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Smuggling Jewish Refugees in Key West – Tablet Magazine

Smuggling Jewish Refugees in Key West – Tablet Magazine

Though smuggling in the Florida Keys in the primary half of the 20th century was an open secret, discovering what individuals did illegally 100 years in the past poses vital challenges. Professional assist organizations like Joseph Steinberg’s Centro Maccabeo, and the Industrial Removing Workplace a era earlier, left behind voluminous documentation that makes it attainable to recreate the stream of migrants and determine the individuals concerned. With the smugglers, a lot of what we all know comes from the Bureau of Investigation studies describing the makes an attempt that have been intercepted. Not one of the smugglers or migrants who got here via Key West continues to be alive to inform their aspect of the story. Only a few of them talked about it once they have been alive. “Open” or not, a lot of the smugglers’ secrets and techniques have been carried to the grave.

A number of the most particular allegations about Jewish smuggling in Key West got here from a member of the Ku Klux Klan who was appearing as an informant to the U.S. lawyer basic. Though it’s not often mentioned right now, the klan was lively in Key West in the course of the 1920s. The violent, racially motivated homicide of Manolo Cabeza in 1921, which adopted a cross burning on Duval Road and his public abduction and assault, confirmed that robed and hooded members of the KKK would cease at nothing in need of homicide to implement their white supremacist preferrred. It additionally demonstrated how profoundly Key West had modified because the 1890s, when José Martí rallied Jews and others to a colorblind best and residents elected a black man to the sheriff’s workplace. Native complicity in klan exercise explains why the identities of Key West klansmen have been stored a thriller till 2012, when an nameless donor introduced the Monroe County Public Library with a startling doc. The unique 1921 constitution of Florida’s klan No. 42, the klan of the Keys, reveals that the Key West klan was in reality based by a number of the island’s most outstanding residents. And it means that anti-Semitism was at work in Key West in pernicious methods through the 1920s.

Native klan constitution, naming Joseph Yates Porter as a pacesetter (Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Florida)

Heading the native klan group was Exalted Cyclops Joseph Yates Porter, who had a documented historical past of anti-Semitic conduct. It was Porter, as state well being officer, who had complained of the “foreign element” of the Jewish peddlers through the yellow fever epidemic 30 years earlier, whereas his deputy had slandered Jews as being “naturally suspicious and skeptical.” Second in command was J. Vining Harris, who was positioned to do critical hurt to Jewish pursuits and probably put native Jewish smugglers behind bars. Harris was an lawyer and former Navy intelligence officer, and in 1922 he voluntarily turned an informant to the U.S. lawyer common, Harry M. Daugherty. Harris filed a report back to Daugherty that yr with an explosive allegation: Rabbi Lazarus Schulsinger, the chief spiritual official at Key West’s Congregation B’nai Zion, was a part of an enormous worldwide conspiracy to smuggle Jewish unlawful aliens from Cuba to Key West.

Based on Harris, Rabbi Schulsinger’s smuggling operation delivered unlawful Jewish and Chinese language migrants into Key West with the help of a shadowy trio based mostly in Havana. The Cuban group was made up of “a Jew by the name of ‘Fox,’” “a German by the name of Hans Huspal but better known in Havana as ‘Hans Rosebaum,’” and a Hungarian named Goerlich. In Key West, the rabbi’s community had even infiltrated the Customized Home, the place chief immigration inspector George Schmucker was an necessary confederate.

Smugglers working with Schulsinger had two fundamental methods of getting Jewish aliens to Key West. The primary method employed native captains like De Castro and Cabañas, who smuggled teams as giant as 40 individuals at a time throughout the Florida Straits in the course of the midnight. For almost all of the voyage, migrants have been confined to the small cabin areas of personal motorboats like Cabañas’ Edelmiro or Orien Demeritt’s Marenostru. Then, as they approached Key West, smugglers set the weary migrants ashore on one of many a whole lot of uninhabited islands in the Keys backcountry. From right here, a smaller boat would decide them up and ship them again to Key West in smaller teams. At this level, accomplices like Abraham Leibovit would take the migrants in and supply them with lodging and meals whereas arranging for journey to their last vacation spot.

