From horrors of Holocaust to breathing freedom in Jamaica
One of the grave human tragedies of World War II in Europe between 1939 and 1945 was the Holocaust. In what is known as Germany's Hitler's 'Final Solution', the tyrannical Fuhrer instructed his soldiers to exterminate Jews and other minorities.
To escape this unprecedented persecution, Jews fled to parts of Europe where the terror was less intense. But some found sanctuaries in Africa and the Caribbean. Here in Jamaica, Gibraltar Camp II, which was established originally for refugees from Malta, became the temporary home for about 1,500 European Jews.
Among them was Inez Schpektor.
She was born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1931. Her family's flight, as told by Diana Cooper-Clark in her book Dreams of Re-Creation in Jamaica, began in 1942.
On July 13, her father, Willem, left the house before Inez and her older brother, Herman, had breakfast. Soon after, their mother, Margaretha, left them with their father's mother, Maria, and two aunts.
The children were instructed to meet their mother at certain point, from which all three left to join Willem at a train station. They boarded a train to a certain place, got off, and took a bus to another spot, where the family and two couples who sounded like they were German Jews got off on a lonely country road.
The couples continued in the direction of where the bus went, but as instructed by the Schpektors, crossed the road into a forested area. A man on a bicycle told them to continue walking until they reached an open space, where there were ditches. Other people were there. They only spent a day at that spot.
The guide who was helping them to escape took them to the Belgian border in the night as they tried to avoid searchlights. Across the border, they stayed at an inn and left early the next morning for the capital, Brussels.
The trip to Brussels took them a week. At that juncture, a Polish Jewish woman became their guide. Inez and Herman travelled with her, while they parents went together. Assisted by the French resistance, they hid in dog kennels on freight cars as they travelled to Vichy, France, evading a search of the cars by the Germans.
They then boarded a train to Lyons without any tickets. The conductor threatened to call the police, so they hid. But Willem and other men were arrested in Lyon. Luckily, through the intervention of the Dutch consul, Maurice Jacquet, and Solomon Noach, a Dutch Jew, Willem and the other Dutch prisoners and Polish Jews were freed.
In October 1942, the Schpektors crossed the French border into Vigo, Spain. There, they boarded the Marques Del Camillas to Jamaica. They had no idea of where they were going. Upon arriving in Jamaica in early December, they were taken to Gibraltar Camp II, established at Mona in St Andrew.
Inez fell in love with the freedom and the fruits of the land, but she particularly adored the Long and Dallas mountain ranges. She would eventually hike to the Blue Mountains, several miles away.
Inez attended St Andrew High School and learned English from some of the refugees. The children, including Inez, would travel to Papine by horse and buggy and then a trolley from there to school.
The family found entertainment at Carib Theatre and the Myrtle Bank Hotel. The refugees even stayed at a hotel in Montego Bay, St James, that was opened to accommodate them. It was closed because of the war.
The vacation in Montego Bay was paid for by the Dutch government, but by the end of 1943, it was not willing to continue paying for the refugees, who left Jamaica at different points. Inez was sad to leave the sights of the mountains. She thought she might never see them again. Her family left for Cuba in 1944. They eventually returned to Amsterdam in 1946. By then, some relatives had died or had been killed by the Germans. Life would never be the same.
Inez Schpektor eventually married an American. She has two sons, Ron and Ross Baker, and lives in California. She is one of the few Gibraltar Camp survivors who is still alive and who got at least one more chance to see the Long and Dallas mountains again.
Now Inez Baker, she, along with her sons and nephew, Jack Schpektor, from London, returned to tour the former campsite and other places. They were part of a group that came on a Gibraltar Camp reunion programme, organised by Diana Cooper-Clark and Ainsley Henriques, consul for Israel in Jamaica.
At 85, Baker's mind and memory are still acute. She recognised the remnants of the camp and other spots. She recalled dancing in a board structure that was an entertainment hall. It is now the Old Dramatic Theatre on the Mona campus of The University of the West Indies.
At a function at The Courtleigh Hotel and Suites where Cooper-Clark reflected on researching and writing her book, Baker recalled some of the events of her family's long journey to Jamaica. Her eyes welled up with tears when she spoke about the couples who came off the bus with them on the lonely country road. They were intercepted and killed by the Germans, it seems.
The reunion was entitled 'From Nazi Europe to Jamaica: Holocaust Survivors and Descendants Return to Their Place for in The Sun'. And Inez Baker had returned to see the mountains. Quite a survivor she is!