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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Cuba 02: Nazis, diamonds, and Castro

Anti-Semitism and collaboration against it - diamond industry eliminating Jewish poverty - cultural life - Castro's revolution and exodus

from: Haiti; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 5

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



[Cuba during NS times]

[1933-1944: 10-12,000 Jewish refugees - for 85% Cuba is only a stopover]

<The refugees from Europe, who managed to slip in despite severe immigration laws and whose overall number in the years 1933-44 was estimated at about 10,000-12,000 (about 50% from Germany and Austria and the remainder from Poland and other countries), left Cuba, for the most part, shortly after their arrival. According to an estimate, in 1949 only 15% of them remained there. After World War II Jews did not reach Cuba in large numbers.

Jewish communal relations with the Cuban society underwent noticeable changes. At first, the traditional Catholic image of the Jews prevailed. This fact prompted many immigrant Jews from Europe, even during the 1920s, to hide behind a camouflage of being Germans or Poles.> (col. 1148)

[1933-1941: Anti-Semitism by German NS embassy - Saint-Louis case - collaboration of the Jewish organizations against anti-Semitism - Pearl Harbour stops anti-Semitism]

<A sustained anti-Jewish campaign was organized and financed by local and foreign Nazi elements in collusion with the German embassy [[since 1933]]. Government circles sanctioned anti-Semitic measures, internal repression, and the cessation of refugee immigration. In one case, the direct victims of these tendencies were the 907 Jewish refugees who, upon reaching Cuba on May 15, 1939, aboard the Saint-Louis, were barred from entry and obliged to return to Central Europe.

At first, the Jewish community did not present a united front. Moderate factions, e.g., Americans and heads of the Centro Israelita, feared that large-scale Jewish action might be interpreted as disrupting public affairs and might thus evoke police repression. Nevertheless a certain amount of community cooperation was obtained during the 1930s through the following institutions:

-- The Federación Israelita de Cuba [[Israelite Federation of Cuba]] (1932);
-- Comité Intersocial [[Inter Social Committee]] (1932-35), collaborating with the Comisión Jurídica [["Juridical Commission"]];
-- among its functions was the liberation of Jews imprisoned by reason of their Jewishness alone;
-- Jewish Committee of Cuba (1935-36), in which Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Americans collaborated.

The Jewish Chamber of Commerce assumed the defense against anti-Semitism and represented the community on official occasions (between 1936-39). The Comité Central [[Central Committee]] was reorganized in 1939, comprising all sectors of the community, and was recognized as its representative organ by the Cuban authorities. It joined forces with anti-Fascist bodies and supported the Allies in World War II. The anti-Semitic climate was finally neutralized from the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour.


[Antwerp Jews introduce diamond-polishing industry 1942-1943]

<During World War II, Jewish refugees from Antwerp introduced the diamond-polishing industry and within one year (1942-43) established 24 plants that employed about 1,000 workers. The economic situation of the Jews progressively improved, and by the end of the 1950s the Jewish working class had almost completely disappeared.> (col. 1148)


[Jewish schools on Cuba]

Each sector of the community aspired to form its own educational organization. The first school was established under the auspices of the Sephardi congregation Shevet Ahim. Talmud Torah Theodor Herzl [[Theodor Herzl Talmud Torah School]], founded in Jan. 21, 1924, served children from the three communities; it was subsidized by the U.H.C. and the Jewish Committee for Cuba, and from 1927 was administered by the Centro Israelita [[Israelite Center]]. From 1939 its curriculum was coordinated with the secular state programs as the Colegio Autónomo del Centro Israelita [[Autonomous Israelite Center College]]. The Colegio Hebreo Sefardita Theodor Herzl [[Sephardi Hebrew Theodor Herzl College]] offered primary education according to the official curriculum and Jewish religious studies;

Colegio Yabne [[Yabne College]] (founded 1935) was of Zionist orientation; the Instituto Hebreo Tahkemoni [[Hebrew Tahkemoni Institute]] a primary school, followed an official and religious program as part of the Ashkenazi community; Shalom Aleichem Shule [[Shalom Aleichem School]] (founded 1940) as of leftist orientation; the Sunday School of the Temple Beth Israel imparted Jewish religious education in the English language. A significant educational function was fulfilled by the many youth groups affiliated with the adult community institutions, the Zionist pioneer movements, the Club juvenil de la Unión Sionista [[Youth Club of the Zionist Union]], the organization of Jewish students, and Macabí.

