History of the Askenazie Jews in the Dominican Republic
Between 1939 and 1942, the Dominican government issued more than 5,000 visas to Jews, though in the end, only 700 actually came.
In 1947, a group of 39 European Jewish immigrants arrived in Sosua from the Chinese city of Shanghai, where they had taken refuge during the war. On exhibit is a trunk belonging to the Strauss-Schick family, which was part of that group.
The Jews who settled in Sosua brought their religious traditions with them, and all throughout the museum are photographs of new immigrants celebrating bar-mitzvahs and weddings in their new adopted country. Also on display are aging copies of La Voz de Sosuaand other magazines in German, Spanish and English that informed and entertained the close-knit community.
Those who did come were each given the opportunity to purchase 80 acres of land (as well as 10 cows, a mule and a horse) with low-interest loans in an uninhabited area near the village of Arroyo Sosua. With Dorsa’s help, these Jews built workshops, a sanitation system, a clinic and the Productos Sosua dairy, which still produces milk and cheese for the whole country.
The Museo Judio, located next to the Casa Marina Hotel and down the street from the local Verizon phone company office, was inaugurated Feb. 3, 2003, in the presence of many dignitaries including Israel’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
Housed in a modern structure next to the original wood-frame synagogue used by the refugees, the museum tells the story of how Trujillo — attending the 1938 Evian conference in France — offered 100,000 Jews safe haven in the face of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
The museum is too small for a gift shop, though visitors can buy Dominican-made ceramic mezuzah covers for $10 each.
Oisiki Ghitis, religious director of the Centro Israelita de la Republica Dominicana in Santo Domingo, says that today, the country has around 300 Jews. Except for 30 or 40 in Sosua, the rest live mainly in Santo Domingo, the capital. Many of the original settlers and their descendants have since left for better lives in the United States and elsewhere.
One indication of the scarcity of Jews in Sosua is the fact that the Jewish Museum’s director, Cristina Román, is a Catholic woman who wears a small crucifix around her neck.
“There is very little discrimination here,” said Ghitis. “In fact, the high rate of intermarriage is precisely because of that. There’s absolutely no rejection of the Jew in society here.”
One wall of the Museo Judio contains faded news clippings such as a May 11, 1940, article from the New York Times entitled “Exiles on Last Lap to Dominican Site,” while another showcases sepia prints by La Nación photographer Kurt Schnitzer and original paintings by artist Ernesto Loher — both children of Jewish refugees who settled in Sosua. There’s also a colorful stained-glass Star of David and a chart extending from ceiling to floor, listing the names of settlers, the date each arrived and their country of origin.