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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Bolivia

Marranos - customs - Inquisition - constitution 1880 - Jewish immigration - constitution 1938 - restrictions but further immigration - old Nazis and emigration since 1945 - Herzl Israel

from: Bolivia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 4

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



<BOLIVIA,  South American republic.

[[There is no indication about the natives in Bolivia in the Encyclopaedia Judaica]].

[Marrano immigration - Jewish customs in the Bolivian population - Inquisition stops Marrano existence - constitution of 1880]

The origins of Jewish settlement in Bolivia can be traced back to the Colonial period, when Marranos from Spain arrived in the country (which then formed part of the Viceroyalty of Peru). Some worked in the silver mines of Potosí, others are known to have been among the pioneers who founded the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in 1557 under the leadership of Nuflo de Chávez.

Indeed, certain customs still maintained by old families in that region, e.g., lighting candles on Friday nights and sitting on the ground in mourning when a close relative dies, suggest their possible Jewish ancestry.

The only extant documents for the period are those of the Inquisition, which was established in Peru in 1570 and whose appearance signaled the incipient demise of the Marrano community.> (col. 1187)

<Bolivia was traditionally governed by conservative constitutions, and not until 1880 did a more democratic trend appear.> (col. 1188)

[since 1900: Jewish settlements - Jewish immigration from Russia, Argentina, Turkey, and Near East]

<There is a similar paucity of information regarding 18th- and 19th-century Jewish immigration to Bolivia. It was not until the present century that substantial Jewish settlement took place there. In 1905 a group of Russian Jews that settled in Bolivia was followed by another group from Argentina and later by several Sephardi families from Turkey and the Near East.

The Jewish community nonetheless remained minuscule. It was estimated that in 1917 there were only 20 to 25 Jews in the country, and by 1933, at the beginning of the Nazi era in Germany, only 30 (col. 1187)

Jewish families lived there. The first tide of Jewish immigration came in the early 1930s. [[...]]

The majority settled in La Paz, but by 1939-40 communities had arisen in outlying cities such as Cochabamba, Oruro, Sucre, Tarija, and Potosí and with them the nascent communal organizations that thereafter served the needs of the Jewish population. [[...]]

The 1938 Constitution recognized Roman Catholicism as the official state religion, but guaranteed general freedom of religion. [[...]]

[1933-1939: immigration - abuse of agricultural visas - May 1940: suspension of visas - immigration is going on all the time]

Bolivia's policy on Jewish immigration during World War II vacillated between the granting of mass visas and the total embargo on entry permits. In 1939 the liberal immigration policy was modified, as it had been in other Latin American countries. This move was in keeping with the policy of barring entry to nationals of the Axis powers. In addition, a certain amount of discontent was engendered with the discovery that most of the Jewish immigrants who had entered the country on an agricultural visa were actually involved in commerce and industry. In May 1940 [[when Hitler's victory against France could be foreseen]] all Jewish visas were suspended indefinitely; nevertheless, immigration did not cease.> (col. 1188)


<Although most of the Jewish immigrants to Bolivia received entry visas as agricultural workers, the majority of them established themselves in commerce and industry. Several colonization projects were attempted, however under the auspices of the Sociedad Colonizadora de Bolivia [["Colonization Association of Bolivia"]] (Socobo), founded in 1940, and with the help of the tin magnate Mauricio *Hochschild. The latter spent almost $1,000,000 between 1940 and 1945 on an agricultural development project at Coroico; but, like the one in the Chaparé jungles, it failed.

Climatic conditions were exceedingly difficult, and there was a dearth of roads to suitable markets. The early years of the Jewish community in Bolivia were marked by difficult economic conditions, especially for those who did not own business enterprises.

Between January 1939 and December 1942 $160,000 were disbursed for relief by the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, by the Sociedad de Protección de los Inmigrantes Israelitas [[Israelite Immigrant Protection Association]], and by Mauricio Hochschild. The majority of the immigrants entered manufacturing and trade and ultimately played a prominent role in the development of industry, imports and exports, and in the free professions.

[Community structures]

By the fall of 1939, when immigration had reached its peak, organized Jewish communities had been established in Bolivia. The first organization to be founded (col. 1188)

was the Círculo Israelita [["Israelite Circle"]] (1935) by East European Jews, followed by the German Comunidad Israelita de Bolivia [["Bolivian Israelite Community"]]. During the next few years other organizations were formed, such as B'nai B'rith [["Sons of the Covenant"]], the Federación Sionista Unida de Bolivia [["United Zionist Federation of Bolivia"]], etc. The representative roof organization is the Comité Central Judío de Bolivia [["Central Jewish Committee of Bolivia"]].

