Jews from Antwerp in Cuba

A while ago I looked on behalf of someone else seek to get more information on why the Cuban authorities allowed Jews from Antwerp to immigrate to Cuba in the 1930’s while they had strict immigration rules.

Although the Internet has got some interesting pieces of information about the Jews in Cuba, I did not really manage to find details about the episode that deals with the Antwerp Jews in the 1930’s.

Therefore I sent a message to a newsgroup that deals mainly with Jewish Genealogy (soc.genealogy.jewish) in the hope that I would get somehow more information.

This post is a means to publish a summary on the responses I got.

Click here if you would like to read the message I posted to the newsgroup»
I received a few responses which replied to me in the Jewish way, i.e.: they replied to my question with another question. The question some asked was: “Why would the Jews not be allowed entrance if everyone knew that the Jews were being chased by bloodthirsty anti-Semites“. A notorious case was the S.S. St. Louis which was not allowed to disembark its passengers in Cuba or the USA. The USA (then INS) agency restricted immigration very severely during 1920’s and thereafter.

From the responses it appears that the Antwerp Jews were accepted into Cuba because of their knowledge in the diamond business. During their stay in Cuba they kept their own community and didn’t become part of one of the communities already present (possibly due to the gap in the language and because they intended to stay there only temporary?). After WWII the Jews left Cuba and went back to Belgium. The Belgian state was of course also interested in the diamond business (it seems that Camille Huysmans was one of the big powers behind this Belgian initiative to get the Diamond business back to Antwerp).

Someone else wrote me that the gangster Meyer Lansky used his connections to the Cuban government, through which he worked out a deal to allow European Jews to land in Cuba.  Visa’s were then bought and entry to the US was granted.

If you’d like to read more about the history of the Jews in Cuba (including the Antwerp Jews), the following two books do tell the story:

Some general websites about Jewry in Cuba:

I’d like to thank the following people for having replied on my request: Burt Hecht, Judite Orensztajn, Sam Lifsh?, Barbara Mannlein, Irene Newhouse, Stephen Denker, Jill Goodman, Helaine ?, Marcel Apsel, Sylvain Brachfeld, Mona Freedman Morris, Joan Parker, Rabbi Moshe Otero, Judy Turbin, Tineke Sjenitzer, Sue Kriloff, Melody Mayes nee Pinkus

Date: Fri, Jan 21 2011 5:22 pm
From: (lehrer)

X-No-archive: yes

Does anyone know why the Jews were allowed to immigrate into Cuba
in the 30’s from the previous century?

Why was an exception made for the Jews whilst I heard that the
Cuban authorities were very strict to allow immigration for
white people (does anyone have any source for this claim?)?

I am mainly talking about the Jews from Antwerp that were working
in the diamond industry.

Thank you for your help,

Gershon Lehrer
Antwerp, Belgium


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2 thoughts on “Jews from Antwerp in Cuba”

  1. My comment revised – My father’s immediate family came from Amtwerp to via the ship the Isla de Tenerife and they founded one of the diamond cutting and polishing plants in Havana. My uncle thinks there were 14 but articles have indicated it at 24 plants. My father made a close friend on the ship coming to Cuba and they stayed friends for 5 years in Cuba. When my family came to the U.S. they went to NYC but the familyof my father’s friend Freddie went to Miami. They found each other decades later – long aafter my father moved to south Florida and they remain friends in South Florida. The ship they came on to Cuba has an interesting story. Its captain was allegedly a nazi collaborator who provided the nazis with British troop ship movements and he was responsible for the sinking a a major British trip. That is why the nazis did not sink the ship. So they irony is that a ship of jews survived because the ship’s captain was a nazi collaborator. I have only found one letter online from a fellow passenger on Isla de Tenerife. I am a Board member of the major PBS channel in South Florida covering the tri-county area, WPBT2, and I have proposed that the Channel do a documentary about the Jewbans and Cuba’s having saved perhaps 25,000 jewish lives and overlooked story possibly due to the sad story of the St. Louis. My father and brother loved living in Cuba during its “golden years” – in fact my grandfather became a Cuban citizen. Any information or useful links you can provide about the jews in Cuba in the 1940s would be appreciated.

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