September 29, 2001

Argentina – Refuge and exile (Argentinisches Tageblatt)


Dr. Andreas Nachama and Johanna Hopfengaertner, scholar of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation disserted about Jewish immigration

More than 40,000 Jews found refuge in Argentina during the years 1933-1939. Argentina is, behind the USA, the most important receptive country of refugees. As regards population, Argentina received the highest rate of refugees from all the countries. Last Tuesday a seminar, carried out by the Goethe Institute of Buenos Aires and the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation reported about the circumstances of the refugees and the conditions in which the emigrants were found. The lecturers were Dr. Andreas Nachama, former president of the Berlin Jewish community and the executive director of the Topography of Terror Foundation and Johanna Hopfengaertner, History student of the Berlin Free University and scholar of said foundation, who is preparing her final thesis about Jewish immigration in Argentina. About a hundred people, among them many immigrants, followed the conferences with a great interest.

Dr. Nachama told the audience the reasons which lead Jews to emigration; this emigration had already existed before the so called Hitler’s ”taking over of power”, but with less importance. Nachama spoke about a ”tension between the state, the society and the Jews” that was already felt during the Weimar republic. But even after 1933 most people believed that a political change on the short term was going to happen. Just the growing expulsion of the pubic life produced a bigger wave of immigration that, at that time, went to other European States.

The former president of the Jewish community pointed out that even after 1936 they had not lost their hope. At that time, during the Olympic games in Berlin, Hitler’s government mitigated Nuremberg’s laws, which had been promulgated a year before. At the same time, due to a growing social exclusion, a parallel Jewish society was developed. After 1938 going out of Germany became harder and harder. Many times a successful exit demanded very quick decisions, sometimes within 24 hours.

Johanna Hopfengaertner described the difficulties of the immigrates to enter Argentina. The economic crisis and the nationalistic tendencies of the thirties lead the immigration authorities, for the first time, to a distinction between a ”wished” immigration and the refugees, two categories which are found in the same way in the present German debate about immigration. Those who had no relatives in Argentina were subjected to official’s decisions that many times were quite arbitrary.

Why immigrants chose Argentina as a country of destination? In very few cases this country was the destination wished by emigrants. Only when the Englishmen in Palestine and the United States closed their borders, Argentina gained importance as a receptive country. Most of them arrived without knowing the language and with little knowledge of the country and its culture. However, due to the remarkable European influence of this country, many Jewish – German people, who had found refuge in the bordering countries, later decided to establish in Argentina.

The student described the work of Hilfsverein, the present A.F.I., founded by German speaking Jews in 1933, an organization which became a center of scales for immigrants. The economic integration of the just arrived took place fast and with a remarkable success, due to the economic bonanza of the forties and fifties, in which immigrants significantly collaborated.

Women were particularly affected by the fact of having to adapt to a new country. In the catholic ambience of that Argentina of the thirties, with its rigid moral concepts, they had to quit to several rights and liberties by which European women had already fought and won. However, it was the same women who, in many cases, mainly collaborated to the economic and moral survival of their families.

The different language and culture were the most noticeable signs of uprooting, by which emigrants, since the beginning, paid much attention to maintaining their German tradition. The Argentine newspaper ”Argentinisches Tageblatt” played an important role, not only due to its opposition to German Nazism and the growing Nazi influence in Argentina, but also due to the offering a piece of ”lost fatherland” in exile.

Thus, returning to Germany was not an option for most refugees after the Second world war, that is why a growing alienation of their country of origin was produced, as described Hopfengaertner. Nevertheless a strong bond was kept, most of the times idealized, with German culture.

Translation: IRWF