This is part of the 5 Cool History Facts About The D.R. on our show Repeating The Past. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, do check it out first!
When Hitler began his anti-semitic quest, thousands of Jews left Germany on their own will. So many in fact, it became a global issue. In July 1938 US president Roosevelt convened a meeting to discuss the problem of what to do with all these refugees roaming Europe? Disclaimer: any similarities to current events is pure historic irony.
The thing is, apparently nobody liked Jews anywhere and most nations were unwilling or unable to accept any refugees — Jews or otherwise, many out of fear that similar anti-semitic sentiments as in Germany could arise in their own countries. The US for example was still in its Depression and already taking in a few, but they wouldn’t’ budge on their quota. They just couldn’t.
Hitler thought that was funny. Everybody was complaining about his treatments of the jews, but then nobody wanted to do anything about it? To him this signaled that nobody really cared about the Jews… so why should he? He wanted to get rid of them one way or the other, and if nobody wanted to take them in, he would have to take them out. We know today that had the countries found a way to take in the Jews, the Holocaust may not have taken place…
The conference reached a stalemate – until the Dominican Republic offered to take in up to 100,000.
Thus far what most people know of this part in history.
The truth is that most Jews did not want to go to the Dominican Republic – everyone wanted to go to Palestine or the US. Or the UK, so they could get from there to Palestine. Only 800 Jewish refugees actually made it to the Dominican shores, most of which later moved on to the US. Or Palestine. In the end the countries that received the largest numbers of Jews were the US and Palestine — the later of which triggered an entire war of its own.
As for the Jews that actually stayed in the DR, they numbered in the end only in a few dozen families that carved an eventually prosperous colony out of a hot beach, now known as Sosúa. A synagogue and a museum attest to their hardship.