In July of 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened an international conference in Evian, France, in response to the ever-increasing Jewish refugee crisis in Europe. The so-called Evian Conference involved 32 countries, but the conference failed to produce a solution for the German and Austrian Jewish refugees searching for a safe haven from Nazi persecution. Only one country—the Dominican Republic—agreed to accept up to 100,000 Jewish refugees. Led by dictator General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the Dominican Republic admitted 645 Jews from 1938 to 1945 and issued approximately 5,000 visas to Jews during that period.
The Dominican Republic was aided heavily by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (The Joint), which established the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA) through its agricultural arm, the American Jewish Joint Agricultural Corporation. This organization provided funding and infrastructure to the largely urban German Jewish population who would work as farmers in Sosúa and other locations throughout the country. Life in this unlikely haven was far from ideal, particularly for those Jews accustomed to the metropolitan centers of central Europe. Farms failed, the weather was uncooperative, and the small Jewish population meant it was difficult to start a family. Many Jewish men married or partnered with Dominican women. The Jewish population of Sosúa largely maintained its European customs and sense of identity. This is reflected in the mass exodus that occurred in the years following the war. Today, Sosúa's Jewish population is nonexistent.1
While it would be easy to categorize the Dominican Republic's wartime immigration policy decision as a heroic response to the Jewish refugee crisis, this would flatten the complex situation of this small nation and the personality of General Trujillo. Trujillo controlled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. He viewed the European refugee crisis as an opportunity to increase the white population of the Dominican Republic. Trujillo's attitudes toward Black refugees was different. One year prior to the 1938 Evian Conference, a massacre of thousands of Haitian immigrants occurred under Trujillo's direct orders.2
This film, titled Sosua: Haven in the Caribbean, is a nine-minute-long advertisement for this supposedly succesful refugee community. Produced by DORSA, the film portrays the Jewish community as a productive part of the Dominican Republic. The intended audience for this film is not exactly known, but it is interesting that the film never refers to these refugees as Jews. The film presents the Dominican Republic as a paradise filled with productive and hardworking people making it prosperous, but the reality was far more complex.