In the early days, urban transplants wearing wide straw hats rode horse-drawn wagons from one plot to the next.
Joe told me that his father, once a furniture maker, got up at am every day to milk his cows. On weekends, a projector would light up at the theatre in town for a matinee movie. Joe and his sister would make the two-kilometre walk back to the family farm in the dark. He never told his parents where he was going. Nobody feared anything then. Today, he lives in a spacious house on the outskirts of town, in a plush development behind a guarded security gate. He remembered the town library, the cafe, the nights when everyone gathered around a record player to listen to opera.
Then he made a reference to a best-selling book I had never read, about a fictional small town where sex, gossip and scandal hide behind the pretence of paradise. The few published works about Sosua read like history textbooks.
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But there were other texts and documents that I had never seen, and I knew where to find them. Next door to the town synagogue that the refugees founded is a small Jewish museum. Documents on display showed the stains of age. The museum archives were in a tiny air-conditioned room in the back. Dozens of boxes sat on industrial steel shelves, some labelled, others not.
It was overwhelming. There was so much history here, little of it digitized, none of it known to me. I started pulling tan and crinkled sheets out of folders, searching for clues. I had to read it twice. Leaving on the eve of Kristallnacht had always been a key part of our story, a hurried exit from Berlin at just the right moment, before Nazi mobs stormed Jewish neighbourhoods, killing at least 91 Jews, and antisemitism took a more violent and radical turn. I had never asked about the timeline. Instead, I pictured them abandoning an apartment in Berlin and finding refuge in a rustic home in Sosua.
It was a reminder of how stories, consciously or not, can be romanticized as we retell them, even to ourselves. I started digging deeper into the archives, looking for anything that could provide a hint about what Joe had told me. Fraying papers, many stashed haphazardly in folders and boxes, detailed transcripts of meetings, vital records, academic papers and memos sent from Sosua to the settlement association in New York. I pulled it onto the table. No one had ever mentioned violence.
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Could it have been true? Meister and Klein — and the others — could have been part of that group. Among other files, I found an analysis written by former settler Ann Bandler for Columbia University in With proper planning and management, these middle-class, white-collar Europeans could have built the new life they had been promised.
A parade of experts, Bandler wrote, had made plans for Sosua, advising the refugees to plant bananas, raise livestock or grow tomatoes; that last effort resulted in such a failure that a large surplus of tomatoes spoiled and was thrown into the sea. The land they had been instructed to develop turned out to be better suited for pasture than farming, and the Jews ended up finding success in a dairy and meat operation that — ironically — sold pork.
Still, with every page I read, the story that Sosua had been some sort of paradise, the story I had always been told, started to come apart. Documents hidden away in the archives revealed tensions I had never heard about, between Austrians and Germans, between those who lived in town and those on farms, and those who wanted to improve the community and those who wanted to abandon it and immigrate to the United States.
People screamed at each other at community meetings. On a warm night, while one refugee listened to a German radio broadcast, another became enraged by the propaganda, according to a manuscript written by a former resident, Ernest B. One main reason Sosua fell apart, several refugees said in interviews, was simple. Single men had trouble finding marriageable partners in Sosua, giving them even less reason to stay. In , according to the JDC, among a population of were single men and 38 single women. The settlement association had looked for young men with an agricultural background who could develop the land, and women were less likely to leave Europe on their own.
Settlers had to ask the administration for permission any time they wanted to leave Sosua, and the nearest major town was hours away by horseback or about an hour by car, making romance between Dominicans and Jews difficult. These conditions helped spawn cases of adultery in the small community, constantly witnessed and whispered about. The bordellos in question were in Charamicos, a poor neighbourhood on the south end of the beach.
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The refugees had populated El Batey on the north end, and those looking for sex would discreetly venture south. But that part of the story had been conveniently lost in the retelling. She said that the night before Kristallnacht must have been when they arrived in the Dominican Republic, not when they left Berlin. She told me that the first few years in the country were hard — my grandparents struggled to learn Spanish and earn money.
Records the JDC sent me revealed more details: In Santo Domingo, then called Ciudad Trujillo, my grandfather tried selling tableware, peddling kitchen coal, working as a carpenter and serving as a messenger. The rest followed her. Hella and Max stayed in Sosua only a few years. My grandparents lived there through the late s, while my Aunt Margot and Uncle Vittorio remained until the s.
It was hard getting used to life in Sosua, Aunt Hella said, but she refused to believe the story about the attack in the barracks. That must have happened before she got there, she said. She never saw any violence like that. I left thinking that idealism has always been a part of the town, woven even into the stories we tell.
