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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow Birds

My husband and I have just arrived in the Dominican Republic (DR) for 6 weeks in the warmth and sun. We have found our haven in Cabarete a small village about 20 Km east of the International Airport at Puerto Plata on the north shore.

This is our fourth winter in succession to come here and for good reason. Although DR shares this large Caribbean island with Haiti, the two sovereign states are very different. I found out the reason for this the very first time we visited the Island in the 1990’s and met an older German man who told us the circumstances that had brought him here.

He was Jewish and had been a young man in the mid 1930’s when the Nazis had begun their persecution of the Jewish people in earnest. His parents were well off and like other Jews who had money and education, they saw the writing on the wall and left the country to live in other parts of Europe. When war seemed imminent in 1938 however, these European countries wanted to be rid of the young German men. At a conference called by Roosevelt the decision was taken to load them on ships and send them across the Atlantic in search of a country that would accept them.

As a passenger, our friend talked about experiencing the rejection of every North American country in turn and then of each island as they traveled down the Caribbean chain until they came to the island of Hispaniola. At that time the Dominican section was ruled by an infamous dictator Rafael Trujillo who in 1937 had brutishly massacred 25,000 Haitians. He offered to take in 100,000 young Germans because he wanted to improve his image in the world and as well as ‘whiten up’ the island, trusting the young men would marry native women. Along with others, our German friend described being loaded into open trucks and how many broke down and wept as they were paraded through the streets of DR’s main city to the cheers of bystanders.

Only 645 Germans actually settled here - but they made a tremendous and lasting impression on the country because of their influence locally and in government in improving sanitation, roads, education and the police force. The cooperative they started still produces most of DR’s meat and dairy products.

We feel secure here and find the people of DR friendly and welcoming. Compared to Haiti’s often-chaotic turmoil, DR is a safe haven probably in good part because of the positive influence of a small number of German Jews. It so happens our apartment on the beach shown on the left is run by Germans. Rie