Later this spring, I plan on stuffing my luggage with boxes of baseball cards – taking especially great care of Dominican Red Sox stars David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez and Rafael Devers – and then heading to the Dominican Republic where I will eagerly give them away to kids. Even though their country’s greatest export is Major League Baseball shortstops, most kids there have never even seen a baseball card before.
Supported by the generosity of fellow baseball fans across America, I have been sending cards (Dominican-born players only) by mail through the nonprofit organization Sosua75 for about a year now. I am eager to finally share the joy of my hobby face-to-face, with previous plans being stymied by the pandemic.
On the surface, my grassroots Cards4Sosua project has nothing to do with me being Jewish. As the Olympics and World Baseball Classic will attest, the appeal of baseball transcends all religions, cultures and ethnicities. I believe I have a baseball soul and would be doing a project like this if I were born Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu. Yet, my choice to travel to Sosua, a small beach town on the north coast, has everything to do with being Jewish.
In 1938, representatives from 32 countries met in Evian, France (home of the famous spring water) to discuss how to handle the burgeoning German-Jewish refugee crisis. At the Evian Conference, only the tiny Dominican Republic agreed to welcome refugees (up to 100,000) fleeing the Nazis. Ultimately, only 5,000 Dominican visas were issued to European Jews between 1938 and 1944, with less than a thousand refugees actually settling in the abandoned banana plantations of Sosua.
Nevertheless, this wartime rescue was far more than most nations were willing to do. As the Talmud asserts, “saving even one life is like saving the whole world.” My friend Hugh Baver, founder of the Sosua75 charity, recently moved from New Hampshire to the Dominican Republic with the goal of building a community center and sports complex there “as a living memorial” and as a belated thank you for the town’s historic role. Baver notes that Sosua’s exceptional legacy is similar in stature to “Schindler’s List,” but remains a secret to most of the world, including many Dominicans.
April 28 is Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day as observed by Jews worldwide – and every January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a United Nations commemoration marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The truth is that I think about the Holocaust far more often than two days a year.
Lately, it seems that barely a day goes by without the Holocaust resurfacing in the headlines in both the most frightening and most trivial contexts. There is the ongoing war and refugee crisis in Ukraine, with Nazi-themed accusations flying both ways from the Russian and Ukrainian governments. The Babi Yar memorial was recently hit by a Russian bomb. Cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” books were just banned by a Tennessee school board. Comedian Whoopi Goldberg asserted that the Holocaust was “not about race,” but was a conflict between “two groups of white people.” And perhaps most bizarre, there was a controversy over the online sale of leggings decorated with movie images from “Schindler’s List.”
Holocaust comparisons (complete with yellow star props) have become omnipresent in our local government and school board meetings, especially when the issues of masking and vaccines arise. I don’t believe we are reliving the year 1938, yet when I see how easily propaganda and ugly partisan rhetoric rips apart our communities, this disturbs me far more than Whoopi Goldberg or Auschwitz-decorated leggings. Revisiting the lessons of the Holocaust reminds me how fragile our civilization has become – or always was while I was blissfully not paying attention.
But none of those heavy sentiments will be present when I giddily hand out free baseball cards and T-shirts to kids on Dominican Little League fields. Using the remnants of my high school Spanish, most of my conversations will be 100 percent baseball. Yet I also cherish the idea of Jewish people returning to Sosua – even just for a brief vacation – as a thank you to the community for their ancestors welcoming our people during our darkest hour.
I don’t expect baseball cards to solve the world’s problems, but maybe sharing a few smiles between different cultures is a humble way to start.
Darren Garnick is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire. He is collecting baseball cards, Red Sox T-shirts and other donations for the kids of Sosua through May 25 before his Dominican Republic trip. For more information, visit cards4sosua.wordpress.com or reach out to Darren by email at Cards4Sosua@gmail.com or on Instagram at @baseballcards4good.