Wells, Allen. Tropical Zion: General Trujillo, FDR, and the Jews of Sousa.

Author:Kotlowski, Dean J.
Position:Book review

Wells, Allen. Tropical Zion: General Trujillo, FDR, and the Jews of Sousa. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009. xxxi + 447 pages. Cloth, $99.95; Paper, 27.95.

Over the past two decades, the literature on the Holocaust has grown richer, both in nuance and topic range. Scholars have broadened their focus from the victims and villains--worthy subjects though those are--to examine the role of local populations in the Naziinstigated genocide. Popular books and films continue to highlight specific case studies and/or the role of unique individuals, such as Oskar Schindler, in saving Jewish lives. And the response of America (and the world) to the refugee crisis of the 1930s and to Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution" remains a fruitful field of inquiry, as evidenced by recent studies of how Manila emerged as a haven for a small number of Jews. Allen Wells adds to such works by providing a well-researched and lucidly written account of the best-known Jewish colony, Sousa in the Dominican Republic.

Three themes--convergence, race, and irony--permeate Wells's study. The architects and abettors of the Sousa colony each had reasons for undertaking or supporting this project. Jews in Central Europe were experiencing a new round of terror in 1938, after Germany's absorption of Austria and with Nazi attacks on Jewish property during Kristalnacht. Many sought to flee, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) wanted to help resettle them, though not in the United States, which had a highly restrictive immigration policy, nor in Palestine, where the British government, beginning in 1939, had limited Jewish emigration. At a time when anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant sentiments were strong in the United States and elsewhere, there was little that President Franklin D. Roosevelt could do to ease the crisis. Into this mix stepped Dominican strongman Rafael Trujillo who, after sanctioning a massacre of Haitians, was eager to refurbish his international reputation, curry favor with the United States, and reap financial (and other) rewards from the Americans. In a lavishly orchestrated public gesture, Trujillo transferred a tract of land on his nation's northern coast to the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA), which worked alongside the JDC and welcomed the first group of refugees in 1940. Born of this mixed parentage (and motivations), the colony at Sousa proved a "gritty, unconventional experiment" that "saved lives" despite its...

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