Did You Know? Jamaica’s Role in Sheltering Jewish Refugees

Despite the devastating circumstances prompting her arrival, Miriam remembers the camp as a well-appointed, self-sustaining environment:

She goes on to note that there were churches and a room to be used as a synagogue as well as a kosher kitchen. Each room had an army cot, chair and table. Those refugees who had a trade were allowed to work within the camp which translated into payment for the hairdresser, barber, shoemaker, tailor and others. Books, newspaper and radios were available. There was never a shortage of food.

However, all was not perfect, as some refugees to the island felt less than welcome in a land foreign to them:

Some Jewish refugees have sad memories of the camp­ charging a lack of interest among the local Jewish community despite the fact that certain individuals within the community did extend a welcome. This lack of interest may be as a result of the fact that the refugees were Ashkenazi Jews who did not speak English, and the Jamaican Jews were Sephardic.

Chances of descendants of these refugees remaining in Jamaica are slim, as according to records, after the war ended in 1945, most left the island to establish their homes in other countries, including Cuba, Canada, and the United States. Nevertheless, it is not a completely impossible prospect as according to Tortello’s “Pieces of the Past”, some moved into a local Nunnery, waiting to set up homes.

For the history of Gibraltar Camp, you can read the Pieces of the Past feature in its entirety here and a similar feature here from an Israeli newspaper. For more on Jewish heritage in Jamaica, read 5 Facts: Jamaica’s Jewish Heritage. To see how International Holocaust Remembrance Day is being commemorated around the globe, visit the UNESCO website.

Were you aware of the role Jamaica played to these Jewish refugees during World War II? Comment to let us know your thoughts.