[Jewish writers on Cuba]

The number of writers and poets Cuban Jewry has produced is small. There is, however, a strong inclination toward the theater, literary evenings, and "literary trials". In 1927 the first Jewish book was published in Cuba - the poetry of N.D. Korman, Oyf Indzler Erd [["On Our Earth"]] - and later, during the 1920s and 1930s, poetry and prose works by Eliezer Aronowski, I.A. Pines, Pinchas Berniker and A.I. Dubelman were published.

[Jewish newspapers on Cuba]

Journalism also developed slowly from the first publication in 1925 of the short-lived Dos Fray Vort [["The Free Word"]]. Among the more important organs were the pro-Zionist Oyfgang [["Sunrise"]] (1927-30), in Yiddish, subsidized by the Centro Israelita and the newspaper with the widest circulation, the Havaner Leben-Vida Habanera [["Habanera Life", Habanera is a dance]] (1932-1963), also pro-Zionist and dedicated to general and Jewish news; others were Dos Idishe Vort [["The Yiddish Word"]] (1933-35); Folkstsenter [[Folk Center]] (1943), a Communist publication; Israelis, in Spanish dealing with general Jewish problems.> (col. 1149)

[Cuba after 1945]

[1949: centralization of all Jews - but Jewry remains split in Americans, Sephardim, and Ashkenazim]

<The attempts on the part of the Ashkenazim to centralize community organization culminated in 1949 with the foundation of the Patronado de la Casa de la comunidad Hebrea [[Patronage of the House of the Hebrew Community]] and the construction of a large community center in the wealthy Vedado area. However, Cuban Jewry remained essentially split into three sectors - Americans, Sephardim, and Ashkenazim - each with its own cemetery and other services.> (col. 1148)

[Population numbers of 1925 and 1952]

<In 1925 the Jewish population of Cuba was estimated at about 8,000; 2,700 Sephardim, 100 Americans, 5,200 Ashkenazim. A census conducted in the Ashkenazi community in 1952 counted about 7,200 persons, and the total Jewish number was estimated the same year at 12,000. About 75% were concentrated in the capital, Havana, and its environs, and the rest were in about 90 settlements in the provinces of Pinar del Río, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Camagüey, and Oriente, mainly in their capital cities.> (col. 1148)

[Fidel Castro's revolution of 1959 - destruction of the Jewish economy - exodus]

<Fidel Castro's revolutionary regime likewise did not discriminate against the Jews. Nevertheless, the position of Cuban Jewry changed radically in the wake of the Castro revolution (1959).> (col. 1147)

<Since 1959.

The revolution of 1959, headed by Fidel Castro, was sympathetically received by many members of the Jewish community, especially the leftists and the students. Indeed, the revolution brought about, for the first time in the history of Cuban Jewry, the appointment of a Jews as a minister (the engineer Enrique Oltuski Osachki), and neither during the revolution nor after its success were any anti-Semitic attitudes adopted. But, by effecting profound changes in the social and economic structure of the country, the revolution practically destroyed the economic stability of the majority of Cuban Jews.

Thousands of Jews decided to emigrate, and their exit was in many cases facilitated by the fact that the authorities considered them "repatriates" returning to Israel, whereas the majority found refuge in the United States (many in *Miami).

Out of a Jewish population of about 10,000-12,000 before the revolution, in 1965 there were about 2,500 Jews ind in 1970 only about 1,500, approximately 1,000 in the capital and the rest in the cities of the interior (particularly Santiago de Cuba and the province of Oriente). An estimate from the end of 1963, which still counted about 3,000 Jews in Cuba, also indicated that only about 30% of the breadwinners among them work and earn a livelihood while 70% support themselves by reparations for nationalized property paid in installments or by selling their property.

This situation did not change essentially in subsequent years, and the number of young people within the Jewish population is very small. The Jewish institutions, however, did not disappear. During the High Holidays of 1966, five synagogues were still functioning in Cuba: two old synagogues of the Sephardi Shevet Ahim and Adas Isroel in the old city, and the beautiful synagogue of the Ashkenazim (in the Patronato [[Patronage]] Building), as well as that of the Sephardim in the new city and the Reform temple Beth Israel, which conducts prayers in English.

Despite the regime of austerity, Cuban authorities permit the existence of a kosher kitchen (in the Patronato Building), as well as the acquisition of unleavened bread and special products for the Jewish holidays.

