Sosúa is a small town in the Puerto Plata province of the Dominican Republic which has its origins in an agricultural settlement project founded in 1940 by about seven hundred and fifty Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. It was, at first, organised as a sort of kibbutz.
Originally a banana plantation, about 20 houses and several barracks had been left by United Fruit Company when it abandoned the land in 1916. While, in the following years, the buildings were occasionally used, the land remained mostly unused for plantations or agriculture. In 1938, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the Dominican dictator, bought the entire property and at the 1938 Evian Conference he offered to accept up to 100,000 Jewish refugees
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)
The JDC had a great fund of experience in the field of agricultural settlement for Nazi refugees. It offered a commitment of $200,000 from its residual assets towards the launch of a settlement undertaking in the Dominican Republic under the auspices of the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA).
About 800 German and Austrian Jewish refugees received visas by the Dominican government between 1940 and 1945 and most settled in Sosúa.
The government provided the refugees with land and resources. First the settlers tried arable farming and horticulture. This was not a great success as the land was better suited to pastoral farming and livestock holding. In addition, most of the refugees were from urban areas and had little or no experience of working on the land. From an originally collective form of life and work, there was a change to small holdings. Each farm (Finca) was given ten cows. Settlers cooperated to create a dairy and cheese factory, named Productos Sosúa, still in existence today. They created a community for themselves and for their children in which farming, education, religious life, business and entertainment flourished. After WW2, about half of the settlers left the colony and moved to the USA. Descendants of the original settlers still live in Sosúa, where they maintain a synagogue and a museum.
The Sosúa virtual Museum has lots of photos.
Tropical Zion A review of the book by Prof. Allen Wells.
Tropical Zion: General Trujillo, FDR and the Jews of Sosúa (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009). Prof. Wells worked closely with the research staff of the JDC Archives for nine years, culminating in this publication.
Prof. Kaplan’s research in the JDC Archives over three years led to the publication of Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosua, 1940-1945 (The Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, New York, NY, 2008)
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