From the Archives: Haiti Helped Holocaust Refugees

With the Haiti crisis continuing to dominate our thoughts, we’d like to highlight a little-known piece of JDC history that connects Haiti with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorated yesterday and each year on January 27.

The date—which commemorates the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in 1945—was designated by the United Nations General Assembly to honor the memory of Jews and others murdered by the Nazis. In addition to remembering that which was lost in the horrors of the Holocaust, this year’s commemoration gives us the opportunity to consider what has survived, and how. And truth be told, Haiti, is a legitimate source of inspiration. The fact is that Haiti played a small, yet critical, role in saving Jewish lives during the darkest chapter in the Jewish story.

Starting in 1938, Jewish refugees from Central Europe were emigrated, with JDC assistance, to Haiti. JDC archival records show that by the time travel was halted by the outbreak of World War II, some 150 Jews had made the journey to the Caribbean nation. Many of these Jews were self-supporting, but a third were dependent totally or in part on JDC assistance. Aid was distributed through the Joint Relief Committee Haiti (JRC), a fund established in October 1939.

For some of these Jews, Haiti was a way station—a place of refuge before emigrating to the U.S. Others stayed. Their survival—and the lives of their descendants—are fitting reminders of how small the world is and how dependent we all are on the conscience and humanity of those with whom we share the planet.

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