October 23, 2020

A hidden piece of WWII history

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54fa244b41be2.imageFrom The Haverhill Gazette

While conducting research for her doctoral thesis, Northern Essex Community College associate professor Ligia Domenech stumbled upon a brief reference to the U-Boat blockade of the Caribbean during World War II.

This footnote left her with a question. “What blockade?”

It ultimately led Domenech to write “Imprisoned in the Caribbean: The 1942 German U-Boat Blockade,” a book published by iUniverse that is now available online in paperback and for Kindle.

An often overlooked historical fact is that in 1942, the Caribbean was blocked off from the rest of the world by five German U-Boats. This had a profound effect on dozens of island countries, leaving the inhabitants without access to penicillin to fight disease, oil to power their vehicles, and even glass to bottle their rum.

By the end of the war, the Germans had sunk 400 merchant ships in the Caribbean during what was dubbed “Operation Neuland.” The blockade was intended to cut supply lines between the Caribbean and the Allies. This strangled their import-based economies. Since most of the islands were colonies, they were left to fend for themselves.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Domenech reasoned that if a native of the Caribbean working on a doctorate on the History of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean didn’t know about the U-Boat Blockade, then few others probably did. After some additional investigating, she found she was right.

While the U-Boat blockade has been chronicled in publications, the plight of the Caribbean was not, she said.

A social worker by training with a master’s degree in Caribbean Anthropology from the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the now-Haverhill resident approached the subject like an investigator.

The 49-year-old spent four years researching the blockade. She read every edition of the local newspapers for all of 1942, as well as every book on the subject she could

find. Her efforts culminated in a book about this piece of World War II history.

The book explores how the campaign hurt the people of the Caribbean, who the principal targets were, how the U.S. responded, which essential goods were blocked, what new industries developed as a result of the war, and the long-lasting effects on the islands.

“Operation Neuland” was initially designed for 25 U-Boats, but only five were sent. Winston Churchill said in his memoir: “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-Boat Peril.” The blockade was so successful and so significant, Domenech said, that had the 25 U-Boats been been involved in the operation, it could have changed history.

Domenech said selling the book is not her primary objective, but telling the story of the U-Boat Blockade and its impact on the Caribbean is. The book can be purchased through Amazon.com.

Domenech has her own interesting history. Born, raised, and educated in Puerto Rico, she came to NECC from Argentina, where she lived for three years. During that time, she spent three months teaching history aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter as it chased drug traffickers around Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Two years ago, she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to participate in a month-long summer institute, “India’s Past and the Making of the Present.”

Courtesy photo Ligia Domenech

For more on this story go to: http://www.hgazette.com/news/local_news/a-hidden-piece-of-wwii-history/article_5d3b2ae5-9239-559d-9b43-db12f8693511.html

 

 

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