Rabbi Schulsinger’s second method offered an alternative choice to this harmful route and was notably nicely suited to ladies and youngsters who hoped to keep away from the risks of an ocean crossing. Exploiting the truth that ladies have been not often issued the immigration or citizenship paperwork that males have been required to hold, alien ladies and youngsters boarded every day passenger steamships just like the Mascotte in Cuba, escorted by Americans posing as their husbands and fathers, and traveled to Key West in broad daylight. Schulsinger’s refined community additionally included counterfeiters who produced pretend passport and visa paperwork, and costume artists who disguised the migrants with hair bleach and different tips. And their payroll included delivery firm officers in Havana, who had agreed to look the opposite approach whereas Jewish aliens boarded business ferries sure for Key West.

Months earlier than Harris’ letter, Rabbi Schulsinger had almost been uncovered. He had arrived in Key West from Cuba aboard the Mascotte with Morris Tennenbaum and 4 different Jews in Might of 1922. The passports carried by the others attracted suspicion from immigration officers, who held them a number of hours for additional questioning. Whereas they waited, telegrams from consular brokers in Cuba shared the “very disquieting rumors” that Morris Tennenbaum was deeply concerned in smuggling rings and the mastermind behind the widespread forgeries of visas and passports utilized by Jewish migrants. As a recognized determine in Key West, Schulsinger prevented suspicion that day. However in a report that he filed to Director William J. Burns of the Bureau of Investigation, Particular Inspector William Peters confirmed that Rabbi Schulsinger was “implicated in these irregularities.”

Jewish aliens or their households paid anyplace from $50 for a visit throughout the Florida Straits to $1,000 (value about $14,000 in 2017) for protected passage all the best way from Europe to their ultimate vacation spot in the USA. In accordance with Harris, Schulsinger dealt with the cash aspect of the operation, amassing cost immediately from the households of migrants, and delivering the funds to his co-conspirators in Cuba. He might have coordinated these actions with David Aronovitz, one other outstanding Key West Jew who was named by an informant in Miami as an agent for Romanian Jews in search of entry to the USA. (Mockingly, the Key West federal courthouse the place many smuggling instances are tried at present is known as for Aronovitz’s nephew, Sidney Aronovitz, who later turned a outstanding federal decide.) In the course of the peak of the refugee disaster in Cuba in 1921 and 1922, Schulsinger traveled forwards and backwards between Key West and Cuba a minimum of as soon as a month to ship money and supply different help.

Though no fees have been ever filed towards the rabbi, Harris’ allegations to the lawyer common seem to have ended his involvement in the smuggling conspiracy. Schulsinger made just one go to to Cuba after Harris’ report, and he by no means once more resumed his common month-to-month schedule.

Fortunately for the migrants, Schulsinger’s community had been simply considered one of many, and Jews who have been prepared to enter the nation illegally had quite a few choices. Refugees in Cuba might go to the official-seeming “Alien Information Bureau,” headed by a Hungarian named Isaac Weinstein, or an identical operation run by Romanian Jews, and simply buy counterfeit passports and visas. Key West native Jack Einhorn recollects that Jewish households have been smuggled by ship inside railway containers full of Cuban pineapples and sure for factors north by way of the Abroad Railroad. In maybe probably the most uncommon smuggling try, 13 staff of the Johnny Jones Carnival Co. have been arrested in 1928 after a gaggle of Russian, Romanian, and Hungarian aliens was found hiding in the touring carnival’s present automobiles throughout a cease in Key West.

