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Behind the Headlines the Dominican Republic: a Haven for Jewish Refugees from Nazism

Eric Benjamin, born in the formerly German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, in Poland), where he was a carpenter and is now the owner of a 360-acre farm and 100 cows, is engaged in the renovation of the synagogue which was built shortly after the arrival of the refugees in Sosua. The $20,000 required for this project will be raised in the Jewish community of whose center Benjamin is the treasurer.

The special occasions during which the colonists gather in the synagogue are the Passover sedorim, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and bar mitzvahs, which are observed even in intermarried families. Although the remaining Jews in the area are far from Orthodox, they use prayer books of the Orthodox version. While in the synagogue, I accidentally come across a slichot book (penitential prayers), printed in the German city of Redelheim in 1865.

There are many more rare antique items in this place than are congregants to appreciate them. The president of the synagogue, Monfred Newman, who is a farmer and insurance agent, is more hopeful regarding the future of the community than are the rest of the Jewish residents of Sosua. He bases his optimism on the fact that many of the younger people are returning to the farms. He, his wife and family came to Sosua in 1954 from Israel, where they resided for 20 years.

The Jewish leaders plan to erect a museum near the synagogue that will depict and house the story of the arrival and life of the Jewish refugees in Sosua. This will be accomplished through exhibits of photographs, machinery, as well as other memorabilia. The object of this museum will be to portray the creativity and contribution of the Jewish settlers to the Dominican Republic, as well as to express their appreciation to its people and government for the opportunities extended to them in their hour of need.

According to an interview I had with Minister Victor Cabral, former diplomat, present member of the Cabinet and very prominent personality of Santo Domingo, I was informed that the government is highly in favor of the museum project undertaking in Sosua.

SOME OF THE PROMINENT JEWS

Of the 50 Jewish families now residing in Santo Domingo, there may be only about ten of them who have not intermarried. Their 80-seat synagogue, built in 1954, is located in the vicinity of the Israel Embassy and is used mainly on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As in Sosua, this community, too, has no rabbi, no ritual slaughterer or circumciser. Also, their prayers are conducted in the Orthodox manner. The president of this group is the 58-year-old Rudolph Frankenberg, who come from Palestine in 1947.

The 89-year-old Bruno Philipp, owner of a furniture factory and real estate man, is considered the elder statesman of the colony and is the Honorary Consul General of Israel in the Dominican Republic. I met him in his luxurious quarter-million dollar home in the presence of Nachemia Tevell, First Secretary of the Israel Embassy in Santo Domingo. There I was informed that Philipp came to Santo Domingo in 1939, before the outbreak of World War II from Germany where he was a successful banker. Shortly after his arrival in the Dominican Republic, he became the advisor to dictator Rafael Trujillo on the institution of a viable bank system in his new land.

Among the most highly esteemed and prominent Jewish residents in this area is the industrialist, Samuel Bild, president of the Keren Hayesod for the Dominican Republic; who is in constant touch with Miami because of the important and vibrant activities of its Jewish residents in behalf of all vital Jewish causes.

EXCELLENT RELATIONS NOTED

The relationship between the Jewish community and the government is excellent, as are the diplomatic relations between the Dominican Republic and Israel. Unlike most foreign governments, whose embassies are located in Tel Aviv, the Dominicans have their embassy in Jerusalem. This republic’s friendship towards Israel is often demonstrated by its posture in the United Nations in its voting on matters concerning the Jewish State.

The attitude of the entire Dominican society is most friendly toward Israel and Jewry as a whole. President Antonio Guzman is a staunch friend of the Jewish people and his government is particularly grateful to Israel for the help of its agricultural experts, who have contributed so much to its land development. With very few exceptions, the Dominican Republic has no diplomatic relations with any of the Communist or Arab countries.

Jordan has on Honorary Consul in Santo Domingo and Lebanon is represented by its Ambassador in Venezuela. At present there is an accord with Egypt on being represented diplomatically by its Venezuelan Ambassador. The Foreign Ministry of Santo Domingo declared that in view of the new developments between Egypt and Israel it, too, is ready to resume friendly relations with that country.

The Santo Domingo telephone directory abounds in Jewish names, such as Cohen and Levi. However, none of these are names of Jews. They are just the result of romantic involvements of young Jewish men with Gentile women whose offspring carry the Jewish names.

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