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80 years ago, Jews found little refuge from Nazis at Evian Conference

OCTOBER 4, 2018 – To mark the 80th anniversary of the Evian Conference, an International Educational Symposium on Human Rights and Global Anti-Semitism was held on July 10-11 at the Hôtel Royal in Évian-les-Bains, France.

The conference’s theme was “Remembering the Past & Plotting a Course for the Future.” The event hosted 25 leaders from some of the world’s most recognized Jewish and human rights organizations, including the global Jewish advocacy organization AJC, B’nai B’rith International, the Lantos Foundation, and the “Facing History and Ourselves” international Holocaust education program. Marion Lenne, a member of the French Parliament, also attended.

In response to the rise of Nazi Germany, President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened an international conference from July 6-15, 1938 in Evian. Representatives from 32 countries discussed the growing Jewish refugee crisis; about 150,000 German Jews already had fled their country.

One by one, 31 ambassadors – included those from the United States and Great Britain – explained why they could take only a small amount of Jews, or none at all. The Dominican Republic offered 100,000 visas for German Jewish bachelor farmers, though only 700 were able to make the journey. They arrived in the island’s town of Sosua just before the war.

The “Evian Revisited” event (also known as “Evian II”), which is held in the same room as the 1938 conference, was conceived and directed by Elihu “Hugh” Baver, who is board chairman of Sosua75.org, a Boston organization dedicated to raising awareness of the Evian Conference and the resulting agricultural settlement of Sosua. Shimon Samuels, the longtime director of International Relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris, later announced his efforts to turn Sosua into a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Twelve distinguished speakers delivered keynote speeches at the July 11 gala dinner. That evening, a commemorative plaque was unveiled that features the names of event benefactors. The plaque will forever hang in the Hôtel Royal. At the same event, Evian Deputy Mayor of Culture Alain Guiraud presented Baver with a golden key to the city.

In a speech, Baver emphasized why it is so crucial to revisit the Evian Conference. “The lasting impact and death sentence Evian I created helped prove Hitler’s point that no one and nowhere wanted the Jews,” he said.

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