Gibraltar Camp survivor and relatives tour former campsite
IN THE 1990s when I was a student at the Caribbean Institute of Mass Communication, located on the Mona campus of The University of the West Indies in St Andrew, we were told the concrete cisterns located not far from the entrance of the building were what World War II refugees washed their clothes in.
We learned that they were from Gibraltar, and that’s why the site was called Gibraltar Camp. But, we were not told the full story, especially why they came to Jamaica, and that there were other refugees apart from the Gibraltarians.
And over the years as I pass through the campus, I would read the storyboards about Gibraltar Camp 1 and 2 mounted at various spots on the former campsite. It is a fascinating story, but never in my wildest dream did the idea of meeting one of the camp survivors pop up.
On Friday, November 11, it was not in a wild dream that Inez Schpektor, now Inez Baker, suddenly appeared. She was as real as real could get. I met the 85-year-old survivor, her two sons, a nephew, and a Joan Arnay Halperin, who were in the Corporate Area to visit the former campsite and other related places, in a reunion called ‘From Nazi Europe to Jamaica: Holocaust Survivor and Descendants Return to their place in the Sun’.
JEWISH REFUGEE SITUATION
They were part of a bigger group that included tour coordinator Professor Diana Cooper-Clark of York University in Canada. Her book, Dreams of Re-Creation in Jamaica, looks at the Jewish refugee situation in Jamaica during World War II.
Halperin’s older sister died in the camp and was buried in the Jewish cemetery along Orange Street in downtown Kingston, which she visited Sunday. She had never met her sister who came to Jamaica as a Polish refugee with her parents, and she had written a book about her called My Sister’s Eyes: A Family Chronicle of Rescue and Loss During WWII.
At that time, many Jews fled Europe to avoid being by killed by Hitler’s men. Jamaica hosted many European Jews, including some from Holland, Poland, Finland and Chechoslovia. After a spellbinding escapade from Holland, narrated in Cooper-Clark’s book, Inez, her brother Willem, and their parents finally made it to Gibraltar Camp. The story of Gibraltar Camp is also told in
Mona Past and Present, written by Dr Suzanne Francis-Brown, the curator of the UWI Museum, located in the UWI regional headquarters along Mona Road. That was where the tour started on Friday.
Dr Francis gave the visitors a brief history of the campus and the camp, its history and showed a pictorial. It was so poignant to see Inez pointing out herself from among other children. Wide-eyed, she bent over and put a finger on to her image. Everybody gathered around her and the cameras went off.
TOUR NEAR THE END
The next stop was at the Undercroft, where the group was introduced to campus principal, Professor Archibald McDonald; campus registrar, Dr Camille Bell Hutchinson; and Dr Carrol Edwards, director of the office of marketing and communications. After Professor McDonald responded Professor Cooper-Clark presented him with a copy of her book.
The final segment of the campus tour, guided by Dr Francis-Brown, took place on the former campsite, and Inez Baker recalled some of the moments from way back. But it was when she saw some of the physical remnants that she got a little excited.
She recalled learning to dance the foxtrot in the Old Dramatic Theatre, and who taught her. On the top of the steps, she posed like a Radio City Rockette after recalling that she and other girls used to dance like the famous New York City dancers. That was after the old brought out the new.
Yes, she quickly grabbed her modern phone to take pictures of the aforementioned cisterns. She was beside herself, and the cameras could not get enough pictures of her standing over a cistern pretending to be washing at Gibraltar Camp over 73 years ago.
And I was glad to get some shots for my posterity. Lovely day it was.
The Gibraltar Camp touring party and some University of the West Indies officials in a group photo opportunity.
Joan Arnay Halperin displays a copy of her book, ‘My Sister’s Eyes’. Her eldest sister, who was a Polish refugee at Gibraltar Camp in St Andrew, died in Jamaica and was buried in the Jewish cemetery on Orange Street, downtown Kingston.
Eighty-five-year-old Inez Baker, née Schpektor, who lived in Gibraltar Camp in St Andrew after fleeing Holland with her family to escape the atrocities of World War II, takes a picture of the laundry cisterns that were used by refugees.
Dr Suzanne Francis-Brown, curator (right) at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Museum, briefs visitors who travelled to Jamaica to tour the former WWII refugee campsite, located on the UWI Mona campus.
Inez Baker, née Schpektor, who was a Dutch refugee who lived at Gibraltar Camp in St Andrew, holds a picture of herself and other children at the camp during WWII. From left are her sons Ron and Ross, and her nephew, Jack Schpektor.
Visitors in The University of the West Indies Museum looking at pictures of scenes from Gibraltar Camp.