“Phew! That piece of fish was as big as a surf board. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing and most of the chips too.”
This was perhaps our fourth or fifth visit to Gibraltar, The Rock, and as usual we had just finished a late lunch at Roy’s Cod Plaice (sic) in the main square. It was almost a ritual.
Another ritual was to walk to the corner where this jolly, Cockney fellow sold inexpensive watches. The first time we met he offered me one of his $10.00 watches. I told him I had just bought one in a store just up the road. “Hahah, I bet you paid a lot more for it and it tells the same time.” Everyone laughed. Again we listened to his spiel before buying another $10.00 watch. But now it was time to return to our ship.
Too full, read lazy, to walk to the shuttle service pick up point, we hailed a cab and requested to be taken to the pier. Immediately, and as is his norm, Bert started a conversation.
“Where do you think we come from?”
“No, no! We are Canadians but I want you to guess where we were born”. After a few tries Bert told our driver he was from the Netherlands then asked him: “Where do you think my wife was born?”
The driver smiled and said: “America”. A laugh and then: “Wrong again. My wife is from Jamaica.”
“Jamaica! Jamaica! Do you know the Papine Market?” I looked at him in amazement. “Of course, I do. How do you know it? Have you been there?”
“No, my lady. My mother was an evacuee to Jamaica during World War II. She lived in Gibraltar Camp and every Saturday she would go to shop at the Papine Market. She always talked about her time in Jamaica, about the food, the fruits, the wonderful, kind people. She loved it.
There were tears in his eyes as he spoke of his mother who had died recently. He refused our fare. He kept holding on to my hand and shaking Bert’s hand for a long time.
A year later I was introduced to Dr. Diana Cooper-Clark, a Professor at York University and Jamaican by birth. We bonded immediately. It happened that Diana was in the middle of doing research on Gibraltar Camp, Jamaica’s role in the Holocaust and the Jewish refugees, most from Poland and the Netherlands who were housed at the Camp.
The recently published (2017) Dreams of Re- Creation in Jamaica: The Holocaust, Internment, Jewish Refugees in Gibraltar Camp, Jamaican Jews and Sephardim, is the result of Diana’s more than 18 years of meticulous research and her commitment to bring this little known piece of Holocaust history to light. It is at once a paean to her Jamaican background, a lifeline for the survivors, education for Jamaicans and the world, a moment in history captured for posterity and recorded with love and respect for the survivors, their descendants and the Jamaicans who enfolded them in love during a terrible time in history.
Dr. Cooper-Clark took some survivors and descendants to Jamaica for a reunion in November 2016. Yes, they visited Papine Market, the camps and St. Andrews Girls School, one of the schools the children attended courtesy of the Jamaican government and the generosity of Jamaican Jews. She tells of the many tears shed as they remembered. Observe Diana as she talks of the reunion and you can see this is one moment in her life forever indelibly engraved in her heart.
The Meander: Serendipity? Coincidence? I do not know. Gibraltar Camp is now part of the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. Many students have gone to lectures at Gibraltar Hall, have walked Gibraltar Lane and Path have seen the old ruins, remnants of the little city on the banks of the Hope River without knowing their import. Diana has given face and substance to the place, the buildings, the people, and the times. This is history with heart.
Just one more thing for me to do to close this particular circle: I will be sending a copy of Diana’s book to the John Mackintosh Hall Library – the only public library in Gibraltar. Who knows? Maybe that taxi driver will see it and read it and fill in the gaps of his mother’s story.