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).
Marek Morsel was the son of David and Miriam Morsel. He was born on March 6, 1907 in Wieliczka, Poland, near the Czech border. He had five siblings: Salo, Sigi, Rosa, Antonia and Greta. After finishing high school and an accounting and business program, Marek moved to Prague, where he become a businessman and married Zdenka Schwarz in 1937. In 1939, after the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, Marek was advised to leave the city temporarily to evade arrest as a foreign-born Jew. What he thought would be a short trip became an extended voyage that took him from Czechoslovakia through Yugoslavia to Italy. There, he boarded a ship for the United States that stopped in Portugal. Officials in Lisbon refused to let him disembark, and Marek remained sequestered on board until the ship arrived in the United States. In New York he was again refused permission to disembark, and was informed that he would have to go back to Europe on the ship's return voyage. Marek then contacted a Jewish lawyer whose name was randomly selected from a phone book. Soon after, he was arrested along with another Jewish family seeking refuge in the U.S. However, it was an arrest arranged by the lawyer as a ruse to prevent them from being sent back to Europe. After four months on Ellis Island, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) became aware of their plight and arranged for Marek to leave for the Dominican Republic, where he was resettled in the Sosua agricultural refugee colony. Marek's wife, Zdenka, who was unable to obtain an exit visa, remained in Prague until she was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942. There, she worked as a typist recording the names of people entering and leaving the camp. Zdenka and her sister survived the war. After the liberation she contacted an aunt who was living near Richmond, VA. Through her, Zdenka made contact with Marek and arranged to join him in the Dominican Republic in 1946. Two years later they moved to Virginia. Marek's parents and two of his siblings perished during the war, as did Zdenka's father and her two brothers.