Sosua75: Building momentum in 2018
Hugh Baver being presented with the Évian Gold Key to the City by Évian Mayor’s Office at the July 11th “Revisiting Evian” 80th Anniversary Conference at the Hotel Royal in Évian France
Interviews with Hugh Baver
Returning to our story, 2018 would end up being a hectic year with critical inflection points for Hugh Baver and Sosua75.
Despite widespread opposition by Sosua Mayor Ilana Neumann and the local Jewish community of Baver‘s mission and formation of Sosua75.org, interest in his NPO was continuing to grow. Fast becoming a subject matter expert on both the Évian Conference and Sosua, in 2018, Baver began receiving multiple media requests for public appearances, newspapers, TV, and radio interviews.
Globally reputable organizations and individuals spanning a broad geographical spectrum and from all walks of life were suddenly very interested in learning of these little known Holocaust episodes connecting France and the Dominican Republic. Hugh was extremely gratified by the attention and the many new opportunities now being regularly and readily extended to him.
Following a New England snowstorm in the 1st week of January, capturing Baver’s attention was news of a special Boston Red Sox regional event taking place by his, then, nearby home in Portland, Maine. Sponsored by the Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox AA Minor League affiliate, was a scheduled visit to the Northern New England area by Red Sox Hall of Fame great pitcher Pedro Martinez. He was there to meet his fans and to speak about the prospects for the upcoming 2018 Red Sox season.
Being a wildly popular pre-Spring Training road tour event, Baver, unfortunately, missed the deadline to purchase advance tickets. Despite the fact it was a sold-out program, he decided to make the hour drive to the event anyway in hopes he could land a ticket. Waiting in a long line, Baver finally got to the event check-in station where the attendant asked for his ticket. The ballplayer stated he did not have one but was curious if there were any extra tickets available. The attendant answered, “No, sir, I’m sorry this is a sold-out event.”
Resigning himself to the fact that he had at least tried, Baver dejectedly turned around to leave. However, to his pleasant surprise, the very next person in line said, “Hey, I happen to have an extra ticket which I’m not using” and handed it to Baver. His faith rewarded, excitedly he entered the venue and picked out a spot at one of the available dinner tables.
Thoroughly enjoying the program and Pedro‘s comments towards the closing of the evening, the event Emcee announced for everyone to take a look at the underside of their dinner plates. One person, in the over 500 in attendance, was to receive a special surprise gift awarding the lucky winning recipient the opportunity to throw out the 1st Pitch at a Portland Sea Dogs game during the summer. Baver turned over his plate, and sure enough, he was the winner!
In late August, he made good on this surprise gift and threw out the 1st Pitch at Hadlock Field in Portland, ME. It was looking and feeling like a very promising 2018…
At the end of January, Hugh’s next stop was in Brookline MA, one of the largest Jewish communities in the Boston area, for the BOSTON film screening premiere of “Soul Witness,” a short documentary film highlighting the lives of Holocaust survivors from the Boston area. There he was introduced to Margo Strom, the founder and past CEO of “Facing History and Ourselves,” a prominent Boston based global Educational curriculum provider. After learning of Baver’s mission and plans to host the “Revisiting Evian” 80th-anniversary summer event, she passed his name along to the current Facing History and Ourselves CEO Roger Brooks.
Within one week, Brooks agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Baver in his office. Taking an immediate interest, Brooks and FHAO offered to be one of the key sponsors of the Summer 2018 Évian event sending his highly skilled Educational program director to represent the organization and be one of the event speakers.
Ending the month of January on a high note, Baver’s exuberance soon turned to sorrow. Receiving a call from his sister Beth back in his hometown of Detroit, he learned that his mother, Ruth’s health was sharply deteriorating. Traveling back to Detroit from the Boston area to be by her side, within 3 days of his arrival on February 9th, his mother passed. Attending her funeral and saying goodbye to his mother left Baver feeling despondent and introspective. Baver‘s father Howard had died two years prior, so now the caring parents who had adopted him at birth were no longer in his life.
Even having been offered, one day after his mother’s passing, a new and exciting job position at JLTV (Jewish Life Television), Baver found himself in a funk struggling to gain perspective on his life and his next steps. The JLTV job offer came about as a result of Executive Vice President and on-Air host Brad Pomerance taking an interest in Baver’s Évian to Sosua journey and including it as a lengthy documentary news segment on his “J Report” recurring news show in late 2017.
