In March 1996 a discussion came up on my Haiti list in which the history of Jews in Haiti was the
primary topic. Below are selected posts from that discussion and some later additions.
I am still open to adding yet more information if there are those of you who have contributions
to add to what is below.
Bob Corbett, August 1999
From Eliabeth McAlisterEliabeth McAlister EMcAlister@wesleyan.edu
I have also become interested in the story of Jews in Haiti and am researching for an article on "the Jew in the Haitian Imagination" which discusses brule Juif rituals on Good Friday, and my findings among Rara bands that when they are labeled "Jews" because they do Rara on Good Friday, some Rara members affirm that they consider themselves "Jews." All of this is symbolic and mythical and I am doing a cultural analysis on it for an upcoming volume called Black Zion, on African American imaginings of Judaism, to be published by Oxford Press.
This more symbolic data, though, has caused me to look for the real history of Jews in Haiti and I have uncovered a lot of hints that there has been a steady migration of Jewish people--small but steady, I should say--for decades. Some of the old, known families in Haiti were Jewish (I've got their names somewhere, you'd recognize them) but the pattern was that Jews assimilated quite quickly into the larger Haitian society, marrying into Catholic families. Jeremie in particular was a place where many Jews settled, and in Port-au-Prince you can find names like "Rosemberg" on the caveau; tantalizing hints of a multicultural Haitian history. Some of the "Syrien" were Jewish originally. The main family, as Greg Chamberlain mentioned, to still practice is Bigio; every passover he holds seder and invites visiting Jewish blanc. His cousin David frequents the Oloffson and remembers going to Brule Juif as a kid; says he never felt any anti-semitism; says he knows more about Catholicism than his own Judaism...
Apparently many Middle Eastern families (the Syrien) were Jewish and they socialized with other "Syrien". When the state of Isreal was created this caused divisions among Haitian "Syrien" and resulting social tensions created two sort of social camps.
Meanwhile, if anybody is looking for a dissertation topic, the social history of the "syrien" class has not yet been done; nore, as Greg Chamberlain mentioned, has a study of the ruling families.
That's my two cents; I'd be interested to hear anyone's stories about Brule Juif rituals, or about Jews in Haiti; you can write to me directly at my email address if you like.
From Glenn InghramGHI408@cnsvax.albany.edu
While doing research within the NAACP Papers, I came across the following information:
Ed Mathon (identified as the Director of "Radios-Electricite"), in a letter to NAACP Exec. Sec. Walter White (1/13/1941), stated in part: "a couple of hundred Jews acquired Haitian nationality without going to Haiti" and "a great many Germans (Jews) came to Haiti as Haitian citizens" and "many wealthy Jews became naturalized Haitians"
In a subsequent letter from Mathon to White (1/22/1941), Mathon alluded to the Nazi propaganda question in Haiti, apparently in response to remarks by U.S. Senator Joseph D'Mahoney about his concerns with German agents in Haiti.
Is anyone aware of the extent to which Jews emmigrated to Haiti? Are there any other primary source materials, or good secondary source materials regarding Jews in Haiti, or that make reference to the Holocaust? A colleague in my department is interested in this topic, and it was mere coincidence that I came across the material I cited above.
UAlbany History Department
Haiti and Jews, 1940's
From Paul Brodwinbrodwin@csd.uwm.edu
This is the first time I have heard of Haiti as a country of refuge for persecuted European Jews during WWII. It would be interesting to follow this up. I do know that the Dominican Republic welcomed refugees from Europe during the War -- indeed, there was an article a few years back in the New York Times about a community in the DR where a number of German Jews settled in the 1930's and 40's, and where their descendents continue some of the same typically Old World trades (making sausage, etc.). I notice that Howard French is a reader of this newsgroup -- perhaps he was even the one who wrote that article.
Paul E. Brodwin
Haiti and Jews, 1940's
From Greg Chamberlain100074.email@example.com
In 1939, Dominican dictator Gen Rafael Trujillo, seeking to elevate himself in the eyes of foreign powers (that was how it was seen at the time), offered to take in Jewish refugees from Europe. Several thousand arrived and settled in the small town of Sosua, on the north coast, not far from the (now tourist centre) of Puerto Plata. The town still exists, but there's little trace of the immigrants now.
