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UPDATED: 08:23, March 30, 2006
Harbin people congratulate Olmert on Israeli election success
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When the Israeli electoral authorities said on Wednesday that acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's party had won the general election, a few people in a distant Chinese city sent a congratulatory letter to Olmert, a descendant of Harbin Jews.

"As a Chinese scholar and more importantly a Harbiner, I congratulate him on the success and hope for lasting peace in Israel," Qu Wei, head of the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua.

Qu has paid three visits to Israel and every time he has been received by Olmert. "I had such honor because I am from Harbin," he said.

"My family has a deep affection for Harbin," said Olmert who was then the deputy prime minister during a visit to Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, in 2004.

Olmert's parents grew up in Harbin before moving to Israel. His father was proud of his experience of teaching Chinese students Chinese, and kept telling Olmert about his old days in China.

When Olmert's father died at the age of 88 his last words were in Chinese. "Although we did not understand what he said, we knew his heart was tied with Harbin forever," said Olmert.

During the visit, Olmert paid respects to his grandfather's tomb in the Harbin Jews Cemetery, which covers 836 square meters and consists of about 600 tombs, the largest of its kind in East Asia.

Ehud Olmert's elder brother Amram Olmert had worked in China as the counselor on agriculture in the Israeli Embassy to China, giving up the chance to work in the United States.

An agricultural park on modern Israeli technologies was established in Harbin in 2003.

Harbin, described as the "city of Chinese-Jewish friendship" by a famous Israeli writer, once was the largest residence of Jews in East Asia.

In the late 19th century, large numbers of Jewish people, among whom were Ehud Olmert's grandparents and their children, moved to Harbin to Russia and some other European countries, said Li Shuxiao, deputy head of the Jewish Studies Center affiliated to the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

The number of Jewish people living in Harbin topped 25,000 in the 1920s, the largest Jewish community in East Asia at that time. They developed a complete social system of their own and they were called the "Harbin Jews," according to Li.

Harbin and other Chinese cities such as Shanghai also became home to Jewish people fleeing Europe's Nazi Holocaust.

In recent years, more than 100 Jewish people each year have come to Harbin to find the roots of their families and pay respects to their ancestors, Li said.

"My family discussed whether to bring remains of my grandparents to Israel. In the end, we decided to respect their choice to stay in China. They belong to China, belong to Harbin, which is an ideal place for them," Olmert was quoted by Li as saying.

When a picture album "Jews in Harbin" was published in 2003, Olmert wrote a congratulatory letter in the album marked "the great friendship between Chinese and Jews" and recorded "a major humanitarian victory in history."

Wang Jian, deputy head of the Jewish Studies Center affiliated to the Shanghai Municipal Academy of Social Sciences, said almost all Jews in China survived World War II thanks to the support given by the Chinese people and Jewish people in other parts of the world.

The Jewish people have not forgotten their Chinese friends, neighbors and those who had helped them at that harsh time.

Today, Jewish people who formerly lived in China and now live in other parts of the world have set up many organizations to commemorate the old days in China and friendship with Chinese people.

Source: Xinhua

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