There were challenges in Sosua, she said, but everyone could live however they wanted, far from the Nazis and without fear of persecution. That was what mattered, of course. But the stories we tell ourselves become history, and the full version of what happened in Sosua is being lost.
The town has become so foreign to those who left that some have vowed never to return, pushing it deep into their memories. My Aunt Hella told me about one of the last times she visited, with her brother-in-law, Vittorio, more than a decade ago.
She stood in the middle of the town, stunned at how things had changed, and turned to her brother-in-law. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists? Touitou described a recent incident in which about 20 or so students from a neighboring public school had gathered in front of the building and made the quenelle. The students I talked with in the library generally agreed that their future lay outside of France. His parents had already moved to Israel.
They were two of the roughly 7, French Jews who left for Israel in Alexandre would be joining them after graduation. Zionism, which at its essence is a critique of Europe—Theodor Herzl, its founder, interpreted the Dreyfus affair in France and the pogroms in Russia as invitations to seek an alternative Jewish future outside of Europe—is perpetually resuscitated by anti-Semitism. The students talked about ways in which Jews concealed their identity. A mezuzah is a piece of parchment that contains Bible verses and that is placed in a case and then affixed to a doorpost. In some suburbs, mezuzot had become pointers for those in search of Jews to harm.
But the students told me something new. The pressure can be very intense. They told the occupants that they knew they were Jewish, and therefore wealthy, and then they raped a year-old woman in the apartment. Everyone agreed that more attacks were inevitable. Everyone knows it.
The next attack came that afternoon. I met with the students on the morning of January 9. Several hours later came the massacre at the kosher supermarket, about a mile away. One of the dead was a graduate of another ORT school. He was dispatched there by the Brooklyn-based Chabad Hasidic movement. This includes a large number, perhaps 50, or so, of Muslim immigrants.
The Jewish community is much smaller—by some estimates, there are fewer than 1, Jews; the population has dropped by half in recent years. Kesselman estimates that he has been the target of roughly anti-Semitic attacks in his 10 years in the city, mainly verbal, but also physical. Occasionally, he said, people spit on him. I attended services at the synagogue with Kesselman one Friday night in January. The synagogue is a large, ornate, Moorish-style building that was constructed in Seventeen others attended the service, most of them men in their 60s.
Before I was allowed to enter, a security officer, a Swedish Jew—playing a role similar to that of Dan Uzan, the Danish Jew killed in a mid-February attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen—quizzed me at length about my identity, asking me a series of idiosyncratic questions designed to test whether I was, in fact, Jewish.
Luckily, I had trained my whole life for this moment. After services, I walked with Kesselman and a group of other worshippers through the dark city center. They set an extraordinarily fast pace. She was visiting her father, trying to convince him to leave. We protect ourselves there. Kesselman and his wife, the parents of four young children, avoid venturing out in public as a couple, for fear of being targeted together.
Also, many Chabad rabbis resist the urge to leave even dangerous areas, in order to honor the sacrifice of their brethren: in , a Chabad representative and his wife, along with four other Jews, were murdered after reportedly being tortured by Pakistani jihadists during the lengthy siege of Mumbai. Several of the Muslims I interviewed expressed benign feelings toward Jews. But more common was conflation, and exaggeration. I asked several people to tell me where they find information about Jews and Israel. Many institutions are devoted to memorializing the Shoah, but very few are as iconic as the Anne Frank House, in Amsterdam.
The Anne Frank House, which is now encased inside a multimedia museum, is a significant operation, employing people. There has always been tension in the public portrayal of Anne Frank. The specifically Jewish qualities of her life have often been marginalized in literature, onstage, and in film, replaced with a more universal and, to some, accessible message. I began the interview with a faux pas. A very large number of curators, guides, and directors in European Jewish museums, in my experience, are not Jewish. This is due in part to the general lack of Jews, and to the very large number of museums—Europe is a vast archipelago of Jewish museums.
And yet somehow I made the assumption that Hinterleitner was Jewish. Hinterleitner said that the museum addresses anti-Semitism in the context of larger societal ills, but also that it recently issued a strong press statement condemning anti-Semitic acts in the Netherlands and elsewhere. He said the museum has made an intensive study of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands, and has learned that most verbal expressions of anti-Semitism in secondary schools come from boys and are related to soccer.
Our work is about tolerance and understanding. When I left, two policemen were patrolling the narrow street outside the museum. A temporary surveillance post had been erected just across from the entrance. I asked one of the officers whether this level of security was normal.