Coincidentally, as one generation passes to another, within one month of his mother’s passing on March 6th, Baver’s 2nd grandchild and first granddaughter, Sofia, was born to his oldest daughter Rachel in Detroit. It was a bittersweet moment, yet a new reason to be thankful and optimistic.
Again buffering the blow of the Sosua Jewish community’s not acknowledging or accepting Baver or Sosua75, Hugh’s Red Sox and Sosua journey met with keen interest from the Jewish Journal, a Boston North Shore-based bi-weekly newspaper. Chronicling Baver’s path of discovery, the front-page article entitled “Stitching Together Baseball and the Holocaust” featured photos of Baver and Dominican baseball legend Big Papi.
As maintaining key Boston Dominican community relationships was a massive priority for Baver, on March 16th, Hugh was invited to attend the 10th Annual “International Women’s Solidarity Conference” at the Massachusetts Statehouse in downtown Boston. Sponsored by the Boston Dominican Development Center, Baver was honored at this Conference the previous year as one of the 4 “Padrinos” or Godfathers for his contributions to this program.
Many more Red Sox / Évian / Sosua public speaking engagement invitations followed. Two of them convened at the end of March and early April with Baver giving presentations at the March 25th Temple Emanuel Brotherhood Breakfast in Andover, Massachusetts, and then again on April 9th at the Temple Beth Jacob Brotherhood meeting in Concord, New Hampshire.
But the VERY best was yet to come. Of all the invitations Baver received in 2018 to present on the history of Évian and Sosua clearly, his favorite was to be a guest lecturer at an Undergraduate Global Studies class at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, a Boston suburb.
Based on the positive reception he received from the students and interest generated by the April 12th presentations at Bentley University, later that year, in early September, Baver was asked back to the campus. Baver met with the University administration to discuss assembling the framework of Sosua75 being the subject matter of a semester-long “Marketing for Non-Profits and Social Enterprises” class at Bentley.
Two elements of Baver’s Sosua75 proposed comprehensive Jewish Dominican Cultural Education Center project vision were selected to be highlighted as central topics for the class. Both the construction of a Butterfly Conservatory and permacultural-designed Cooperative Community Organic Farm were comprehensively researched by two student groups with Final exam presentations given to Baver and Bentley University Marketing professor Laurel Steinfield after the class.
With the frigid cold and snowy New England region weather finally abating, April 2018 turned out to be another very active month for Baver. In addition to the aforementioned public engagements, Hugh also had the opportunity to meet Annette Lantos, the wife of Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the US Congress.
Her daughter Katrina Lantos Swett heads up the Concord, NH based Lantos Foundation, whose organization champions global Human Rights initiatives. A 3-time sponsor and supporter of the “Revisiting Evian” events at the Hotel Royal, Lantos-Swett agreed to be the headline speaker at the July 10th & 11th program.
Venturing down to NYC in mid-April, Baver arranged a meeting with long-standing AJC (American Jewish Congress) CEO David Harris in his downtown NYC offices. Recognizing the high merits of the summer “Revisiting Evian” 80th Anniversary program Harris also agreed to sponsor the July 80th Anniversary Évian program by sending his AJC Paris bureau Associate Director, Vincent Zappia, to be one of the featured keynote speakers.
Receiving further validation of his Sosua75 NPO, in late April, Hugh was unexpectedly approached by Bill Rosenberg, the son of one of the original Sosua settlers who resided in the greater Boston area. Rosenberg had seen Baver’s articles in the Boston newspaper and reached out to contact him.
The two met for lunch, where Rosenberg brought forth a treasure trove of original documents and photos of his father and mother and their harrowing journey through Nazi Germany to make it to Sosua and their marriage there. Later in the year, Baver would extend an invite to Rosenberg to share his story with the attendees of an October 16th NEGHS (New England Genealogical Historical Society) lecture in Boston.
In early May, Baver fielded another promising newspaper article interview inquiry from acclaimed St. Louis Jewish Light writer Bob Cohn. In a June 14th article entitled “Evian Conference: Attempt to find refuge for Jews was met with slammed doors,” writer Cohn conveyed a detailed history of the Evian Conference. He also included Baver’s plan to re-convene the 80th Anniversary Commemoration at the site of the original 1938 gathering at the Hotel Royal in Évian.
