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  • An Afro-Caribbean in the Nazi EraThe Year in Sint Maarten
  • Rose Mary Allen (bio) and Jeroen Heuvel (bio)

Mary Romney-Schaab's An Afro-Caribbean in the Nazi Era: From Papiamentu to German, self-published in 2020, makes an important contribution to research on non-Jewish persons imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II. It is a welcome addition to Clarence Lusane's 2002 publication, Hitler's Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of European Blacks, Africans and African Americans During the Nazi Era. Lusane's book is based on interviews with Black people who were born in Germany, Britain, France, the United States, or Africa and survived Nazism's racial policies towards people of African descent, and it discusses their experiences. Romney-Schaab's book approaches this theme from a Dutch Caribbean perspective. Her book draws on extensive interviews with her father, Lionel Romney, whose parents were from the Dutch island of Sint Maarten.1 Her principal motive for writing his biography was to create more self-awareness and ultimately boost self-confidence among the young people of Sint Maarten.

Lionel Romney was a Black survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, and his story offers valuable insights into what it meant for him to be imprisoned in such a camp. In his review of the book, Jeroen Heuvel underscores that

We know some stories about Antillean resistance heroes who were shot or killed in the war, but to my knowledge there has never been a story told about or by an Antillean who survived imprisonment by the Germans during the entire Second World War, and who lived on for more than half a century after the liberation, as he passed away in 2004 at the age of 91.

Mary Romney-Schaab, the biographer and the daughter of the book's protagonist, is a typical product of Caribbean migration. She was born in the United States, while her father Lionel Romney was born in the Dominican Republic in 1912, as the sixth child of Marie Louise Illidge Romney and William Alfred Romney. Lionel Romney's parents had left the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint [End Page 81] Maarten, joining the thousands of people from the surrounding British Caribbean and other Dutch Windward islands who went to do seasonal work on the flourishing sugar plantations of that Spanish-speaking country, particularly in the province of San Francisco de Macoris (Sypkens-Smit 127). Especially after the abolition of slavery in the Dutch Caribbean in 1863, leaving one's island to find work abroad became a common strategy for improving one's livelihood throughout the Dutch Caribbean societies. In the Dominican Republic, Black migrant laborers from English-speaking countries were pejoratively called "Cocolo," a term used to distinguish them from the Spanish-speaking population. When Lionel Romney's parents returned to Sint Maarten in 1919, they, as seasonal laborers, only then registered their son in the birth register. Afterwards, the family continued on their migration journey, moving to Curaçao in 1927 to work in the oil industry, which had been established there in 1915. The oil industries that were established in Curaçao and Aruba in the early twentieth century attracted a large influx of immigrants from Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, and Saba. It is on Curaçao that Lionel Romney went to school. Between 1934 and approximately 1937, he lived in Curaçao, Aruba, as well as Venezuela. After finishing secondary school, he got a job at the Royal Dutch Steamboat Company (KNSM), and in 1938 he travelled as a sailor to the Netherlands for the first time. World War II had just begun when Lionel was working on the SS Makis, which had the ill fortune of running into a mine in the Mediterranean. The crew was picked up by an Italian boat, just after Italy had declared war on France and England. So it occurred that on June 10, 1940, twenty-eight-year-old Lionel Romney was captured by the Italians and would spend the rest of the war era as a prisoner of war.

It took forty years after his release from the concentration camp for Lionel Romney to reluctantly start to tell his daughter...