Baruch Tenembaum
A Jewish "Gaucho" on the road of fraternity



It could be said that when diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican were finally established it was like the tip of a huge iceberg. We can only see the visible part of a complex fabric of relations and events built from small and big actions, most of them virtually unknown by the great majority of people. Among these it is worth mentioning an event which took place in 1965 as a result of the new guidelines set in the Vatican Council document "Nostra Aetate" promoting dialogue and closer relations between Catholics and Jews.

Baruch Tenembaum, an Argentine businessman, arrived in Vatican City to hold a meeting with Pope Paul VI. Tenembaum, who was born in "Las Palmeras", a small Jewish colony in the heart of the Argentine Pampas - who at the time was a 33 year old running the Israeli Tourist Office in Buenos Aires - had already envisaged the renewed opportunities of closer contacts between Jews and Catholics born as a result of the changing times.

With an unflagging spirit in search of worthy and permanent changes promoting an atmosphere favouring a constructive dialogue, this man, with a past rooted in a solid biblical and seminarian formation, knew how to create the proper environment for developing such an opportunity. Together with an important group of pioneers of diverse origins and positions – including priests such as Carlos Cuccetti and Ernesto Segura; writer Jorge Luis Borges , businessmen Numo Werthein, Zulema Alsogaray, among others – he founded the Casa Argentina en Israel Tierra Santa (Argentine House in Israel - Holy Land) or Casa Argentina en Jerusalem (Argentine House in Jerusalem) as it is more frequently known nowadays.

The meeting with the Pope took place in the cold morning of January 13th, 1965. At the time it was a meeting hard to imagine between a Pontiff and a man of the Mosaic faith who, among other things, had recently organized a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by the Argentine priests Oglietti, Cascón and Vercovich. This historic meeting was later remembered with the issue of a Vatican City postal stamp. Others succeeded this first gesture, taking place in a barren land which being slowly and inexorably fertilised. At all the need to promote Peace and Reconciliation among brothers of Faith were furthered.

This period of time in Tenembaum´s interfaith background could be called the "Three Pablos Era", because Baruch Tenembaum was in close contact with three big persons carrying that name: Pablo Casals, the great Spanish cellist, with a wellknown background in human rights labour who invited Baruch Tenembaum to the inauguration of the Himn of Peace at the UN in 1971, Pablo Neruda, the renowned Chilean writer who in several conversations declared his deep concern about the interreligious activities of Baruch Tenembaum, and Paulo VI, the Pope who received him in the Vatican, at age 33.

On April 30th, 1968 the then Primate Cardinal of Argentina Antonio Caggiano visited Casa Argentina and made a public declaration that was totally conciliatory in its spirit. Moments before presenting an award to the founder of the organisation the Archbishop of Buenos Aires said, "I have listened with real interest and great pleasure to the words pronounced by Mr. Baruch Tenembaum. He has stressed the desire that your people and the Church proclaim as the most urgent of needs: Peace".

That same year, Casa Argentina commissioned artist Raúl Soldi to create a fresco dedicated to Argentina within the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel. Baruch Tenembaum accompanied the renowned artist during the whole process of creation and painting of the monumental fresco . The work, which is still visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world, is a symbol unanimously recognised by Jews and Christians.

Following the same line of thought, in February 1992 Tenembaum organised the historic pilgrimage to Holy Land by Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, the first visit of its sort carried out by an Argentine Primate. On that occasion he flew to Jerusalem with Argentine Cardinal Antonio Quarracino and produced - with the NGO Casa Argentina en Jerusalem - the film “First Pilgrim Primate”.

In a way the presence of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Israel anticipated in the crucial Interfaith Meeting held on November 18th, 1993 in Buenos Aires. Less than thirty days later and in the same Casa Argentina in Jerusalem, the initial signature of the agreement between the Holy See and Israel was signed, with the presence of representatives from both states as well as the highest community authorities.

An idea conceived by Tenembaum led to the creation of Casa Argentina's Program “Holocaust Heroes" which marked another significant landmark of relevance in the work that the organisation has been performing for more than thirty years in favour of the interfaith dialogue. Its aim is to promote examples of solidarity such as Raoul Wallenberg, in whose honour the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation was created, bringing together important personalities from all around the world. More than 60 heads of state and 30 nobel prize laureates are members of the IRWF. The IRWF has the mission of promoting the life and work of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving up to 100,000 Jews from certain death in Budapest in 1944-45. He later disappeared in the hands of the Soviet army. His fate remains unknown. The IRWF takes Wallenberg´s example to highlight and convey the values of courage and solidarity demonstrated by him and other saviors in the Holocaust through educational programs.

