7 years before the United Nations was founded in 1945, FDR convened 32 world nations at the 1938 Evian Conference to discuss the fate of displaced Jewish European Jewish refugees persecuted by Hitler’s policies and his Nazi regime.
Now 80 plus years later a new debate and opportunity has surfaced in Sosua, an agricultural settlement founded on an abandoned United Fruit Company Dominican North Coast banana plantation in 1940 at the onset of WWII by 700 Jewish Holocaust refugees saved by the actions taken by the Dominican government at the 1938 Evian Conference; the only country to open its doors and provide “safe haven” to these refugees.
By educating myself on the little known history of what has occurred in Sosua and via interviewing some of the original community members, as a Jewish man with many relatives lost in the Holocaust, I feel a part of “Me”, my Heritage, is being “lost”. I feel a strong obligation to my parents and grandparents, to do what can be done to save the former integrity of Sosua which is not being effectively addressed here by local leaders. This little-known story needs to be kept alive as NONE of the related history and culture of the Holocaust can be allowed to be lost.
This is why back in April of 2014 I founded sosua75.org, a Massachusetts based 501(c)3 NPO dedicated to raising awareness of both the Sosua Jewish Holocaust settlement story and the pivotally interconnected 1938 Evian Conference, known as “Hitler’s Green Light to Genocide” and the “Most fateful Conference of all time for the Jewish people”.
It is also one of the many reasons I have taken such a strong interest in the Dominican Republic and why 3 months ago, in mid-November 2018, I decided to pack my bags, close my New Hampshire Business office and relocate here to Sosua. More than merely avoiding the harsh New England cold weather, the express purpose of coming here was to continue promoting my Sosua75 vision of creating a “Jewish Dominican Cultural Education Center” in Sosua
In a program entitled “Remembering the Past and Plotting a Course for the Future” last July 10th & 11th, I had the privilege of punctuating the deep connection between these two historic episodes by directing “Revisiting Evian” or now referred to as “Evian II”, an International Educational Symposium on Human Rights and Global Anti-Semitism bringing together International Jewish leaders, French and WWII historians, Academicians, prominent Authors, Government officials, and global Human Rights Experts.
Through the collaboration and partnership of the Hotel Royal Executive Management, convened once again at the Hotel Royal in the exact same room as the infamous original 1938 Conference, the 80th Anniversary was marked by keynote speeches headlined by Dr. Katrina Lantos-Swett of The Lantos Foundation, Tomas Sandell, Executive Director of the European Coalition for Israel, Dr. Dennis Laffer noted author of the definitive composition “Jewish Trail of Tears, the 1938 Evian Conference”, Dr. Shimon Samuels, 30 year International Director of Relations from the European Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and others.
July 11th Evian II Conference Attendees on Hotel Royal Back Terrace
L-R, Albert Lipkowicz from B’Nai Brith, NH Congressman and Ambassador Richard Swett, his wife Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett from The Lantos Foundation, and Dr. Shimon Samuels
Also in attendance were two of the original settlers born in Sosua in the early 1940’s, Edith Meyerstein and René Kirchheimer who also brought along his daughter, the next generation, who is alive today due to the Dominican Republic’s open door policy to accept fleeing Jewish refugees persecuted by the Nazi’s.
L-R Sosua first born settlers René Kirchheimer & Edith Meyerstein
As a substantive positive outcome of this gathering and via solidifying a strong relationship with Dr. Samuels, together, we initiated submission of the paperwork for Sosua to gain UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which is currently underway.
Following up, last November 9th, on Kristallnacht, Dr. Samuels arranged for a Press Conference to speak with reporters at the United Nations in Geneva. Directly after the UN visit, we sped across Lake Geneva via the Evian Resort water taxi back to Evian France and the Hotel Royal where a ribbon cutting ceremony awaited. Again, in the same room where the original 1938 Conference was held, a bronze WWII historic Commemorative plaque was dedicated honoring the Dominican Republic’s role in saving Jewish refugees back in 1938.
Historic Plaque ribbon cutting ceremony with Hotel Royal GM Laurent Roussin
The actual dedicated Bronze Historic Plaque with all Event Benefactors
For my efforts, I was presented with the Evian “Gold Key to the City” by the Evian Mayor’s office, a treasured keepsake I will forever cherish which will always serve to motivate and inspire me to continue in my work to educate future generations of the lasting significance of the Evian/Sosua. To this end, this summer’s planned “Evian III” event will focus on helping young adults understand how vitally important these Holocaust stories are to the contemporary nature and challenges of immigration and refugees present in our world today.
Evian Gold Key to the City Presentation at July Evian II gathering
Evian Mayor of Culture & History
But back to my recently relocating here to Sosua, it really was an easy thing to do. Beginning with being a former player with my lifelong love for the sport of baseball, the phrase “National Past Time” truly applies here in the Dominican Republic more than anywhere. It’s actually not at all a well-known fact but baseball traces its origins to the ancient Taino Indian sport of “Batu”.
