When the Caribbean Islands became home to hundreds of thousands of Jews escaping persecution

Nii Ntreh December 12, 2019
The Caribbean islands was a haven for the Jews of Europe who ran away from persecution and discrimination. Photo Credit: Srananart's Blog

The tricky politics of world historiography is what it is because of the concern today’s world shares for identity and natural rights. An example of this challenge is the care needed in recounting the history of Jews.

For one of the most persecuted groups of people in recorded history, it is not out of place to say a significant amount of Jewish history is the people looking for a home.

This treacherous quest took Jews all over the world. But one of the most unlikely destinations European Jews would settle at was the Caribbean islands.

Although discrimination against Jews was well sewn into European life by the 6th century, the Spanish edict known as the Alhambra Decree of 1492 is a solid place to contextualize the history of state-backed ostracism.

The infamous decree expelled Jews from the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. But even before Alhambra, persecution had forced over half of Spain’s Jews to convert to Catholicism before the 15th century.

All across Europe, a similar situation persisted.

As arts photographer and historian Wyatt Gallery referred to the situation: “From the 1500s until the 1700s. Jews couldn’t enter anywhere; no one wanted us.”

With the expansion of European naval expeditions came the opportunity for Jews to leave the continent. It was the time the so-called New World presented itself.

By the mid-17th century, the biggest Jewish populations in the western hemisphere were in the Portuguese colony of Brazil and the Dutch-controlled territory of Suriname.

The Caribbean also hosted thousands of Jewish people during this period, with a majority of them settling in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Barbados.

These would become their new homes with Sephardic Jews importing into the cultures of the islands, the uniqueness of Judaism.

But this would not be the only flight of Jews to find safety in the Caribbean. At the beginning of the 20th century and German Nazism, Jews once again had to leave Europe.

This time, they travelled by boats, ships and a few did too, by planes. The scourge of antisemitism knew no bounds and fear drove Jews farther and farther from Europe.

In the early 1930s especially, they settled in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados.

A few of the new Jewish homes had no visa requirements and that made things easy. While some went to the Caribbean as qualified professionals with a hunger to make themselves useful, others were penniless, just scraping through.

Initially, the islanders were not enthused about their new guests. But it is known that newspapers of the day carried news about the war in Europe and this softened the hearts of Jamaicans, Trinidadians and others.

In the history of the Caribbean, Sephardic Jews would be the other group of people who were forced to find settlement apart from enslaved Africans, although the latter’s was under much severer condition.

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of self-professing Jews on the islands. They are a happier people with the horrors of yesteryears far behind them.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: December 12, 2019


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