I don't think it was Howard French who wrote about them, though the NYTimes has (many years ago) carried articles about Sosua. Howard?
Haiti and Jews: Chamberlain replies to Glaser
Don't know about Jews among the Polish troops. The Brandts are German-origin near-whites who came from Jamaica at the turn of the century. Yes, there are Brandts elsewhere. There's a senior politician in Montserrat of that name, for example. Anyone know of a serious study of the big ruling families in Haiti?
From: Greg Chamberlain
Anyone recall Marion Saul, a splendidly eccentric American Jewish lady from NYork who ended up spending nearly all her life in Haiti? She died about 10 years ago, in her eighties. She married a NYork Lehmann very young then divorced him, then her second husband died, and at about 25 she was a rich widow and descended on Haiti.
She liked to recall how she danced with Trujillo at balls when he came over from the Dom.Rep. on dirty weekends just before he seized power in 1930 (when he was head of the army). She never spoke much of Jews in Haiti but introduced me to lots of "Syrians," as Arabs in general are called in Haiti.
From LeGrace BensonLeGraceBenson@clarityconnect.com
Chinese and Jews in Haiti
According to some writers, the Wah family, of which Bernard Wah was internationally notable as a painter from about 1950, and whose members in Haiti and in diaspora continue to paint, are at least partly Chinese. A daughter of an East Indian, orig. from Jamaica is noted in crafts circles. Someone told me that Kosher food was available in Leogane since there were many Jews there --refugees from Nazi Germany. As one looks closer and closer at Haitian families, Haiti seems to have ethnic and national diversity at least in some degree.
There are/were at least two painters of some merit named Sau; Saul, that is Audes Saul was one of them --his work was one of the illustrations for an article in Art International, 1982 on Haitian art. Is he/ are they realted to Mme Saul, does ony one know.
From Adrianne Talamasatalamas@mhc.mtholyoke.edu
I've met Audes Saul and enjoy one of his paintings in my kitchen. I don't think he's Jewish. I know of another Saul artist who does or did a lot of flowers and things. I would be very surprised if Audes and his family were Jewish. I'm nearly certain that they are not.
From Stewart R. Kingstumo@teleport.com
This is a message from my mother about a Jewish family that she knew in Haiti in the 1940's.
From Anne Kingak1@pgstumail.pg.cc.md.us
Stewart: Mrs. Fisher's father was Senator Fombrun, "exiled" as UN Ambassador while I was there although I think I did see or meet him briefly. Odette Fombrun was her sister-in-law. Eddie Roy likewise. Kurt Fisher came to Haiti because it was the only place tht would give him a visa. He later brought his elderly parents there, both of them. They came from Vienna; one of his big hobbies was little lead soldiers, of which he had an impressive array. He also wrote some anthropological books for HAiti. Since one had to be of African descent to become a Haitian citizen, some hanky-panky was observed in his case to prove this, so he was officially of African descent (!)
[Stewart] It's my understanding that the Haitian legislature declared all Jews to be of African ancestry since they came from Egypt (that's Africa) at the time of the Exodus with Moses. This was the justification for permitting European Jews to settle in Haiti in the '30's and '40's.
Mme Fisher must be still alive; I think she and her children live in Puerto Rico. When I was there (1948-49) the fishers were already married and had two children, so they are around 50 today. You can send this to the man if you wish; I don't know of any other Jews in Haiti except possibly the people who ran a meat market (don't remember their name).
[Stewart] We met the Fishers in San Juan in the '70's -- I remember Mme Fisher as a quite dignified lady. I remember I was studying French in junior high school and so I had to try it out on her, but it all came out as Spanish.
Anne Mills King
Prince George's Community College
As Patrick notes, some Haitian diplomats in Europe before the war did sell Haitian passports to Jews frantic to escape. For those who remember the Sans Souci and its delightful proprietors, Georges & Gerti Heraux, Gerti and her mother arrived in Haiti in 1938 from Vienna thanks to just such an arrangement. Georges benefitted, Haiti benefitted, I (to avoid charges of conflict of interest on this posting) had my life enriched by Gerti's goodness to me over twenty years At least Haiti (unlike Cuba, with the St. Louis/ "Voyage of the Damned") kept its bargain. With nostalgia and fondness.
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