I thought I knew how my family escaped the Holocaust…


“. . . The truth was hidden in a Dominican town.” Emily Codik writes about exploring her family roots in Sosúa, in the Dominican Republic. Searching through the archives at Sosúa’s Jewish Museum, she discovered many interesting details to better frame her family’s history in the Caribbean country. Here are excerpts; read the full article at The Washington Post:


The night before Kristallnacht — the infamous date in November 1938 when synagogues burned across Germany and the Nazis arrested tens of thousands of Jews — my father’s family escaped from Berlin and fled to one of the few places in the world willing to take in Jewish refugees. They settled in Sosua, a remote beach town on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, whose dictator, Rafael Trujillo, had offered Jews safety for a promise to develop the land.

This is the story I heard countless times. “It was paradise,” my 89-year-old Aunt Hella would say, weaving my family’s heritage into a little-known part of Holocaust history. But the story never entirely made sense.

As it was told to me, a small Caribbean country saved my family at a time when more powerful nations such as the United States and Britain refused to do the same. In return, the Jews transformed a jungle coastline into a peaceful settlement with a hospital and a school. My grandfather, a salesman by trade, became the village baker. Hundreds of others — accountants, nurses, tailors — learned to ride horses and clear roads. [. . .]

One main reason Sosua fell apart, several refugees said in interviews, was simple. It wasn’t only the backbreaking agricultural work, the infighting, the culture shock or the desire to find a better life in the States.

“There were very, very few girls,” refugee Ruth Kohn, 90, now living in Springfield, Va., told me. Single men had trouble finding marriageable partners in Sosua, giving them even less reason to stay. In 1942, according to the JDC, among a population of 472 were 158 single men and 38 single women.

The settlement association had looked for young men with an agricultural background who could develop the land, and women were less likely to leave Europe on their own. Trujillo also sought out men, hoping that the wave of immigrants from Europe would intermarry with Dominicans and “whiten” his nation’s people.

Settlers had to ask the administration for permission any time they wanted to leave Sosua, and the nearest major town was hours away by horseback or about an hour by car, making romance between Dominicans and Jews difficult. These conditions helped spawn cases of adultery in the small community, constantly witnessed and whispered about. “You never knew in the morning when you woke up which young man had slept with a married woman,” Kohn said.

But it wasn’t only single men sleeping with married women. The settlers gossiped about both husbands and wives engaging in affairs, Joe Benjamin told me, and the Columbia University analysis mentioned a “sexual turpitude” that had resulted in cases of syphilis.

It made me think of a short passage in “Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosua,” one of the few books published about the town, that now made a lot more sense. In the 255-page book, a few paragraphs, easily overlooked, mentioned these dalliances: In 1942, doctors “warned men to stay away from bordellos and unknown women and, assuming their advice would be ignored, to use condoms.”

The bordellos in question were in Charamicos, a poor neighborhood on the south end of the beach. The refugees had populated El Batey on the north end, and those looking for sex would discreetly venture south. Today’s sex industry is completely different, employing women from across the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who take spins around town and on the beach looking for clients.

“Everything is just much more visible,” said Denise Brennan, a Georgetown University professor who wrote the book “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” about Sosua’s sex industry. Still, it was the Jews — not the tourists blamed for Sosua’s demise — who first visited prostitutes. But that part of the story had been conveniently lost in the retelling. [. . .]

[This story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.]

For full article, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/i-thought-i-knew-how-my-family-escaped-the-holocaust-the-truth-was-hidden-in-a-dominican-town/2017/10/16/a1aaff78-8743-11e7-a50f-e0d4e6ec070a_story.html?utm_term=.278d5188100b

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