Adventures with Dead Jews

Frozen Jews: Ep. 2

What happens when a country hears about an antisemitic conspiracy theory and takes it literally?

September 10, 2021

In this episode, Dara Horn explores the bizarre afterlife of a chance encounter that later caused an entire empire to lose its mind. In 1904, the American Jewish financier Jacob Schiff randomly met a Japanese banker at a dinner in London and decided to give Japan a $200 million loan to help ensure its victory in the Russo-Japanese War.

A generation later, when Japanese military officers were first exposed to an antisemitic conspiracy theory, they assumed, based on their country’s experience with Schiff, that it must be true—and convinced their government to take action. In twist upon twist, the Empire of Japan became more and more involved in “the Jewish Question,” to the point where they actually tried to answer it. Their answer? To build a Jewish state in Manchuria.

More information about Japan’s relationship with Jews in the 20th century is available in the following works:

  • The Fugu Plan by Marvin Tokayer, an American rabbi who served the Jewish community in Kobe in the 1960s and was the first Westerner to directly interview many of the people involved in Japan’s short-lived idea for a Manchurian Jewish state

On Jacob Schiff, see Jacob Schiff: A Study in American Jewish Leadership by Naomi Cohen.

Zev Eleff’s work on the history of American Jewish religious leadership includes the books Who Rules the Synagogue? and Authentically Orthodox.

More information about the Jewish history of Harbin, China, can be found in “Frozen Jews” in People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn.

Adventures with Dead Jews is brought to you by Tablet Studios and SoulShop. It’s created and written by Dara Horn, and produced and edited by Josh Kross and Robert Scaramuccia. The managing producer is Sara Fredman Aeder, and the executive producers are Liel Leibovitz, Stephanie Butnick, Gabi Weinberg, and Dan Luxenberg. We hope you’ll rate and review it wherever you get your podcasts so that more people can join us on our adventures.

Dara Horn’s new book, People Love Dead Jews, is published by WW Norton and is available wherever books are sold. It’s also available as an audiobook from Recorded Books. We hope you’ll check it out.

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