Yad Vashem Seminar 2017 | Yosi Goldstein

Yosi Goldstein shared different perspectives with the cohort on Latin America during the Holocaust. Latin American countries had relatively large Jewish populations. Today there are less Jews in Latin America than there were in 1939. Yosi shared that Nazism wasn’t constricted to Germany but was an ideology that could have been, and was, adopted by many nations. During the “Crucial Years” (1938-1939) “The Jewish Question of Refugees” was a primary source of debate. The Evian Conference, July 6-15, 1938, called by President Roosevelt, sought to answer this debate, to no avail. No one was willing to increase their immigration quotas for German Jews, or any other Jews in crisis. Of the 32 countries that were present, 18 of them were Latin American countries. During the conference no one actually referred directly to the Jewish people, they instead referred to an “undesirable” population, saying they “didn’t want to import Russia’s problem.”


For example, the book “Alex’s Wake” talks about a ship of Jewish refugees that made it to Cuba, all those on board had visas to Cuba but they are declined at port and were refused to disembark. The ship then went up the East Coast of the United States and was turned away at every port. They were finally sent back to Germany.  

The Argentinian government stated at the Evian Conference that they were of course sympathetic but at the same time they would not increase immigration quotas. The different countries, essentially, were saying that they can’t offer visas to anyone that was expelled or were deemed undesirable by their own country, and this was for their own economic protection. When Jews applied to the Argentinian government for visas many lied and said their were Christians, appealing the the Catholic presence in Argentina. Many immigrants entered Argentina illegally, as well. It wasn’t until January 1944 that Argentina cut relations with Germany and declared war against the Axis in March 1945.


This is not to say that there weren’t Latin American countries and people who didn’t help Jews. Many did. Of the 26,120 Righteous Among the Nations, 6,000 were Latin American. For example, Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero, of Ecuador, sent 80 blank visas to Istanbul which were distributed to Poles, most of whom were Jews. This was against his country’s foreign policy, and he risked his life to do so, which is why he is considered Righteous Among the Nations.


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