Don’t forget stories of Evian Conference, Sosua

A historic event known as the Evian Conference of 1938 is rarely if ever mentioned in American history textbooks, nor is its anniversary imprinted on calendars … for good reason.
It was originally publicized as an attempt by the United States President Franklin Roosevelt to save displaced German and Austrian Jews who were seeking refuge from the Nazis. An international conference of 32 nations was held July 6-15 at the resort town of Evian-les-Bains, France.
Months before, Nazi Germany had marched into Austria, extending its policy of confiscation of Jewish money and property. These penniless Jews were still allowed to leave Nazi control if they could find a nation that would accept them.
America’s immigration quota system, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Semitism and the increasing cost of fighting the Depression, all worked to prevent allowing penniless refugees into the United States.
Many humanitarian organizations, mostly Jewish, were present as observers at the conference, including Golda Meir, but were not allowed to participate.
German Nazis were present as well, even though they had not been invited. No doubt the anti-immigrant comments made by the British who were blocking European Jews from entering Palestine, as well as the general lack of immigration support by the conference, pleased Hitler.
The failure of the Evian Conference, the unwillingness of nations to save the Jews, was probably Hitler’s “green light” to advance his plans for the Holocaust.
Only one small nation, the Dominican Republic, represented by President Rafael Trujillo, offered to allow up to 100,000 Jewish men and/or married couples to settle in his country, under certain conditions.
Why Trujillo, well-known as a ruthless dictator, would make such an offer, is explained by historians this way: It was well-known that Trujillo was obsessed with favoring white-skinned people. He was known to powder and lighten his own dark skin daily.
By opening his country to 100,000 Jewish refugees, he would be countering previous bad publicity about his cruelty to his black-skinned Haitian neighbors.
The land in the north central Sosua area needed to be cultivated and what better way than to have white-skinned Europeans farm the land, marry Dominican women, and thereby expand the white population.
Because of the expanding war and bureaucratic red tape, it was becoming more difficult after the conference to fulfill the original promise of 100,000.
Of 5,000 visas originally issued by the Dominican Republic, only 600 European Jews had taken advantage of the offer. An additional 100 Jews arrived in Sosua by war’s end from Shanghai, China.
The American Joint Distribution Committee assisted in working out an agreement between the new Jewish settlers and the government of the Dominican Republic.
Many former city dwellers who had never been on a farm, found themselves behind a plow and building new homes.
A collective at first, much like an Israeli kibbutz, the land was worked by little more than half the Jewish population, with the remainder instead choosing commercial and financial enterprises.
As the (Jewish) village of Sosua evolved, enterprising residents developed commercial ventures and public services such as a school, a library, water works, a medical clinic and, of course, a synagogue.
The original farming venture eventually developed into a more successful dairy, meat and cheese production company, known today as Productos Sosua, well-known for its meat and cheese products, including ham.
Jewish life has diminished greatly in Sosua over the years as children are often sent off to the United States for higher education, Jewish men have intermarried with Dominican women, and others have left for business and job opportunities in larger cities.
Like most island bays, Sosua has become a resort community, a favorite with many European tourists.
Only six or seven of the original settlers have family members still remaining in their haven of Sosua. There is a small Jewish museum and a synagogue which is maintained, whose presence memorializes the original founders who escaped the Holocaust, a relative few survivors when there could have been so many more.
We must never forget the Evian Conference of 1938 and the relatively few Jews who escaped the Holocaust.

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