Argentina belongs to the Christian community all around the world. Conquered and colonized by the Spanish, the cultural context has been, and still is, Christian, mainly Catholic.
The National Constitution stated in the XIXth. century that the country was Catholic, Apostolic and Roman, therefore its President had to be likewise. Only since 1994 that requisite was abolished.
Until 1955 elementary public schools taught Catholic Religion. I attended that classes because when my parents inscribed me they did not inform that we were not Christian. When the religion time came I remained in the classroom with most of the girls while some other, I did not know why by then, left the class and took "Morals". It still shocks me that the basic idea might have been that non Christians, mainly Jews, needed to be taught morals.
I was never discriminated nor attacked in any way because of my being Jewish. My last name does not show it and it seems that nothing of my behavior or physical appearance arouse any "suspicion". Without being aware of it, I followed my parents fears of not "inviting" the anti Semites to target me. And I succeeded.
Argentina is a friendly country but there have been several anti Jewish attacks during the past century and events that involved the Jewish population.
The Tragic Week, January 1919. This pogrom began when the Police took action against the workers in a heavy strike and it was soon followed with the hunt of the Jews. After the Russian Revolution the fear of communism spread all over the world. Also in Argentina. The flood of immigrants of Russian origin -they were Jews but came from Russia- brought socialist ideas that set the ground of the first wave of judeophobia, based on the previous anti Jewish biases installed and spread by the Church for centuries (the blood libel, the deicide, their greedy money and profit interests).
The perpetrators came from Catholic nationalistic right wing movements that lead after to the Patriotic League. Institutions put to fire, more than a thousand Jews were killed, their houses invaded and their belongings destroyed, and 4.000 were injured. Buenos Aires had a million and a half immigrants by then, 100.000 were Jewish, accused by the ultra Catholic nationalists of being “maximalists, acrats, anarchists, traitors, blood suckers, invading our country with their foreign and dangerous thought to end the power of the capitalists and to break Christian way of life” and so on.
The Tzwi Migal organization. Some Jewish "pimps" organized in the beginning of the XXth Century, a criminal organization called the Warsaw Organization aka as Tzwi Migdal. They "imported" poor Jewish girls from Polish shtetls -rural villages- with the promise of marriage, and forced them to work in their brothels. Argentine men adored the white and European French women, so these pimps passed the Jewish girls, also white and European, as French and the customers, no knowing the French language, were happy. The Tzwi Migdal was a powerful organization that bribed politicians, judges, policemen and flourished for nearly thirty years with a lot of brothels and drug traffic. It came to my knowledge recently that there has been the same procedure in Istanbul, Turkey. The Argentine Jewish community, ashamed and angry, put a "cherem" -a ban- on the Tzwi Migal partners and excluded them from their institutions. As money was not an issue, they had their own cemetery in a special place and built a big and luxurious synagogue. Surprisingly they were religious, in their own way of course given their dirty and criminal endevours. The organization was dismantled in 1930 when the courageous Raquel Liberman escaped and denounced them. When it became public it set a “confirmatory” heavy shadow on the Jewish common residents, as the worshipers of evil.
The Secret Directive 11. Before WWII Argentina, as most of the countries in the world, was thrilled by the German economic miracle performed by Hitler and the nazis. In 1938 during the Evian Conference, Argentina, as all the other attending representatives but the Dominican, did not have place for the Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany. Even more, in the same week that the Conference was held, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued the Secret Directive 11 that forbid Embassies to give visas to the Jews. It was the summum of hypocrisy and mockery attending the Conference and at the same time issuing the directive. During the war Argentina remained neutral as many countries did and only declared war to the axis in march 1945 when the war was already lost for the Nazis. Just an accommodating gesture for pragmatic needs.
The Secret Directive 11 was valid after the war ended, so most of the Jews that immigrated after had to declare to be Catholic. So did we, my parents and myself. Only in 2005 the Secret Directive 11 was abolished after having been denied for decades.