The most outstanding cases of saviors of the Holocaust brought up by the foundation are: Uruguayan Dr. Alejandro Pou, Polish saviour Irena Sendler, Luiz Martins de Sousa Dantas (whose story was investigated by Brazilian professor Fabio Koiffman- awarded by the IRWF), and specially Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, in whose honour the The Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli International Committee, an international grouping of distinguished scholars, historians, journalists and other personalities, was founded within the framework of the IRWF. Its mission is to carry out investigations into the rescue actions performed during the Second World War in Istanbul by the-then Vatican Nuncio who later became Pope John XXIII.

Baruch Tenembaum promoted the idea of installing a memorial mural dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust inside the Buenos Aires Cathedral. This mural is the first monument of its kind, it contains Jewish religious texts and was inaugurated by the then Cardinal of Argentina and Archbishop of Buenos Aires Antonio Quarracino and unveiled by Baruch Tenembaum and Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize, on April 1997. On February 1998 Cardinal Quarracino passed away and a unique homage of survivors of the Holocaust over the grave of a Primate Cardinal in a Catholic Cathedral was held on April, that same year.

So outstanding was the impact of this mural that on 2004, in a moving ceremony, the Vatenrunser Church in Berlin inaugurated a replica of this memorial.

Baruch Tenembaum was invited by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to a meeting specially held on the day of the 90th anniversary of the birth of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. During the meeting, that took place at the Secretary General's residence in New York, Tenembaum presented a Commemorative Medal specially commissioned and coined to mark the anniversary. Mrs. Nane Annan, wife of the world leader and niece of the Swedish diplomat, also attended the event. This was the second time Kofi Annan met the founder of the IRWF.

Baruch Tenembaum launched the idea of establishing the International Reconciliation Centre in Jerusalem.

He also produced “Legacy-I never left my village”, a documental film about the "Jewish Gauchos" and the first Jewish settlements in Argentina at the end of the nineteenth century. The film was selected at renowmed Cinema Festivals in Cuba, USA, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

He is the originator of the idea of promoting the “Germangels”; a comprehensive project remembering the achievements of thousands of Germans that saved the lives of persecuted Jewish people during the Holocaust based on his long-standing view that “Not all the Nazis were Germans. Not all the Germans were Nazis.” This project has already been presented to the German President, Johannes Rau, at a meeting held on March 2001 at the Schloss Belevue Palais, in Berlin.

He also presented to high ecclesiastical officials in New York, Berlin and Buenos Aires the idea that parents should have the option to give their newborn babies the names of the Saviours of the Holocaust.

The Commemorative Mural containing Jewish religious texts installed within Argentina's main Catholic Cathedral (April, 1997), the meeting between Emilie Schindler and the Pope John Paul II at the Vatican (March, 1995), the first Spanish edition of "Profetic Poetry" by Hebrew writer Uri Tzvi Grinberg are some of the examples of the spirit and will of reconciliation being furthered by Tenembaum.

He also launched the "Profetic Poetry" website in which the complete book of writer Uri Tzvi Grinberg is published and more recently, a website dedicated to Chaim N. Bialik.

On 2004 he celebrated the 100º Anniversary of the foundation of Las Palmeras, the small village where he was born and grew up. He helped to re-open and re-build completely the synagogue of the town, which had been closed for the last twenty eight years.

Baruch Tenembaum has never received a salary and/or other financial compensation for his community work which he has done as a volunteer. “The centre of my life are my brothers and sisters. Whoever cares for people, as long as he/she respects and loves everybody as if he/she were him/herself.”


According to the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), Mr. Tenembaum was amongst the nominees to the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. World gambling operator - Ladbrokes, gave Baruch Tenembaum a 1/40 odds to win the prize, as oppose to 1/20 to the actual winner, US President Barack Obama. In a recent interview to Zenit News Agency, he was asked about his nomination to the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, to what he replied: "Who I am?...just a descendant of slaves". Tenembaum characterized his life as being dedicated "to thank those human beings who saved lives, who risked themselves. [...] At the Wallenberg Foundation we work intensively to discover, among others, the exceptional deeds of those heroic human beings."

On October 2003, he received a tribute from the US Congress in Washington DC. This tribute, traditionally reserved for luminaries who have exhibited exemplary feats in their respected fields, has been bestowed on select individuals, including, the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King on the 30th anniversary of his assassination, Robert Kennedy, Rosalyn Carter, Ken Burns-documentary filmmaker and Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist. It was awarded to Baruch Tenembaum for his work and particularly for having devoted himself "to create a framework of understanding between Jews and Catholics in the whole world", said Congressman (D) Tom Lantos, who proposed this tribute.

