Jews In Argentina The Jewish Community of Argentina Argentina is the second largest nation in Lain America and boasts the largest Jewish community in the region (200,000 of its 35 million people). From an open door policy of immigration to the harboring of Nazi war criminals, Argentina’s Jews have faced period of peaceful coexistence and periods of intense anti-Semitism. Argentina’s Jews have numerous Jewish community organizations. The DIAI (Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas) was founded in 1939 as the political arm of the Jewish community. The DIAI protects Jewish rights and represents the community in the government. Another organization, the AMIA, an Ashkenazic mutual-aid society, provides health and human services to Argentina’s Ashkenazi population. History After the expulsion from Spain in 1492, conversos (or secret Jews) settled in Argentina.
Most of these immigrants assimilated into the general population and, by the mid 1800’s, few Jews were left in Argentina. Argentina gained its independence from Spain in 1810. Bernardino Rivadavia, Argentina’s first president, gave support to policies that promoted freedom of immigration and respect for human rights. In this atmosphere of tolerance, a second wave of Jewish immigration began in the mid-19th century with Jewish immigrants arriving from Western Europe, especially from France. In 1860, the first Jewish wedding was recorded in Buenos Aires. A couple of years later, a minyan met for the High Holiday services and, eventually, the minyan became the Congregacion Israelita de la Republica.
In the late 19th century, a third wave of immigration fleeing poverty and pogroms in Russia, and other Eastern Europe countries, moved to Argentina because of its open door policy of immigration. These Jews became known as Rusos and became active in Argentine society. In 1889, 824 Russian Jews arrived in Argentina on the SS Weser and became gauchos (Argentine cowboys). The gauchos bought land and established a colony, which they named Moiseville. Due to lack of funding, the gauchos appealed to Baron Maurice de Hirsch for funds and the Baron subsequently founded the Jewish Colonization Association. During its heyday, the Association owned more than 600,000 hectares of land, populated by more than 200,000 Jews.
While non-Jews now own many of these cooperative ranches, Jews continue to run some of the properties. Between 1906 and 1912, Jewish immigration increased at a rate of 13,000 immigrants per year. Most of the immigrants were Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, but a number of Sephardic Jews from Morocco and the Ottoman Empire also settled in Argentina. By 1920, more than 150,000 Jews were living in Argentina. Anti-Semitic attacks against Jews were infrequent in Argentina before World War I. Following the Russian Revolution, between 1918 and 1930, anti-revolutionary feelings developed into full-blown anti-Semitism against the Rusos.
From January 7-13, 1919, a general strike in Buenos Aires led to a pogrom against the Jews. Many were beaten and had their property burned and looted.i Despite anti-Semitic actions against the Jews and increasing xenophobia, Jews became involved in most sectors of Argentine society. Still they were unable to be work in the government or military and so many became farmers, peddlers, artisans and shopkeepers. Cultural and religious organizations flourished and a Yiddish press and theater opened in Buenos Aires, as well as a Jewish hospital and a number of Zionist organizations. Post World War II Juan Peron’s rise to power in 1946 worried many Jews because he was thought to be a Nazi sympathizer with fascist leanings.
Peron halted Jewish immigration to Argentina, introduced Catholic religious instruction in public schools and allowed Argentina to become a haven for fleeing Nazis. According to Argentine journalist and historian Jorge Camarasa, author of two books on Nazi refugees in South America, “There are indications that Peron received Nazi Funds and access to secret Swiss accounts in payment for allowing people like Eichmann a new start.” Many former Nazi officers served as military trainers and advisers under Peron. On the other hand, Peron also expressed sympathy for Jewish rights and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949. Since then, more than 45,000 Jews have immigrated to Israel from Argentina.i Peron was overthrown in 1955, which was followed by another wave of anti-Semitism. In 1960, Israeli agents abducted Adolf Eichmann who was deeply involved with the formulation and operation of the final solution to the Jewish question.
He drew up the idea of deportation of Jews into ghettos, and went about concentrating Jews in isolated areas with murderous efficiency. The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, in April 1961, aroused further anti-Jewish sentiment in Argentina. Argentina was under military rule between 1976 and 1983. During this period, Jews were increasingly targeted for kidnapping and torture by the ruling junta; about 1,000 of the 9,000 known victims of state terrorism were Jews. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli government had a special agreement with the Argentine government to allow Jews arrested for political crimes to immigrate to Israel.
Once the military’s power waned in Argentina, anti-Semitic attacks also declined. In 1983, Raul Alfonsin was democratically elected as president of Argentina. Alfonsin enjoyed the support of the Jewish population and placed many Jews in high positions. Carlos Saul Menem was elected president in 1989, his Arab origin and support of Peron worried the Jews, however, and he did not follow in Peron’s footsteps. Menem appointed many Jews to his government, visited Israel a number of times and offered to help mediate the Israeli-Arab peace process.
After a Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Buenos Aires, Menem immediately expressed his outrage to the Jewish community and, within a week, apprehended those responsible. President Menem also ordered the release of files relating to Argentina’s role in serving as a haven for Nazi war criminals. A law against racism and anti-Semitism passed in the Argentine parliament in 1988.i Nazis in Argentina At least 180 Nazi war criminals settled in Argentina during and after World War II, according to a state panel probing Nazi activities in the country. But even as the panel issued its final report in December 1999, some of its members said the number is probably a lot higher and called for more research on the subject. The report focuses on such diverse issues as Argentina’s immigration policies, Nazi investments in Argentina and the influence of Nazism on Argentine jurisprudence. Among the panel’s findings: *The Nazis who found refuge in Argentina included 30 Germans, 50 Croats and 100 officials from France and Belgium. *Argentina’s political and intellectual climates in the 1930s and 1940s were receptive to Nazi and fascist ideas.
*Argentina’s air force and military industries attracted Nazi technicians. *Undetermined quantities of looted gold and art entered Argentina during and after the war from Nazi and fascist countries. But the question is, is Argentina still a haven for Nazi war criminals? According to Shimon Samuels, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Europe and Latin America, it is. He claims that there may be up to 17 wanted war criminals that may be alive an at large in the South American nation. Samuels said he has submitted again and again a list of Nazi officials allegedly living here to three interior ministers of the Carlos Menem administration. Argentine authorities never tried to find, or extradite, those on the list.
Samuels’ list includes two Dutch nationals, Abraham Kipp and Jan Olij Hottentot, wanted by Holland on charges of genocide for their role in the deportation of Dutch Jews and anti-fascist activists during Germany’s occupation of Holland. Hottentot is also charged with torturing war prisoners …