Perón and the Jews. It is a common statement that Perón and his administration were anti Jew. It is based on the fact that the doors were shut for the Jewish immigrants coming from Europe while some Nazi perpetrators were welcomed almost freely. Perón was a pragmatic politician, ideologies were the means to get power, as Groucho Marx said “these are my principles, if you don’t like them I have others”. He did not care where the money came from, so Nazi perpetrators were admitted as they brought a lot of money, business and connections that were interesting for the government. But I need to say that the Nazis that came to Argentina were the leftovers of the “better” ones grabbed by the US and the USSR, but the ones that came here were resourceful and proved to be useful. Both, Jews and Nazis entered at the same time, and sometimes in the same ships. A good amount of Jewish survivors could immigrate, most of them lying of course about their ethnic origin, and remained illegally. Until 1949 when the peronist government issued and amnesty so immigrants could regularize their situation. This legal issues did not affect our life that went on well and smoothly, we could go to school, study and work and thrive as any other Argentine resident.
Antisemitic outbursts. There was an outbreak of antisemitism during the sixties with Catholic Nationalist movement such as "Tacuara". In 1959 the Cuban revolution set an alarm on the fascists nationalistic groups and after Eichmann's kidnapping and then the military coup, there were some attacks on Jewish people and institutions with the usual anti Jewish arguments. Nothing new.
The bombings and the effect of the torn down walls. In 1992 the Israeli Embassy was bombed and in 1994 the Jewish Mutual Building, AMIA, too. More than 100 persons were killed, both Jewish and non Jewish. Both still impune, both still hurting us. But it had a non desired effect because it was a turning point in our presence and behavior. The walls that fell not only destroyed both buildings and took a lot of lives, it also opened the Jewish community to the streets. Rallies, demonstrations, interviews in TV, radio, the news, suddenly we were visible and the nuance about us like being different -morally less- began slowly to dissipate. No more hidden behind the supposedly defensive walls that proved not having defended us, we became open, transparent and outspoken. Schools, and synagogues, cultural and sport centers had to install a barrier in the street so no bomb-car could attack its premises which gave a further visibility. The need to protect us lead to this signals in the streets, kind of yellow stars, but in this opportunity our own decision. Everyone knows now where Jewish places are, we are not afraid anymore.
The reason we stayed. All in all things are better than it looks by the past paragraphs. The Jewish-Argentine community was one of the largest in the world. Argentina was a harbor for 500.000 of us in the best years. If everything would have been bad, it could not have happened. Let’s see some positive facts.
The Jewish Colonization. By the end of the XIXth century by means of the Baron Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association, bought fertile land in Argentina so that the poor harassed Jews coming from the Russian pogroms, had a place to build a new life established as farmers. In this new Promised Land the new settlers learned the language, the habits and struggled over frustrations for not being skilled in how to grow plants and livestock (see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_gauchos). From farmers to doctors. But Jews are Jews and the will of succeeding and leading a good life made the farmers to plant seeds and harvest doctors. Teachers, professionals, entrepreneurs, writers and intellectuals of all kinds grew among them and enriched the local culture, academia and arts.
Less discriminated. It took some time but in the last years, more and more Jews belong to the government in outstanding positions and the official Church looks for interaction, conversations and is increasingly friendly in opposition to the past condition. Nothing changes in a fortnight but, even though antisemitism is not eradicated and a hidden layer still remains as part of the Christian culture, we can see that things are changing for the best. Some may not agree with me and call me naive, but this is my personal view taken from my own experience.
The prejudice is still here. We know that there is still this bias, this prejudice, this feeling about us, in some very strong in others mild but it is always there. I felt a lot of times that when I say that I am Jewish, something happens in the air, some energy sizzling arouses, a slight muscle shrinks in a defensive attitude that says “I must be careful about what I say now not to offend this woman”. That is why whenever I receive a new client in my therapeutic practice I make them know in some way that I am Jewish so if they have anti Jewish prejudices they can leave. It never happened but I know it could and I am always ready.
It is a complex world. I was born in Poland and came to Argentina in 1947. I could develop my life and career without being harassed, signaled or attacked. My children and grandchildren could and can too.
We live in a complex world, nothing is black and white. So is Argentina.
El texto me fue pedido por la International Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust para una presentación sobre el estado del antisemitismo en los diferentes países.