A week from today I’ll be in Trinidad. I’m vacationing in Suriname, and on the way I have a long layover in Trinidad. Since it will be Hanukkah, it occurred to me that maybe I should see if there are any Jews in Port of Spain who would light Hanukkah candles with me. So I googled Jewish Trinidad and found out that there isn’t a Jewish community to speak of in Trinidad (bummer) but that there was, and they have a kind of amazing history.
The 20th century saw a rapid rise and rapid decline in Jewish population in Trinidad. Thousands of Jews fleeing Hitler, found haven in 1936 to 1939 in Trinidad... By 1939, the Jewish community numbered 600. Ambivalence about the new immigrants resulted from intense economic competitionâ€¦
With the outbreak of war, all refugees deemed to be “enemy aliens” were interned in camps throughout The Caribbean. Trinidad was no exception. In addition to captured Italian and German merchant seamen and German U-boat crews, Trinidad’s new “enemy aliens” now included, ironically, those Jewish families who came from Austria or Germany. While an internment camp was being constructed outside of the capital, the Jewish families were housed in barracks on tiny islands off the mainland. After a few months in the barracks they were moved back to the mainland. The internment camp, which stood on what are now the residential neighborhoods of Federation Park and Ellerslie Park, is documented at Trinidad’s Chaguaramas Military Museum and was surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence with sentry towers and search lights. Although children were given special permissions to attend school outside the camp, understandably, many of the refugees felt deeply insulted by this course of events.
In 1943, they were released with certain wartime restrictions. They had to report daily to the nearest police station, were banned from driving cars or riding bicycles, and were under curfew from 8:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. In disgust, some families left.
I can’t be the only one who didn’t know about internment camps for Jews in the Caribbean, right? Crazy!