Recently, someone asked me whether there were any historical documents to complement the oral history of Jews who settled in Haiti or fled there as an initial stop on their way to other shores (see previous post A look into Haiti’s tiny Jewish community). Since I have been following the data gathering process of the Haiti Holocaust Survivors blog, I decided to conduct a bit of research (from my own bookshelf for now). The following is offered as a general introduction to the subject; see excerpts from Harry A. Ezratty’s 500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean: The Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the West Indies (Omni Arts Publishers, 1997). [Also of interest is the article “Haiti and the Jews: A Forgotten History” (posted on the blog World War Four Report), which mentions former Israeli ambassador to Haiti Mordechai Arbell’s book The Jewish Nation in the Caribbean (Gefen, 2002)]
History tells us that the Code Noir had little political effect on the French colony of Haiti. The first Jew to set food there was the interpreter Luis de Torres, as he must have been in most, if not all, of the islands discovered by Columbus on his first voyage. Sephardim with names such as De Pass, Sarzedas, Soria and Toussaint owned plantations and traded throughout Haiti. The Gradis and Monsanto families were also in international trade there. Monsantos also maintained family ties in French New Orleans, St. Thomas, Curacao and other Caribbean islands. Most Jews of this period, however, seem to have been employees of large plantation owners. During the Black Revolt of the late 18th century, Jews were forced to leave Haiti because of the anti-white violence. It is said that during the insurrection some Jewish families managed to reach safety in a town known as Jeremie. To this day, many Haitians from Jeremie claim Jewish ancestry.
But during the 18th century, the Jews of Haiti were well-known. On August 18, 1782, New York’s Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue wrote to the Jews of Cape Francois (now Cape Haitien) for assistance in synagogue construction. On another occasion, an American Jew, Naphtali Hart, appealed for assistance from his co-religionists in Cape Francois when his brig, the Elizabeth was seized in that city’s port.
A few Syrian Jews came to Port-au-Prince following World War I. Eastern Europeans followed. Their numbers were small and there was much intermarriage, dissolving whatever strength the community may have had. During the 1950s and ’60s, services were held in the homes of various Jewish leaders. Since the political upheavals following the death of military dictator Duvalier, whatever community there was has been weakened considerably. There is no formally organized Jewish life in Haiti. [Many thanks to Janet Mathes for the transcription.]
[Historian and attorney Harry A. Ezratty began studying Jewish history while at college and has since continued researching and writing on the Jews of the Diaspora. Ezratty spends his time between the United States and Puerto Rico, and has traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean visiting Jewish sites and gathering information. This resulted in his 1997 book, 500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean, which led to lecture appearances at synagogues and universities both in the Caribbean and the continental United States. The book’s updated, expanded, and annotated second edition appeared in 2002. He is also author of They Led the Way (The Creators of Jewish America) and The Builders: Jews and the Growth of America.]
For purchasing information and review, see http://www.amazon.com/500-Years-Jewish-Caribbean-Portuguese/product-reviews/0942929187/ref=cm_cr_pr_redirect?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0
For more information on the author, see http://www.ezrattylectures.com/
See “Haiti and the Jews: A Forgotten History” at http://www.ww4report.com/node/8272
See Haiti Holocaust Survivors at http://haitiholocaustsurvivors.wordpress.com/