Early Spanish Conquistadors who traveled to the islands of Cuba and throughout the Caribbean during the colonization periods chronicled evidence of this activity. The batu game was played at the batei/batey or ball field/court/ceremonial ground and players used a ball made of resin and shaped leaves. As recorded in Cuba, this ball was hit with an instrument similar to an oar or spade. According to Cuban linguists there is a relation in the origins of the words bate (bat) and batear (hit) with the corresponding words batey and batu used by the indigenous Tainos. It’s no wonder why roughly one third of all professional baseball players hail from the Dominican Republic.
Two of the country’s most famous stars are from the Boston Red Sox where I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with both Pedro Martinez and David “Big Papi” Ortiz on special projects including my 2013 donation of the World Baseball Classic game-used Championship 1st Base. Now the entryway greeting piece to the Red Sox Academy or “Academia Medias Rojas” in El Toro, on the Southern Coast of the island, this is where all the MLB baseball training academies are located.
With David “Big Papi” Ortiz at Fenway 2013 WBC Base Donation
With Dominican baseball icons Pedro Martinez and Red Sox Academy Director Jesus Alou’s office with the Historic WBC Base
With Academy coaches at the front entrance
In 2013, with the entire Academy team with a banner signed by Boston area young adults and Little Leaguers which I hand delivered
In addition to the swaying palm trees, soft sandy beaches, picturesque mountainsides, and temperate warm weather, the Dominican Republic and specifically Sosua and the North Coast offers a great deal in the way of History and Culture. This is why I’m making “a Business Case for Culture” here Headline of Boston North Shore Jewish Journal one year ago
After all, it was here on the North Coast in La Isabela where Christopher Columbus, who escaped the Spanish Inquisition on a voyage actually funded by Spanish Jewish entrepreneurs, first landed in the “New World”. In the capital city of Santo Domingo, the Colonial Zone, already declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is where “America’s” first cathedral, University, monastery, and fortress were built.
In La Isabela, at Christopher Columbus 1492 landing site in New World named for Spanish Queen Isabela
Sosua a beautiful piece of Jewish history is in the process of disintegrating and without serious, stronger local leadership, and an actual plan the merits of this once thriving Jewish community may further deteriorate into obscurity. With only a handful of elder original settlers, their few descendants, and only one original structure still remaining, (the Sosua Shul), the “heart and soul” of this community and its culture are vanishing. How about if now a spot on UNESCO’s coveted World Heritage Site list was at stake?
Early 1940’s photo of Sosua supermarket
The “Colmado” today, one of the last remaining original 1940’s Sosua structures now burned down
Remnants of a once thriving meat and dairy cooperative, founded by the original settlers, which supplied the entire island
Helping Sosua repair its current situation and move the city forward pushing for positive growth initiatives are on the top of the agenda for newly commissioned US Dominican Ambassador Robin Bernstein and current Dominican Immigration Director Francisco Collado.
Second December 2018 meeting with US Dominican Ambassador Robin Bernstein in Playa Cofresi in Puerto Plata, on the left is Walter Musa, the Mayor of Puerto Plata
January meeting with the Honorable Francisco Collado, Dominican Director of Immigration at the taping of his news show, Analisis Del Momento, in Jarabacoa, DR
Sosua should be globally recognized for its extraordinarily Holocaust-related history, celebrating the Dominican Republic’s unique role of providing “safe haven” and welcoming Jewish refugees when no other country in 1938 at Evian would. The whole world can come to Sosúa as a stopping point of interest in the Dominican Republic.
Tourism is big business here and one of the pillars of this Caribbean nation’s economy. The latest statistics project an ever-increasing tourism trend looking to exceed the record-breaking 6.2 million visitors and associated $6B in revenue recorded in 2017. The Dominican Ministry of Tourism projects that by the year 2020 these figures will grow to 10M visitors and $7.5B respectively.
So where will these new tourists come from and how will this additional revenue be generated? There’s Eco-Tourism, Agri-Tourism, Geo-Tourism, Religious, Medical, Sports, and Cultural Tourism so with my Sosua75 vision of building a Jewish Dominican Cultural Education Center now taking shape, I’m making a Business Case for “Cultural Tourism”
Wikipedia defines Cultural Tourism as a “subset of tourism concerned with a traveler’s engagement with a country or region’s culture, specifically the lifestyle of the people in those geographical areas, the history of those people, their art, architecture, religion(s), and other elements that helped shape their way of life”
Elihu “Hugh” Baver is currently the East Coast Senior Director of Business Development for JLTV, Jewish Life Television, as well as the Board Chairman and 2014 Founder of MA NPO Sosua75.org. A former 15 year IT Executive sales professional with IBM & HP, a professional baseball player and distinguished BigTen graduate of Michigan State University, Hugh also attended a special Harvard Business School Program in 2009 sponsored by IBM.
The author and subject matter of numerous international publications and articles, since 2014 Hugh has conducted lectures and presentations on the Evian & Sosua related Holocaust episodes at Universities and Synagogues across the US & Europe.
Honored with an MA Congressional Citation in 2015 for the formation of the 1st “Future Hall of Famers Amateur Baseball Classic” Baver continues to coach, mentor, and support young ballplayers in the Boston area as well as currently in the Dominican Republic.