In 1938 the Dominican Republic became the only nation in the entire world to open its boarders to Jewish refugees. According to an original document in the Jewish museum of Sosua, Trujillo originally wanted 1 million Jewish settlers, but the number of invitations was reduced to 100,000 following the Evian Conference. The document speculates that the reduction in invitations was initiated by Hitler as a way to prove to the world that Jews weren't really wanted anywhere. In the end 5 thousand Dominican visas were issued and only 645 Jewish refugees finally made it to the Dominican Republic, where they settled in Sosua, which was at the time a coastal jungle (Note: some sources say more than 800 settlers came). Trujillo granted each of the 645 Jews who settled in Sosua between 1940 and 1945 a mule, a horse, 80 acres of land, and 10 cows. In time, Jewish settlers established a town complete with streets, schools, and shops selling cheese and yogurt from Productos Sosua, a successful Jewish cooperative that still to this day produces most of Sosua's meat and dairy products. As a kid I used to drink their "Boruga" religiously, earning me the name "DonnaBelugaAirplaneBoruga". Boruga is basically liquid yogurt. I also liked airplanes and whales. Yes, my given name is Donna. Now only about 70 of the original Jewish refugees still reside in Sosua with most moving to places in the US. Apparently New York is cooler than the Dominican Republic.
But why, one might ask, did Rafael Trujillo open the boarders of the Dominican Republic to Jewish refugees when no other nation would accept them? To put things simply, Trujillo wanted to 1) improve the Dominican economy and educational system, 2) distract Western countries from the Parsley Massacre of 1937 wherein he massacred 25,000 Haitians, and, perhaps most importantly, 3) he wanted to whiten his race. History is full of sick irony.
In order to fully appreciate the rich Jewish history of Sosua, your tour must begin with a visit to the Jewish museum.
Sosua has changed a lot since I was a kid.
The gallery where my dad once worked is now abandoned.
Where once a lovely hotel stood at the center of down town Sousa, an ugly modern building now stands.
Oh, and there's a Red Square. It's not red. It's not square. But I guess communists shop there?
There is a nice bit of park in front of the Red Square. Communists like fountains, right?
I love how this building was chopped in half in the name of progress.
Apparently the Wild Coyote had one too many wild parties, or not enough. It, like so many businesses in the DR, went bust.
So many people come here in the hopes of striking it big only to have their investments sit abandoned.This used to be the place to get delicious chocolates and pastries. I am sad that it no longer exists.
It's not uncommon to see a shopping area without shops.
This shopping plaza is nice, but sort of out of place.
Some things in Sosua are just as I remember them.
This is the German bakery my brother and I used to seriously beg my step-mom and dad to take us to. Fatty deliciousness.
Patrick's silversmithy is still in business.
This restaurant used to be called Alcatraz and it was my favorite place to get tostones.
Sosua by night
Sosua is known around the world to have a thriving red light district. I had an opportunity to check it out for myself last Thursday night and it's official--Sosua by night is super different than Sosua by day. By day, there are only a few Dominicans and ex-pat locals sipping their coffees and chatting. By night the streets are packed with people, music is blaring, ladies of the night are everywhere, and the red lights are shining brightly. It was pretty much what I expected: creepy, old white men with young Dominican and Haitian girls. I ended up having a pretty fun time although it was a bit bizarre to be in a club and have the realization that I was the only non-prostitute girl in the mix.
At least two things are unaffected by the changing face of Sosua:
This guy selling grilled chicken
and the desire on the part of Dominican men to fill whatever available storage space in their vehicles with speakers