Whether or not or not he continued to be concerned in smuggling operations, Rabbi Schulsinger remained sympathetic to the plight of Jewish migrants. In response to Einhorn and Milton Appel, one other Key West native, a gaggle was intercepted by immigration authorities round 1929 and held in Key West for a number of weeks. Rabbi Schulsinger and his spouse, Ida, made common visits to the migrants throughout their incarceration, delivering them kosher meals and lobbying the authorities on their behalf.

The last word vacation spot for a lot of the migrants was not Key West. They have been making an attempt to get to Chicago, or New York, or another place the place that they had household. However you couldn’t simply put 40 migrants on a practice automotive all of sudden with out arousing suspicion, in order that they typically remained at protected homes in Key West for a number of days or perhaps weeks. Right here, the area people taken care of them and helped make preparations for the ultimate leg of their voyage.

Frank Lewinsky (Photograph courtesy Sally Lewinsky Younger)

Proof that may definitively determine the protected homes utilized by smugglers right here is troublesome to return by, however there are a selection of probably prospects. Abraham Leibovit’s property on the nook of William and Southard streets, the place he and his household lived and ran a grocery retailer through the years when he was lively in the smuggling operation, was in all probability used to deal with migrants as they waited to journey to their last vacation spot. Rabbi Schulsinger’s home on Simonton Road, subsequent door to the previous synagogue, the place Sarabeth’s restaurant is at present, is one other robust risk, as is the massive house at 626 William St., the place prior rabbis had lived. These three places are all inside one or two blocks of one another, which might have made it comparatively straightforward to coordinate motion from home to deal with.

One of the crucial intriguing potential protected homes belonged to Frank Lewinsky, who grew up in the household bar enterprise alongside together with his cousin Herman Wolkowsky, the bumboat captain, and who had flouted temperance legal guidelines in 1913. Lower than a yr after the passage of Prohibition, Lewinsky constructed a model new constructing the place his Duval Road saloon had been. To passersby it appeared like Lewinsky had left the liquor enterprise for the clothes retailer he ran there in subsequent years. A extra curious passerby may need observed that the saloon might have simply been transformed right into a clothes retailer at a lot decrease expense, and that Lewinsky was taking a serious danger in setting up a brand new constructing so quickly after Prohibition had outlawed the one enterprise he’d all the time recognized.

When Lewinsky’s descendants bought this constructing in 2013, contractors made a tremendous discovery. A big underground chamber, sealed off since Lewinsky’s demise, lay beneath the footprint of the constructing. Basements are uncommon in Key West, and the entrances to this one have been utterly hidden. The household had no concept it was there. Extending to just about the sides of the constructing, the 6-foot-high room supplies sufficient clearance for an individual of common peak to maneuver round comfortably. There’s no surviving proof of what it was used for, however it will have been a super place to cover bootleg alcohol, for instance, or to run a speakeasy, or to offer a protected home for Jewish migrants who had just lately arrived by boat from Cuba. An analogous chamber was found across the similar time proper throughout the road. This room lay beneath the previous grocery retailer of Jim Lee, a Chinese language immigrant whose enterprise associate Wing Lee had been implicated in the East Asia Firm investigation at Willie Fung’s laundry.

Tales are advised in Key West about underground tunnels that have been utilized by Cuban rebels to cover weapons through the 1890s and by rumrunners to retailer bootleg alcohol in the 1920s. Allegedly, these tunnels related numerous addresses in the neighborhood of Solares Hill, the limestone outcrop that types Key West’s highest floor at roughly 16 ft above sea degree, the place a pure cavern and freshwater spring had existed previous to improvement of the world in the center of the 19th century. Outstanding revolutionary Cubans and recognized smugglers had occupied a few of these addresses, and it’s thought that the tunnels enabled the key motion and transportation of contraband from one conspirator’s home to a different. This might have allowed smugglers to consolidate their cargoes in a hidden underground location whereas minimizing the quantity of surface-level exercise at anybody road handle. Oral histories describe a very well-constructed tunnel community that existed beneath the Weintraub Grocery Retailer, operated by Berman and Rose Weintraub, Romanian Jews whose wedding ceremony had taken place on the headquarters of the Cuban Revolutionary Celebration in the 1890s. Some say tunnels ran so far as three blocks north to Eaton Road, to the handle the place a Chinese language alien named Wing Lung operated one other laundry.

