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Franz Blumenstein plows a field at the Jewish agricultural colony in Sosua, Dominican Republic.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 31713

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    Franz Blumenstein plows a field at the Jewish agricultural colony in Sosua, Dominican Republic.
    Franz Blumenstein plows a field at the Jewish agricultural colony in Sosua, Dominican Republic.


    Franz Blumenstein plows a field at the Jewish agricultural colony in Sosua, Dominican Republic.
    Sosua, The Dominican Republic
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Henry Blumenstein
    Event History
    The Sosua refugee settlement was an all-Jewish agrarian colony in the Dominican Republic. It was established in 1940 after the country's dictator, Rafael Trujillo, offered to take in between 50,000 and 100,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi-dominated central Europe. In the aftermath of the 32-nation conference at Evian-les-Bains, France, to discuss the resettlement of German and Austrian Jewish refugees to other lands, only the Dominican Republic expressed a willingness to accept more than a few thousand endangered Jews. Despite the difficulties posed by such a large resettlement project, the American Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) embraced the offer, hoping to develop a model for relocating Europe's Jews after the war. The Dominican government welcomed the Jews on the condition that they become agricultural workers. The JDC responded by creating the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA) under the direction of James N. Rosenberg, and funded it to purchase 26,000 acres in the town of Sosua, which had previously been developed as a banana plantation by the United Fruit Company. The Trujillo regime signed an agreement with DORSA officials on January 30, 1940, according to which the Dominican Republic guaranteed the settlers and their descendants "full opportunity to continue their lives and occupations free from molestation, discrimination or persecution, with full freedom of religion…civil, legal and economic rights, as well as other rights inherent to human beings." Upon arrival, every new Jewish settler was given 80 acres of land, 10 cows, a mule and a horse. Despite a promising start, the Sosua settlement nearly collapsed in its first years. Because of the dangers posed by submarine warfare in the Atlantic and the diversion of Allied ships for supplies, only about 50 Jews reached Sosua the first year. In addition, the land proved to be less than fertile than expected and lacked adequate drainage. Moreover, the first crop chosen for cultivation and local sale, tomatoes, proved unappealing to the native population. Unwilling to let the settlement die, Rosenberg imported experts from kibbutzim in Palestine to teach the settlers communal agriculture. They helped build a meat processing plant and a butter and cheese factory. A small number of Jewish refugees continued to trickle into the settlement, which peaked at a population of 500 in October 1941, when the Nazis completely cut off Jewish emigration from occupied Europe. (Of the 5,000 Dominican visas issued between 1940 and 1945 only 645 Jews actually made their way to the Dominican Republic.) In the mid 1940s, as the settlement turned from communal agriculture to a system of private plots and the settlers focused on raising cattle and the production of dairy products, the Sosua colony prospered. Though most of the Jewish settlers eventually left for the U.S. and Israel after the war, a significant number remained, and today approximately 25 Jewish families live in Sosua.

    [Sources: "Sosua: An American Jewish Experiment." Chapters in American Jewish History. Presented by the American Jewish Historical Society, (4 October 2004); Levy, Lauren. "The Dominican Republic's Haven for Jewish Refugees." Jewish Virtual Library, (4 October 2004).

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Henry Blumenstein
    Source Record ID: Collections: 01787

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Artifact Photographer
    Max Reid
    Heinz Georg Blumenstein (now Henry Blumenstein) is the son of Feri (Franz) and Elsa Blumenstein. He was born in 1935 in Vienna. Franz was born in Navezamsky, Czechoslovakia in 1901 and moved to Austria as a child. There he met Elsa (b. 1905) as a teenager and the two married. He operated a successful perfume business in Vienna. On the night of Kristallnacht, he was arrested along with more than 3,000 other Viennese Jews and taken to Dachau concentration camp. After three or four months, his wife Elsa obtained his release with a sizeable bribe on the condition that he emigrate within four days. Franz left for Venezuela on board the "Koenigstein" and eventually made his way to Cuba where he stayed with his sister Finni. There he purchased landing certificates for his wife, their 3-year-old son Heinz George, and his mother Regina (b.1866), who were to arrive in Cuba on board the MS St. Louis. When the ship sailed into Havana harbor, Franz joined the flotilla of small boats that sailed up to greet the ship, and he called out greetings to his wife, son and mother.

    After the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, the Blumensteins disembarked at Rotterdam, where they spent two months in the Hejplaat Quarantine Center. In August 1939, they moved to Amsterdam, where they registered with the Jewish Community. In November 1940, Elsa and Heinz received entry visas for the Dominican Republic, where her husband Franz had joined a Jewish agricultural colony in Sosua. But they could not obtain exit visas from the Netherlands, by now under German occupation.

    During the height of the deportations from Holland, Regina was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. She saved Heinz by pushing him into a closet and telling him to keep quiet. Elsa and Heinz fled to northern Holland, where the Dutch resistance provided them with separate safe hiding. Heinz was hidden by Johannes and Shoukje Dykstra of Oosterwierum who were recognized after the war as Righteous Among the Nations. Elsa also was in hiding, but she was arrested when, in the process of moving hiding places, she left her purse behind and was thus discovered. On September 24, 1943, she was deported to Auschwitz where she perished. Heinz survived the war in hiding and came to the United States on board the Athos II, where he rejoined his father in the United States.
    Record last modified:
    2009-03-29 00:00:00
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