Tropical Diaspora: The Jewish Experience in Cuba

Tropical Diaspora: The Jewish Experience in Cuba

Tropical Diaspora: The Jewish Experience in Cuba

Tropical Diaspora: The Jewish Experience in Cuba


"The first study on the Cuban Jewish community to be undertaken during this century... a combination of history and biographies of a unique diaspora as well as a saga of courageous immigrants... useful both for scholars of the Latin American Jewish experience and the general public."--Jacob Kovadloff, former director of Latin American Affairs, American Jewish Committee

"An original and exciting piece of scholarship that explores and analyzes a number of never-before-examined themes in the field of Latin American history, immigration history, and Jewish history... gives readers a sense of both Cuba and the immigrants and refugees who lived there."--Jeff Lesser, Connecticut College

This story is about Cuba and the generations of Jews who immigrated there after 1900. Their experience was bittersweet: Cuba welcomed immigrants long after the United States shut its doors to them in 1924, particularly refugees from Nazism. Yet the story of Cuban Jewry also includes
the tragic 1939 drama of the St. Louis, turned away from Havana and the United States with its cargo of German-Jewish refugees still aboard, a propaganda coup for Germany.
Although many Jews prospered economically on the island, they always remained outsiders, denied access to political influence and to high society. Unlike Jewish communities elsewhere, Jews in Cuba played virtually no cultural or intellectual role. Ironically, those who emigrated to the United States as politically (and economically) desirable refugees after the 1959 Revolution were the same Jews, or the children of the same Jews, who had been deemed undesirable and denied U. S. entry in the 1920s.
Levine interviewed nearly a hundred Cuban Jewish emigrants in the course of writing this book, and his use of their words lends the work an especially engaging, lively quality and makes it a vivid reflection of how the immigrants thought and felt and lived. The pages contain more than seventy-five rare photographs of the island that the immigrants made their home until their exodus after Castro and of the Jewish community from its origins to its near-moribund state today.
Levine also compares the experience of Cuba's Jews with that of other immigrant groups, as well as that of Holocaust survivors in other Caribbean and Central American countries. The book's broad scope thus gives it appeal not only for students of Latin American Jewish issues but for all those interested in the relationship between majority and minority societies in the Americas.

Robert M. Levine is professor of history and director of Latin American studies at the University of Miami, Coral Gables. He has edited several Hispanic American journals and published widely on Latin American subjects. Two of his most recent books are Cuba in the 1850s: Through the Lens of Charles DeForest Fredricks (UPF, 1990) and Images of History: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Latin American Photographs as Documents.


The Holocaust may even be seen as a deliberate lesson or project in philosophical redefinition: "You religious and enlightened people . . . you think you know what a human being is. We will show you what he is, and what you are. Look at our camps and crematoria and see if you can bring your hearts to care about these millions." And it is obvious that the humanistic civilized moral imagination is inadequate. Confronted with such a "metaphysical" demonstration, it despairs and declines from despair into lethargy and sleep.

—Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back

Hitler's Impact in Cuba

Events in Europe, starting with the Nazi accession to power in 1933 and accelerated by the successes of the Spanish fascists under Generalísimo Francisco Franco, abruptly colored the ways Jews in Cuba came to be considered by their island hosts. The new German flag, emblazoned with a black swastika, was displayed in Cuba not only at German offices and businesses but, in a few cases, by sympathizers. Without precedent in Cuban history, a propaganda assault was launched in the news media, spearheaded by Dr. José Ignacio Rivero's three newspapers and by the radio. The attacks focused on stopping Jewish immigration and called Jews fleeing from Europe "human garbage." During the late 1930s, the . . .

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