What South American country saved thousands of Jews?


By Melvyn Kohn
December 4, 2010
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The answer to that title is Bolivia. And it is an answer to an urgent question inside of me, one I have been asking myself for some time; why am I so supportive of Bolivia? Well, yesterday at New York University I found out something that almost never gets discussed while attending Laura Gotkowitz's speech on Bolivia in the 1940s. The nation had a major upheaval due to an immigration issue - when it opened its doors to Jewish refugees in 1938. And wide were they opened; the visa applications were so simple that almost anyone could fill out their name and come, without even visiting an embassy or consulate or having means; some visas were rather vague, admitting a hundred people at a time. As they needed to be. With this policy, many were saved, some even from the camps, where the rules dictated that those who had a place to go could leave. So many poor Jews did just that. Up to 35,000 made their way to Bolivia. Leo Spitzer writes of this miraculous exodus in Hotel Bolivia.
Gotkowitz, noting that title in her speech, said that Bolivia was more than a hotel to many of them - though most have since emigrated - she told me there were only
10 Jews in Cochabamba today. And her research noted that upon arrival not all was a bed of roses; nazi instigators went so far as to write letters into the papers to instigate the crowds against the immigrants. The Bolivians expelled the German ambassador over it all. But it was not only the national socialists who caused problems, ironically, Polish Jews were barred from entry - on orders of one of the leading tin magnates - Mauricio Hofschild - a German Jew who insisted only German speaking Jews need apply. Thus 60% were from Germany, 20% from Austria, and only 15% from Poland.
The minister in charge of such generous policies was to lose his post over it all, Diez de Marina.
Today few know about this bit of history. Bolivia ultimately influenced other nations including the US to take Jews - the only other nation to act in time was the Dominican Republic, but that was not so desirable, as there they were told to take Latin names and attend Mass. They live on today as Garcias and Morenos and living on the north side of Santa Domingo.
The Jews of Bolivia have kept their identity but moved on, mostly to Argentina, Israel or the US. Gotkowitz is continuing her research and quite likely will publish a book on the subject. I am grateful for her already, and look forward to more on the matter. I am now more determined to work for Bolivia and promote its image in the press, a tough task as most journalists like to do stories by cutting and pasting! I will get on a few of them soon and get them on to the task, sending them such information as the discovery of new orchids and passion flowers (which can be seen at www.cuentasdebolivia.blogspot.com).

COMMENTS

jose (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 05:48

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Ironically, it seems to me that Bolivia was a military dictature, at the time and up to 1952. No Righteous from Bolivia is listed in Yad Vashem's website.

Bolivia is today one of the most anti-Israeli countries in South America, with Venezuela and Brazil.


jose (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 13:47

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As long as Morales will be the presdent of Bolivia, it seems evident that Bolivia will remain a enemy of Israel and the Jewish People in general. Here is a short list of news from Bolivia:

http://goo.gl/esCIM (breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel over Cast Lead: denying right to self-defense)

http://goo.gl/5ic97 (demands UN sanctions against Israel instead of Iran over nuclear arsenal: siding with terrorists)

http://goo.gl/5A8Ob (raid on Bolivian Chabad House: paranoia?)

http://goo.gl/2OHSp (calls Iran a "pacific country": coca leaves abuse?)

So, yes: why are you so supportive of Bolivia? And why, if the country was so nice to the Jews, did they move to Argentina (a dictature at the time, full of Nazis too). US and Israel is understandable, but why Argentina? We have to suppose it was not so nice for Jews, there.


Melvyn Kohn

Sat, 12/11/2010 - 23:20

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Jose - are you by any chance Jose Brechner?
Reyour question as to why Jews moved is that many had ties to Israel, Europe and the US; Bolivia was not their cup of tea, and most who were granted asylum were Ashkenazi, in fact, on the orders of the German Jew Hofschild, only German speaking Jews were allowed in. Which would make Argentina a more welcoming spot, with its population made up of Europeans, many of them German speaking. Bolivia is not even a Hispanic nation for the most part - it is about 70% indigenous. Argentina and other nations were and are much more familiar.
Your tone seems very anti-Bolivia; true, they criticised Israel in Operations Cast Lead -
but is everyone who criticises you an enemy - or is there no room to field such criticism in a wise and gentle way? My fear is that harsh responses are only making for antagonism.
If there is anti-Semitism there now, one need only look at Santa Cruz - which is the opposition territory, full of German/Croat speaking problem makers. Not friends of Israel by the way...Our enemy's enemy if our friend?
If you are not Jose Brechner, have you ever lived in Bolivia or dealt with them?


Melvyn Kohn

Sat, 12/11/2010 - 23:41

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As to the fact that they are not listed on Vashem's website, I hope that Laura Gotkowitz's research will correct that and Diez de Marina and others will be...


Yoni1

Wed, 01/12/2011 - 19:31

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Kohn doesn't seem to understand that 1938 was 1938, and 2011 is 2011. Bolivia now is hardly a friend to Israel and the Jews.
What are you on, Kohn?


jose (not verified)

Wed, 01/12/2011 - 19:49

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Jose - are you by any chance Jose Brechner?

Kohn, are you by any chance Joseph Stalin?

If you are not Jose Brechner, have you ever lived in Bolivia or dealt with them?

Well, yes, and as a Spanish native-speaking, my contacts inside the country were much easier than for any "gringo".


jose (not verified)

Wed, 01/12/2011 - 19:50

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Your tone seems very anti-Bolivia; true, they criticised Israel in Operations Cast Lead

Criticising the right of Israel to defend itself is antisemitic. And yes, an antisemite is an enemy to me.


Melvyn Kohn

Fri, 01/14/2011 - 21:15

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They never did say Israel had not the right to defend itself. They are concerned about reports in the press - which I think we both agree is slanted - and one takes into acount the false reports that reach them and must influence them.
They are not sending troops there. It is only humanitarian concern that motivates them, not hatred of any country. They do not have a lot of hate - they are easy going people unless one tries to do them harm.
Philip Goldberg did a lot of harm as the US ambassador by associating with the neo nazi cambas. He broke diplomatic protocol and was rightfully removed. His moves, and the false allegations by an MK about uranium - which is not mined in Bolivia, has not been since 1971 - did not make for good relations with Am Israel...but there are those of us who follow Torah and do not bear false witness against others...we will work towards a good relationship with Israel with the blessing of the Almighty.
Y otra cosa, usted me prende por ser gringo, pero usted ya no me conoce, y no sabe si yo lo soy...si hablo espanol/castellano como usted, y poco quechua tambien.

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