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Description

In March 1938, the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, convened a conference of 32 nations in Evian-les-Bains, France, to discuss the resettlement of German and Austrian Jewish refugees in other lands. At the time, the Nazi regime still agreed to allow Jews to emigrate if they transferred their assets to the German government. The assembled nations supported the idea of resettlement, but agreed that no nation would be expected or asked to receive a larger number of emigrants than current legislation allows.

Only the Dominican Republic, led by dictator Rafael Trujillo, expressed its willingness to accept a significant number, between 50,000 and 100,000 Jews, an offer that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) quickly accepted.

The JDC decided that the Dominican offer was too good to turn down, both on humanitarian grounds and because a Dominican resettlement project might provide a model for relocating Europe Jews after the war.

The Dominican government welcomed the Jews on the condition that they become agricultural workers rather than commission agents. The JCS created a special organization, the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA) and purchased 26,000 acres, previously a banana plantation of the United Fruit Company.

The refugees were settled in the tiny seacoast town of Sosua.

Some refugees wished to begin life again as Dominican farmers, but an equal number saw Sosua only as a place to wait until they could get a visa to enter the United States.

The land was not highly fertile and its drainage poor. The settlers needed a period of adjustment to the semi-tropical climate of the island. Tomatoes, the first crop chosen for commercial exploitation, proved unattractive to the local Dominican population. The colony appeared headed for disintegration.

James N. Rosenberg, head of DORSA, imported experts from kibbutzim in Palestine to teach the settlers communal agriculture.

After the war end, many Jews left for the U.S. or Israel. But many remained, developing the area for many years.

Currently, the Jewish community of Sosua is digitizing the DORSA archives.

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