‘The New York Times,’ Aug. 31, 1927.

Firsthand proof of those tunnels has but to be documented. However tunnels just like what have been described in Key West have been lately unearthed in the city of Moose Jaw, Canada, and it has been discovered that they have been used to cover Chinese language migrants who have been barred from authorized immigration. One principle about Key West’s tunnels is that Berman Weintraub was conversant in the community via his connections with Cuban rebels through the 1890s, and that he determined to buy this constructing, only one block from the house of the Cabañas household of smugglers, partly in order to regulate entry to the tunnels that lay beneath it. It appears unimaginable, but solely attainable, that Abraham Leibovit’s description of a “Jewish underground” in Key West was greater than a determine of speech, and that these tunnels have been used as a part of the flowery operations to rescue and resettle Jewish migrants.

The 1920s and 1930s have been troublesome for Key West’s Jewish group, however Jews in Key West knew how lucky they have been. Many have been the primary members of their household born in the USA or had themselves been born in Europe, the place, because the 1930s ended, Hitler had solidified Nazi management over Germany and begun implementing his Ultimate Answer: mass homicide of the Jews of Europe on an unprecedented scale.

The case of the German ocean liner St. Louis is an notorious instance of the worldwide indifference to the Nazi genocide in Europe. Jews in Key West noticed the St. Louis up shut, and poignantly felt the tragedy of its passengers. In Might of 1939, almost 1,000 Jews boarded the St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany, to sail to Havana. They have been fleeing from Hitler’s Third Reich, and held the paperwork required by Cuban immigration authorities. Cuba had by no means been keen about accepting Jewish refugees, however a mixture of humanitarian, political, and monetary motivations had compelled them to proceed to permit Jewish immigration. Now the anti-Semitism that fueled each Hitler’s rise and the American immigration quotas reached disaster proportions in Cuba as properly.

Shortly earlier than the St. Louis departed Hamburg, former Cuban President Grau San Martín organized an enormous anti-Semitic demonstration in Havana. Almost 40,000 individuals attended the rally, the place San Martín’s spokesman urged them “to fight the Jews until the last one is driven out.” Caving to political strain from these extremists, Cuban President Federico Laredo Brú voided the touchdown certificates that had just lately been issued to Jewish refugees, together with almost all of those that have been touring aboard the St. Louis. Despised in Germany, the place that they had been stripped of primary rights, the Jewish passengers of the St. Louis have been now refused entry by the one nation that had appeared prepared to grant them refuge.

When the St. Louis arrived in Havana after a two-week voyage, virtually nobody was permitted to go away the ship. As Jewish aid organizations in Cuba and america negotiated for the discharge of the passengers in the course of the first week of June, the ship held anchor off the Cuban coast, then motored slowly north to Miami earlier than turning south once more and steaming towards Key West. Jews right here, together with Jack Einhorn, recall the heart-rending sight of the massive ocean liner, later made well-known because the “voyage of the damned.” The big ship idled offshore, virtually immobile, as Jews in Key West learn the information accounts of its ill-fated passengers.

By June of 1939, the immigration quota for German Jews had lengthy since been crammed (the ready record was 10 years lengthy), and port officers in Key West and Miami have been powerless to simply accept the St. Louis passengers with out an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Though Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., the one Jew in Roosevelt’s cupboard, opened a secret channel with the U.S. Coast Guard to trace the ship’s whereabouts, the St. Louis and its passengers have been finally pressured to return to Germany. Greater than half of them have been ultimately taken to extermination camps. Inside a couple of years, Nazis had killed 254 of the passengers from the ship that had idled that day on the calm Atlantic waters close by of Key West.


Excerpted from The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969), by Arlo Haskell. Copyright © Arlo Haskell 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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