The article caught the attention of Robin Bernstein, who at the time was the US Ambassador Nominee to the Dominican Republic. Reaching out to Baver via email on June 15th, she wrote “Good afternoon, I read the article about you and the Évian Conference and wanted to introduce myself. I requested this assignment because of Évian and what the DR did for Jews in need. I am hoping for Senate Confirmation in the near future and would like to remain in touch with you and your vital work and PS: We are also huge baseball fans.”
** In late December 2018 and into 2019, Baver would have the privilege of personally meeting Ambassador Bernstein at the US Dominican Embassy and on several subsequent occasions which will be covered in the next chapter
Reaching a breakthrough milestone on June 22nd, “Hamodia,” a significant Jerusalem based daily newspaper subscribed to by thousands of Jewish households worldwide, published a 4-page spread with multiple photos about the Évian Conference and Baver’s plan to host an 80th Anniversary commemorative gathering there.
Considering his initial hopes of merely “raising awareness” of these little known Holocaust stories and attempting to create an audience through Sosua75, suddenly Baver and his history-based NPO were generating significant global media attention now reaching more substantial and larger interested audiences.
As the harried first half of 2018 drew to a close, Baver’s eyes were now laser-focused on the fast-approaching July “Revisiting Évian” event, which he had carefully organized and publicized through his many public appearances and articles. With its theme of “Remembering the Past and plotting a course for the Future,” the 2 day International Educational symposium on Human Rights and global anti-Semitism was led by an impressive array of 12 prominent French and WWII Historians, International Jewish leaders, noted authors, academicians, and Human Rights-experts.
Baver’s objectives in Évian were to re-construct a dialogue about the failed framework of the original 1938 Evian Conference, contrast its’ applicability to contemporary challenges of immigration and refugees today. And lastly, to dedicate a World War II historical bronze plaque in the actual room where the first Conference was convened.
Baver’s hope for the historical plaque was that it would serve as a permanent reminder of the Évian Conference’s significance during WWII as a major precipitating factor to Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and to the ensuing Holocaust. It was also intended to ensure that others might take a moment to recognize the impact, to so many lives, of those fateful 9 days in July of 1938.
Representing 2 of the original Sosua settlers who currently reside in Sosua, Baver invited Rene Kirchheimer and Edith Meyerstein to attend the event.
In recognition of his efforts, Baver was presented with the “Golden Key to the City” by the Évian mayor’s office.
One of the other unexpected byproducts of the summer Conference was the submission of an official application to UNESCO for Sosua to be recognized as a World Heritage Site.
As if the year wasn’t already overly consumed with tremendous activity, on September 8th, Baver married his girlfriend Jocelyne in a private oceanside wedding ceremony on Marginal Way in picturesque Ogunquit, Maine. Finding it difficult with an already packed professional calendar through the end of 2018, Baver committed to his wife to bring her to a tropical Caribbean honeymoon destination on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic.
Topping off an already incredible 2018, on October 28th, his beloved Red Sox won the World Series title, capturing their 4th Championship title since 2004. As busy as the year had been, it was a pleasure to take a break to watch the final clinching Series game with his 25-year-old son Jake.
Due to the success of the July “Revisiting Evian” 80th Anniversary program and the international media exposure throughout Europe, which was generated at the end of October, PRI (Public Radio International) and its popular radio talk program “The World” reached out to Baver for an interview.
Hosted by Marco Werman and interviewed by Boston based correspondent Jason Margolis, Baver recounted his journey of discovery and plans to deliver the bronze historic commemorative plaque to the Hotel on the anniversary of “Kristallnacht” on November 9th.
Baver then traveled back to Geneva, Switzerland, on November 9th for a scheduled midday “Kristallnacht” United Nations press conference. After speaking with international journalists, he, Dr. Shimon Samuels (Simon Wiesenthal Center 30 year Director of International Relations), and Hotel Royal Assistant General Manager Marc Figueiredo were then transported via a hi-tech boat across Lake Geneva from Geneva back to Evian.
Arriving at the Évian public boat landing, they were spirited away back to the Hotel Royal for the historic plaque ribbon-cutting commemoration ceremony, which took place in the same Hotel chamber where the original 1938 Évian Conference was convened.
After a hectic and eventful first 10+ months of the year, on November 14th, Baver, his new wife, and their Golden Doodle dog Dudley boarded a plane from Boston to the Puerto Plata airport. Leaving their New England home filled with hope and uncertainty of what was to come, there they would begin their new lives together in Cabarete.
Next Chapter, Baver relocates to the North Coast, meetings with Ambassador Bernstein, and the many Sosua75.org actions and activities in 2019.