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November 13, 2006

CCNY JEWISH STUDIES CLASS TO VISIT DOMINICAN VILLAGE THAT PROVIDED REFUGE TO EUROPEAN JEWS DURING WORLD WAR II

NEW YORK, November 13, 2006 - During World War II, Sosua, a village on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, became home to approximately 800 Jews who fled the Nazis and settled there at the invitation of President Rafael Trujillo. This week, a Jewish Studies class at The City College of New York (CCNY) will travel to Sosua and Santo Domingo to learn about this historic community and the Dominican Republic’s Jewish heritage. 

The trip, which runs November 15 – 19, will be led by Adjunct Professor Manny Viñas, who is teaching a class entitled “The Jews of Sosua.” Ten students in the class will accompany Professor Viñas, who is also the rabbi at Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers. The class is the fruit of a collaboration between the Jewish Studies Program and the CUNY-Dominican Studies Institute at CCNY.

“The Dominican Republic was one of the only countries in the Western Hemisphere to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis,” said Rabbi Viñas. “President Trujillo said he would be willing to take in 100,000 Jews and resettle them in Sosua and the surrounding area. He gave out 5,000 transit visas, but only 800 Jews ultimately came.”

At the Evian Conference in 1938, convened by President Franklin Roosevelt to discuss the fate of the Jews in Europe and to galvanize support for relocating Jewish refugees, the Dominican Republic was the only country willing to accept Jewish refugees, Professor Ramona Hernandez, Director of the Dominican Studies Institute noted.

The Jewish Colonization Association was deeded land for farming near Sosua and eventually established a dairy products company there called Dorsa that is still in operation. Many of the settlers’ descendants still live in the area. Others emigrated after the war to the United States, Israel and other countries, including several who later graduated from The City College of New York.

“The Dominican people made a great humanitarian contribution when they opened their homes to save Jewish refugees who were desperately seeking to escape the Nazis,” said Henry Dancygier, who emigrated to Sosua from Luxembourg in 1941 at age six, and earned a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree from CCNY in 1962. “Thanks to God, my family was among those saved. I will forever be grateful to the Dominican people for their greatest gift, namely, to save humanity.”

Mr. Dancygier’s brother, Arthur, also graduated from City College in 1964, and was finishing work toward a master’s degree, when he passed away, tragically, in 1968. Two CCNY alumnae, Jeanette Isenberg Bersh, '64, and Mary Renner Grayzel, '63, are children of Sosua refugees.

During their visit to Sosua, the City College delegation will visit the local synagogue, Jewish cemetery and a museum about the Jewish community there. In Santo Domingo, they will meet with Rabbi Chicole Ghitas, the chief rabbi of the Dominican Republic, Dr. Frank Moya Pons, a renowned Dominican historian specializing in contemporary history, and the widow of Professor Alfonso Lockward, who wrote La Presencia Judia en Republica Dominicana, the definitive book about the Dominican Jewish community. In addition, they will visit the colonial cemetery in Santo Domingo, which has Jewish graves dating to the 17th Century.

“These are some of the oldest Jewish graves in the Western Hemisphere,” Professor Viñas noted. Although the original Jewish settlers, who were of Sephardic (Mediterranean) heritage, assimilated into the larger Dominican populace, their legacy lives on. “Abreu,” a common Dominican surname, comes from the Portuguese word for Hebrew, he added.

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