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A Jewish refugee in Sosua works in a distillery.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 37896

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    A Jewish refugee in Sosua works in a distillery.
    A Jewish refugee in Sosua works in a distillery.

Pictured is Ernest Schreiner.


    A Jewish refugee in Sosua works in a distillery.

    Pictured is Ernest Schreiner.
    1941 - 1946
    Sosua, The Dominican Republic
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Archive of the Jewish Community and Museum of Sosua
    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
    Archive of the Jewish Community and Museum of Sosua
    Copyright: Public Domain

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    Record last modified:
    2006-07-31 00:00:00
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