German Jew fleeing to the Domenican Republic in 1938

German Jew fleeing to the Domenican Republic in 1938

A British reader contacted me about a passport he owns and wanted to know more details. He sent me pictures and to my surprise I found besides other visas also a visa of the Domenican Republic issued at their consulate in Hamburg. It was the first visa Hanna Bloch obtained. Others are Chile, France (transit visa) and Argentina.

Jewish refugee via Domenican Republic

When the world closed its borders at the Evian Conference 79 years ago (1938), one improbable nation stepped up to save a few hundred Jews from Nazi Germany: the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic was one of the very few countries willing to accept mass Jewish immigration during World War II. At the Évian Conference, it offered to accept up to 100,000 Jewish refugees. The DORSA (Dominican Republic Settlement Association) was formed with the assistance of the JDC, and helped settle Jews in Sosúa, on the northern coast. About 700 European Jews of Ashkenazi Jewish descent reached the settlement where each family received 33 hectares (82 acres) of land, 10 cows (plus 2 additional cows per children), a mule and a horse, and a US$10,000 loan (about 161,000 at 2016 prices) at 1% interest. Other refugees settled in the capital, Santo Domingo. In 1943 the number of known Jews in the Dominican Republic peaked at 1000. The Sosúa’s Jewish community experienced a deep decline in the 1980s due to emigration during the touristic boom of Sosúa when most Jews sold their land to developers at exorbitant prices. The oldest Jewish grave is dated to 1826. Today, there are approximately 100 Jews living in the Dominican Republic.

The Evian Conference, sponsored by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to facilitate the resettlement of political refugees (in other words Jews) once the Nazi’s racial laws worsened the humanitarian condition in Europe. By 1938, discriminatory practices in Germany and Austria had given way to violent intimidation and sparked a refugee crisis.

The conference has been called, to paraphrase the Roman historian Sallust, “honest in face but shameful in heart.” Western Democracies across the globe shut their doors to Jews seeking asylum from the Nazi terrors in Europe, despite public expressions of sympathy by their governments at the horrors they were undergoing.

The United Kingdom, according to one diplomat present at Evian, declared that his island was “not a country of immigration,” and was “already sufficiently populated.” British colonies were deemed “inappropriate” for settlement, and Palestine at the time was off the table due to “local and political considerations [which] hinder or prevent any significant immigration,” according to “Dominican Haven” by Marion A. Kaplan.

France declared it had already reached its point of “saturation” regarding immigrants. Australians explained that because theirs was a relatively young country, they did not have a race problem and “were not desirous of introducing one.”

Industrial powers Canada and the United States, as well as needy developing countries Argentina and Brazil, found crafty reasons to not accept any refugees, despite expressing moral outrage at the situation. Some countries toyed with the idea of accepting refugees who were strictly “agriculturists,” but that too never went further than conjecture.

The most germane observation regarding Evian came from Holocaust historian Henry Feingold, who lamented, “Representatives of the Jewish organizations despaired, as hope for immediate actions was drowned in a sea of Latin eloquence.”

The “hero” of Evian was not the revered Roosevelt, whose wife would come to be known as one of the greatest humanitarians of her time, but rather Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to1961. Here was a man regarded by the rest of the world as an impersonal and violent dictator whose good deeds were fueled more by opportunism than statesmanship.

While Trujillo offered to absorb 100,000 refugees, only 800 received visas between 1940 and 1945. But neither the numbers, nor his politics, mattered much to the Jews who settled in Sosua.

The Passport

This should be one of the earliest Dominican Republic visa as it was already issued end of 1938. As just stated Jewish escape to this island was the exception, hence to find a German passport with the big Red J and such a visa is absolutely rare.

The passport is for a Jewish lady named Hanna Block. Born 20/6/23 and a resident of Berlin, issued on 8/12/38 and was valid for 1 year for travel at home and abroad. It bears various stamps, the most important one being a visa for the Dominican Republic showing the destination as Ciudad Trujillo.

  • German Jew fleeing to the Domenican Republic in 1938
    Passport of Hanna (Sara) Bloch with a large Red J. There is also a stamp Jamaica on the inner cover. © Lloyd T.

The Sosúa Virtual Museum (http://www.sosuamuseum.org)
Visit the site to learn more…

Thank you, Lloyd T. for bringing your outstanding collectible to my attention. Surely a significant document of Holocaust/Jewish (passport) history. Keep it save!

 

German Jew fleeing to the Domenican Republic in 1938

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