Haitian salvation

If you lived in Haiti in the late 1930s, you might be excused from being concerned about the rest of the world; you had plenty of troubles of your own. The Americans had occupied the place since 1915 and had only departed in 1935 after fighting a long guerrilla war with local insurgents. The poverty, corruption, disease, and struggling economy remained, punctuated by the occasional hurricane or earthquake. To make matters worse, if that was possible, the world was in the grips of the Great Depression. What Haitian had the time, energy, or resources to even think about helping anyone else? And who could possibly need help as badly as the Haitians themselves?

There was one group in even more desperate straits than the Haitians, however, the Jews in Nazi Germany. The German government was steadily turning the screws on their Jewish citizens, making their lives unbearable and moving towards mass murder. Jews were desperate to escape Germany, but the Nazis would not let them leave.

As bad as things were for the Haitians, no one was trying to exterminate them, but they had plenty of their own problems to deal with. Still, Haiti has always been an unpredictable place, and they were about to pull yet another surprise.

In Haiti, Gontrand Rouzier, a Haitian lawyer and Rafael Brouard, the mayor of Port au Prince collaborated with both the Haitian government and a handful  of local Jewish families to provide financial support and Haitian passports  to some 70 Jewish families and facilitate their emigration, saving some 300 people from the Nazis. About half of these emigres came to Haiti and the others used their Haitian documents to escape to other countries. Some the refugees who came to Haiti remained there, but most ultimately went to New York because the Haitian laws and license fees made economic survival in Haiti almost as hard as in Nazi Germany. But at least they were alive.

Over 70 years later, after the devastating Haitian earthquake of 2010, Israeli medical and aid teams traveled over 6,000 miles to  Haiti to come to the aid of the Haitians as the Haitians had once come to the aid of European Jews.

Refugee Bill Mohr and sister Ruth in Port au Prince, 1938

Bill and Harriet Mohr

Bill Mohr today, with wife Harriett-  He has a blog about the survivors and started the Haiti Jewish Refugee Legacy Project to document and remember that time.

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