On June 2004 the Government of Chile awarded Tenembaum the "Order of Bernardo O´Higgins in the Great Official Degree" (Orden de Bernardo O´Higgins" en el Grado de Gran Oficial).

In 2004, the governments of Portugal, Poland and Sweden awarded Baruch Tenembaum with important distinctions in recognition of his endeavor of more than four decades for the inter-religious dialogue as well as the understanding between nations and peoples, and his dedication for the development of educational programs based on the values personified by the Saviours of the Holocaust. In addition, also in 2004, Mr. Tenembaum was declared illustrious Citizen of Buenos Aries, a distinction saved for the most prominent figures in Argentina in the areas of science, arts and education.

In this way Baruch Tenembaum has sought to enlighten the common roots and aspirations and, above all, listen to the manifest will of different people with no distinction whatsoever.

As Congressman Tom Lantos said in his speech before the US Congress on the occasion of the homage to Baruch Tenembaum, "Like the man whose legacy he works tirelessly to preserve, Mr. Tenembaum is living proof that one man can make a difference".

List of decorations

Commander, Royal Order of the Polar Star, Sweden
Officer, Order of Merit, Portugal
Order Bernardo O´Higgins, Chile
Cross "Komandorski" of Merit, Poland
Tribute from the House of Representatives, United States
Distinguished Citizen of the Province of Santa Fe, Argentina
Distinguished Citizen of the autonomous city of Buenos Aires, Argentina

In the documental film "Legacy - I never left my village" (Legado - yo nunca me fui de mi pueblo), when the story goes on, it tells about the Jewish settlers as farmers -"GAUCHOS"-, when he himself grew up as a child in a very small village. Tenembaum was asked why he mentions so often his village "Las Palmeras", having lived all over the world. He then remembers that his friend Elie Wiesel asked him "When did you leave your Argentinian shtetl Las Palmeras?"
-"I never left my village"- was his response.

Read Zvi Kolitz's article "A story that sounds like a legend"
Envelope (front and back) and postal seal issued by the Vatican, recording the meeting held by Baruch Tenembaum with Pope Paulo VI on January 13, 1965. On the front it reads "Udienza de S.S. Paolo VI a Baruch Tenembaum, Direttore della Oficina Nacional Israeli de Turismo en Argentina. Citta del Vaticano."
Reproduction of the mural painted by Raul Soldi in the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Memorial Mural installed in 1997 within the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, the main Catholic Church in Argentina. The showcase contains pages from Hebrew prayer books. For the first time in history a monument in homage of Jewish victims of racial hatred is located within a Catholic Church. Baruch Tenembaum was the mentor of this idea.
A postal stamp of the Mural was issued by the Argentinean Post Office in 1998.


Buenos Aires, December 26 1997


Mr. Baruch Tenembaum
New York

My dear Baruch,

Thank you for your warm seasonal greetings. In turn, I wish the same to you, Perla and your loved ones.

I still remember those evenings in Jerusalem in 1992 when, blocked in by the snow, I asked you what could be done to heal the wounds inflicted upon our Jewish brothers. Six years have elapsed since then and I remember you suggested "carry out deeds": A MEMORIAL MURAL that, thanks to your friends from Casa Argentina, turned into a wonderful homage to the victims of the Holocaust and of the terrorist attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA building.

It will soon be the first anniversary of the unveiling of this worthy monument within the Cathedral, before which I have invited all Jews to cover their heads if they wish to do so.

I appreciate all your praise for the architect, Norberto Silva, for his creativity and talent in the design, and fully share your views about his work.

The permanent site of emplacement of this Mural is to be close to the final resting place which I am hoping for inside the cathedral, so that I may continue preaching for brotherhood as I have done all my life.

I have no doubt that once the time comes to succeed me my Assistant Archbishop, Monsignor Jorge Bergoglio, will continue the same road of reconciliation and fraternity with our elder brothers. With the help and collaboration of our loyal and dear Roberto Toledo, we will insist in continuing down this road, which is, without doubt, beloved and blessed by God.

We will meet to celebrate the completion of the Mural. May God wish that many others dedicate their best efforts to keep our initiative alive.

Allow me to reiterate my gratitude for your kindness and friendship. You know that these are mutual feelings. I look forward with hope to the fraternal Mass that will reunite us.

Until then, a warm embrace from your friend,



Cardinal Antonio Quarracino wrote a letter to Baruch Tenembaum expressing his wish to be buried near the mural inside the main Cathedral of Argentina.

Clockwise: Baruch Tenembaum presents the IRWF - Raoul Wallenberg Medal to Kofi Annan, on the 90th. Anniversary of the birth of the Swedish diplomat at a ceremony held on August 4th. 2002 at the UN Secretary General's residence in New York.