The Zionist movement continues to exist, and its members meet at specified times and carry on various cultural and educational activities, maintaining contact with the *Jewish Agency and the State of Israel. The Albert Einstein school also functions and offers courses in Hebrew and Jewish studies as well as Jewish history. In 1970, there were about 400 Cuban Jews in Israel, most of them on kibbutzim.


Table. Jews in Cuba
number of Jews

col. 1147
independence war, singular Jews come to Cuba, since the independence of 1898 Cuba is freed from stupid Spanish anti-Jewish law
col. 1147 Jewish immigration from European Turkey and Mid East
since 1920

col. 1147
immigration of East European Jews as stopover to the "USA", since 1924 Cuba is a dead end because "USA" has restricted immigration
about 8,000
col. 1148
2,700 Sephardim
100 Americans
5,200 Ashkenazim
about 10,000-12,000
col. 1148
about 50% from Germany and Austria
other 50% from Poland and other countries
many leave to other countries and Cuba is only a stopover
since 1945

emigration since 1945: "According to an estimate, in 1949 only 15% of them remained there. After World War II Jews did not reach Cuba in large numbers."
col. 1148
7,200 Ashkenazim
75% concentrated in Havana and its environs, and the rest were in about 90 settlements in the provinces of Pinar del Río, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Camagüey, and Oriente, mainly in their capital cities.
col. 1150

since 1959

col. 1150
Cuba Castro revolution destroys Jewish economy, many Jews emigrate
col. 1150
estimate; about 30% of the breadwinners among them work and earn a livelihood while 70% support themselves by reparations for nationalized property paid in installments or by selling their property
about 2,500
col. 1150

about 1,500
col. 1150
approx. 1,000 in Havana, the rest in the cities of the interior (particularly Santiago de Cuba and the province of Oriente
Table by Michael Palomino; from: Cuba; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 5

Cuba-Israel Relations.

[Vote against the partition of Palestine]

Cuba was the only Latin American country which voted against the Partition Resolution, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on Nov. 29, 1947.

[[This negative vote was reasonable, because Palestine should not be parted, and the Jews would be driven into an eternal war by Herzl Israel which is reigned by Free Masonry and CIA, and all Arabs should be driven away as the natives had been driven away in the "USA", as Herzl says in "The Jewish State". And Herzl Israel was found without any borderline (see Israel, state of; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 9, col. 372), and the borderline of a "Greater Israel" should be the Euphrates according to First Mose chapter 15 phrase 18 (look in the Bible)]].

[Trade agreements with Herzl Israel 1959-1962 - communist Cuba is on the Arab side]

Subsequently, relations with the Batista Government improved and Cuba supported the call for direct negotiations at the U.N. in 1952. Following Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959, and before Castro declared his intentions of introducing into Cuba a Socialist system on the Soviet pattern, there was a period of fairly intense activity, which inter alia, found expression in a series of trade agreements signed in 1959, 1960, and 1962. Subsequently, there was a marked cooling off, originating from the growing identity of outlook on foreign policy between the Cuban government and that of the Soviet Union, which led toward Cuban support for the Arab position.

Cuba - alienated from its neighbours in the Western hemisphere, and suspended from participation in the Organization of American States - came to seek support, increasingly, among the countries of the so-called Third World, among which Egypt and Algeria played a prominent role. With the establishment in Havana of the Secretariat of the Tri-Continental Organization, which adopted the cause of the anti-Israel Palestinian Liberation Movement, Havana became increasingly active in spreading its doctrine.

The press and radio of Cuba reflected this tendency, particularly after the Six-Day War (1967), in one-sided editorial policy and selection of information. However, in spite of the heavy pressure presumably brought to bear upon it, the Cuban Government refused to break diplomatic relations with Israel, which continue at a legation level without interruption. The Cuban Government maintained its policy of recognizing Israel, and on various occasions manifested its support for Arab-Israel negotiations as a preferable means of resolving the Middle East conflict. A number of Israel agricultural experts have been active in Cuba on behalf of the Israel-Cuba Friendship League. At the United Nations, the Cuban government was consistent in supporting the Arab view-point against Israel from the mid-1960s.

[N.L.]> (col. 1150)

Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Cuba, source
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Cuba, vol. 5,
                        col. 1146
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Cuba, vol. 5, col. 1146
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Cuba, vol. 5,
                        col. 1147-1148
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Cuba, vol. 5, col. 1147-1148
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Cuba, vol. 5,
                        col. 1149-1150
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Cuba, vol. 5, col. 1149-1150

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