians in Shanghai), Shanghai 1936. Sam Sanzetti, Portrait of Leonid Skvirsky at work, photography.
    Victor Sassoon (with a camera), Leonid Skvirsky and model Lulah Thompson, in Skvirsky’s studio, 23 January 1935 (© DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University).Sam Sanzetti and Leonid Skvirsky, portraits of Shanghai society women, Shanghai Sunday Times, 19 February 1935.Stamp of Skvirsky Studio (© author’s collection).
    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

    Sam Tata, Rooftop Watchers, Sino-Japanese War, 1 January 1937, Shanghai, postcard (© authors collection).
    McLachlan, Ian and Sam Tata. Shanghai 1949 – The End of an Era, New Amsterdam Books, 1989.
    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

    Advertisement, Photo-Studio Prof. H Schieberth, Shanghai Jewish Chronicle, 1943, p. V.
    Die Schönheit – mit Bildern geschmückte Zeitschrift für Kunst und Leben, vol. 3, no. 3, cover.Peter Landow. Natur und Kultur. Das Weib. Buchverlag der Gesellschaft zur Verbreitung klassischer Kunst, Berlin 1925.Hermann Schieberth, Akt, photo heliogravure, 23 × 31 cm, 1925.Hermann Schieberth. Oskar Kokoschka als Kriegs-Freiwilliger im k. u. k. Drag.-Reg, Nr 15 (Oskar Kokoschka as a war volunteer), silver bromid.Hermann Schieberth, Photographer Karl Schenker in aviator outfit, 1919.Rosholt Malcom, Hamilton House, around 1937 (© 2012 Mei-Fei Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol, Malcom, Metropole Hotel from the window of Hamilton House, around 1937 (© 2012 Mei-Fei Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol, Bormann, Foochow Road, wood or lino cut, around 1940, Shanghai (© private collection).Advertisement, Kunst-Salon, Shanghai Jewish Chronicle, 28 May 1943, p. 4. This advertisement informs that the Art Salon still has the same address. The deadline for the forced move to the so-called Shanghai Ghetto was 15 May 1943, the advertisement appeared in the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle on 28 May 1943.
    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

    Rudolf Hamburger, interior decoration for The Modern Home, photography (© Hamburger family).
    Advertisement, The Modern Home, 1931.Modern Homes, letterhead, around the late 1940s (© private archive, courtesy of Natascha Paulick).Modern Homes, Tango Bar, interior, photography (© Architekturmuseum der TU Munich, Estate Richard Paulick).Modern Homes, interior, photography, around 1941, pauli-22-1002 (© Architekturmuseum der TU Munich, Estate Richard Paulick). The landscape painting was made by the Austrian artist Friedrich Schiff.
    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

    Ward Road Gaol, interior, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The guards are able to see all areas from the aisles.
    Ward Road Gaol, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The men’s building has six floors and a usable roof area.Ward Road Gaol Shanghai, floor plan, (© Hamburger family). It shows a typical cruciform floor plan.Ward Road Gaol, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The central round light source, which was covered with a glass dome.Ward Road Gaol, interior, photography, Shanghai (© Hamburger family). The guards are able to see all areas from the aisles.