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He said the government had increased security around the museum last spring, shortly after a massacre at another Jewish site: On May 24, four people were murdered at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in Brussels, allegedly by a French Muslim of jihadist bent named Mehdi Nemmouche. Two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer, and a Belgian employee of Muslim and Jewish descent were killed. We have never had an attack, he said. Not on his watch. But it is fair to count the August 4, , Gestapo raid on the house, which resulted in the arrest of the Frank family, as an anti-Semitic act. Anne died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, roughly one month before it was liberated by British forces.
Anne Frank has become an obsession of modern anti-Semites. Her story—universally known, and deeply affecting—is a threat to the mission of the Holocaust-denial movement, and her youth and innocence challenge those who argue that Jews are innately perfidious.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah, the radical Shia group, has fought to keep her diary out of schools. The police outside the Anne Frank House are not protecting it because it is an international symbol of tolerance and understanding. There are many international symbols of understanding scattered across Europe that are not first-tier targets of jihadist extremists. The police are guarding the Anne Frank House because it is, in fact, associated with Jews, and Jews are under sustained attack in Europe.
Things have gone terribly wrong for the Jews of Europe lately, but comparing to , the year Hitler came to power, is irresponsible. As serious as matters have become for European Jews today, conditions are different from 80 years ago, in at least two profound ways. The first is that Israel exists, and has as its reason for being the ingathering of dispersed Jews. A tragedy of Zionism, the political movement to create a state for the Jews in their ancestral homeland, is that it succeeded too late. If Israel had come into being in , rather than in , an untold but presumably very large number of European Jews who were denied refuge by the civilized nations, including the United States, would have been saved from slaughter.
Anyone who damages a Jewish gravestone is disgracing our culture. Anyone who attacks a synagogue is attacking the foundations of our free society. He argues that the French idea itself depends on the crushing of anti-Semitism. It is a founding principle. But if , Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.
Valls is deliberate and—unusual for a French politician of the left—blunt in identifying the main culprits in the proliferation of anti-Jewish violence and harassment: Islamist ideologues whose anti-Semitic and anti-Western calumnies have penetrated the banlieues. But this is not what we are talking about in France. This is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic.
There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Behind anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Frequently, Valls said, anti-Zionists let the mask slip. Valls and Merkel think more clearly about the implications of Jewish persecution than many others in Europe. So too does David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom.
According to the Community Security Trust, saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom, which is home to , Jews, since the organization began its monitoring efforts, in it recorded 1, anti-Semitic incidents. This is more than double the number of incidents in , and exceeds the previous record, from , of incidents. In a recent survey conducted on behalf of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a quarter of British Jews said they had considered leaving the country; more than half of those surveyed said they fear that Jews have no future in Great Britain.
I asked him whether there existed in his mind a bright line that separates anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism. We have to be very clear about the fact that there is a dangerous line that people keep crossing over. The people who are trying to make the line fuzzy are the delegitimizers. The fight against anti-Semitism led by Merkel, Valls, and Cameron appears to be heartfelt. The question is, will it work?
The governments of Europe are having a terrible time in their struggle against the manifestations of radical Islamist ideology. And the general publics of these countries do not seem nearly as engaged in the issue as their leaders. The Berlin rally last fall against anti-Semitism that featured Angela Merkel drew a paltry 5, people, most of whom were Jews. It is not But could it be ? French troops in combat gear patrolled the street. But another man, who asked to be called Marcel, responded that it would be cowardly to flee for Israel at the first appearance of Molotov cocktails.
Marcel laughed. I would count on the National Front before I count on the Socialists. It is disquieting, but no longer unusual, to hear Jews of North African descent express affinity for the National Front. Le Pen, who inherited the National Front from her father, Jean-Marie, has worked diligently to bring her party closer to the French mainstream: no more thugs in leather jackets; no more public expressions of longing for Vichy; certainly no more Holocaust obsessiveness.
Marine Le Pen is positioning herself as something of a philo-Semite. She is not under the illusion that she will sway large numbers of Jews to her side; in any case, the Jewish vote in France is minuscule. But people who follow her rise say she understands that one pathway to mainstream acceptance runs through the Jews: if she could neutralize the perception that the National Front is a fascist party by winning some measure of Jewish acceptance, she could help smooth her way to the presidency.
I told her I was shocked to find Jews in the banlieues who would look to the National Front for political salvation. She professed not to be shocked at all. Out of these cookies, the cookies that are categorized as necessary are stored on your browser as they are as essential for the working of basic functionalities of the website. We also use third-party cookies that help us analyze and understand how you use this website. These cookies will be stored in your browser only with your consent.
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