Gi­bral­tar Camp sur­vivor and rel­a­tives tour for­mer campsite

Jamaica Gleaner - - HOSPITALITY JAMAICA -

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’.


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.


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.

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