The largely overlooked story of Jewish refugees that Cuba took in during World War II and the island's diamond industry created by this community.
cuba's forgotten jewels by robin truesdale and judy kreith
Marion Kreith in Havana in the early 1940’s and today, at 94 years old.

During World War II, about 12,000 Jews escaping Nazi occupied territories were given safe harbor in Cuba. It’s a story that’s not well known nor omnipresent in history books, Cuban or European. However, thanks to Cuba, thousands of Jews escaped the Holocaust and survived the war.

Filmmakers Judy Kreith and Robin Truesdale share this story in their film Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana. It’s told through refugees’ personal accounts, one of whom is Marion Kreith, Judy’s mom. Today, ninety-four years old, Marion was thirteen when Adolf Hitler set out to exterminate the Jewish people. She escaped Germany to Belgium, then on to France, Spain, and eventually Portugal, where they boarded a ship in Lisbon for Havana. Once landed in Cuba, they birthed a new life and a new diamond industry for the island.

marion kreith cuba's forgotten jewels

Upon arriving in November, 1941, the Jewish refugees expected to be in Cuba temporarily, just for a matter of weeks, before receiving visas to travel to the United States. That didn’t happen as planned. The visas didn’t come. It was not until five and a half years later after the war, in March, 1946, that the refugees were granted asylum in the United States.

“It was a very, very fortunate way of escaping being exterminated”

Marion Kreith

Once in Cuba, realizing they’d be there a while, the refugees largely went on with life; getting married, having babies and adapting to their new homeland. Although they remained largely separated from the Cuban people, they always felt welcome.

With a longer stay meant that these new European refugees needed to earn a living. They were given permission to work and wound up starting Cuba’s largely forgotten and unknown diamond industry. Using their skills and contacts from their European life, a new diamond polishing industry flourished on the island. Diamonds were being produced in thirty to fifty different factories, creating opportunity for many. Both Jewish refugees and Cuban citizens were working in these businesses and benefited from the income that was created.

After the war, when the refugees moved to America, the diamond industry quickly collapsed. With it went a large portion of the Cuban economy. The Jewish settlers were now in the United States and the Cubans working for them were left unemployed. It was hard for the businesses to continue on since the experts, or the people with the know-how, were gone. And, unfortunately the history and stories from this period have also been lost.

It’s a real gem (pun not intended) of a movie because it may account for one of the very few records of this time period in Cuba, available anywhere.

That’s what makes this film so interesting and important. Thanks to Kreith and Truesdale’s efforts and research, we’re all able to learn about these otherwise unknown events. The filmmakers spent time capturing the stories from people who were there and scoured through any documents and information they could find. It’s a real gem (pun not intended) of a movie because it may account for one of the very few records of this time period in Cuba, available anywhere.

WATCH here to see what we discovered in the Ecuadorian Chocó bioregion.

I had the fortunate chance to speak with Marion Kreith, filmmaker Judy Kreith’s mother (see above). Now in her 90’s, she recalls her memories from this period fondly. Hearing her talk about this period commanded respect and humility. It reminded me of the stories my grandparents told of World War II. For her, it wasn’t necessarily a defining event in her life, but rather an interlude on her family’s journey to the United States.

Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana is a film that shouldn’t be missed. If you want to learn more about Cuba, more about this era or are intrigued by the fascinating story of refugees adapting to life’s punches, you’ll love it. Running at 46 minutes long, it’s a ride back in time and a fabulous piece of the puzzle that is Cuba. For details and viewing information, please visit the film’s website here.

A Vegan Frita Recipe So Good It Sets the Standard We’ve All Been Looking For

Celebrating their storefront’s one year anniversary, Vegan Cuban Cuisine’s Liz Machado makes a vegan frita recipe so delicious, it’s defining new rules for vegan Cuban food.

Related Post: Los Hermanos Is a Film That Unites Through Music and Brotherhood

robin truesdale and judy kreith
Filmmakers Robin Truesdale and Judy Kreith in Havana.

The Latest From Startup Cuba

NBC News: A Cuban migrant crossed the Rio Grande with one leg. ‘I’m going to take the risk.’

LGBTQ+ Cubans Fight to Not Be Forgotten in New Families Code

Experiencing Cuba Through Airbnb: From Opportunities to Challenges

A Second Photo of the Month for May? Can It Be True?

CNN: Cubans are arriving to the US in record numbers. Smugglers are profiting from their exodus

Ada Ferrer & Her Pulitzer Prize Winning Book Cuba: An American History

7 Superstitions That Only Cubans Will Know

Chef Jami Erriquez’s Story on the Poland/Ukraine Border

Photography and Cuba Go Hand in Hand: Where Do You Sit?

The Cuban Vote: Carmen Pelaez’s New Romantic Political Comedy

Add comment

Your email address will not be published.

9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba
10 People You Didn't Know Were Cuban-Americans
startup cuba episode one teaser
jews in cuba
netflix taco chronicles teaser
clandestina episode teaser
Ecuador Mashpi Lodge