Under the auspices of these groups, various communal services have been established: the Hevra Kaddisha [[Jewish burial society]], the Cementerio Israelita [[Jewish cemetery]], Bikkur Holim [["visiting of the sick"]], the house for the aged, Wizo [[Women's International Zionist Organization]], and Macabi [[Jewish sport]].> (col. 1189)

<It was estimated that by the end of 1942 there were 7,000 new immigrants of whom approximately 2,200 emigrated from Bolivia by the end of the 1940s.> (col. 1188)

[since 1945: little Polish Jewish immigration]

<After World War II a small wave of Polish Jews who had fled to the Far East after 1939 and abandoned Shanghai in the wake of the communist takeover arrived in Bolivia. The major part of the group remained in La Paz, and was incorporated into the existing kehillah [[congregation]].

[[Since 1944 there were also old Nazi representatives arriving in Bolivia as in all South American countries, so Jews and Nazis met again and the struggle did not come to an end. The consequences were the following]]:

[since 1950: Jewish emigration movement - 1952: national revolution provokes more Jewish emigration]

In the early 1950s the demographic trend was reversed and there was not only a decline in immigration but also a consistent exodus, which resulted from a variety of factors, including the political instability in the country. The 1952 revolution that brought to power the National Revolutionary Party (which had been close to the Nazis during the war), aroused anxieties in the Jewish community. These fears were allayed, however, when Jewish rights were not affected. Economic insecurity, health hazards caused by climatic difficulties, and the lack of adequate facilities for higher education also motivated the emigration trend.> (col. 1188)

[[There is no indication where the emigrants are going]].

<The Jewish community's relations with the Catholic Church are casual, yet cordial, but there is no intergroup organization servicing the two bodies.> (col. 1188)

<The Jewish press in Bolivia consists of sporadic papers and bulletins published by the Colegio Boliviano Israelita [["Bolivian Israelite College"]], B'nai B'rith [["Sons of the Covenant"]], and the Federación Sionista Unida [["United Zionist Federation"]].


[La Paz 1970]

<The La Paz community maintains the Colegio Israelita [["Israelite College"]], a comprehensive school with kindergarten, primary, and secondary grades. Its student body is mixed because the high level of the school attracts also non-Jewish students. Jewish education was one of the prime victims of the emigration trend, and student enrollment, especially in the lower grades, declined drastically.

[Cochabamba 1920s-1970 - Isaac Antaki]

The community of Cochabamba, which has a Jewish population of about 600, is the second largest in the country. Its history is inextricably linked with its founder, an Alexandrian Jew [[from Egypt]] named Isaac Antaki, who arrived in the 1920s. He established a large textile factory and also built the synagogue which serves the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities. The Jewish population of the city reached its peak after World War II, but afterward large numbers began to emigrate. The community never managed to establish a Jewish school, and only a kindergarten exists.> (col. 1189)

Table. Jews in Bolivia
number of Jews
col. 1187
from Russia, Argentina, Turkey, and Near East
30 families
col. 1187-1188

col. 1187
NS times, immigration from Germany
end of 1942
col. 1188

1946-1950 (end of 1940s)
-2,200 approx.
col. 1188
little immigration from Polish Jews coming from Shanghai, considerable emigration
since 1950

col. 1188
more emigration
since 1952

col. 1188
national revolution and more emigration
col. 1189

Table by Michael Palomino; from: Bolivia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 4

Relations with [[Herzl]] Israel.

["Friendly attitude to Israel" - embassies - cooperation]

Bolivia was among the supporters of the 1947 UN resolution on the partition of Palestine. Subsequently, a Bolivian representative was named to the Palestine Commission.

[[By the Herzl plan for a "Jewish State" according to the book "The Jewish State" all Arabs should be driven away as the natives in the "USA" had been driven away. But since the 1920s since the detection of the oil in the Arab countries this plan is nothing worth, but the Zionists did not change. Israel was found without definition of border lines as Herzl is not indicating any border lines. The dreams of a "Greater Israel" go to the Euphrates according to First Mose chapter 15 phrase 18. The partition resolution of Palestine in 1947 was the first step for an eternal war in the Middle East]].

In ensuing debates at the United Nations, notably those on the refugee problem, despite changing governments and resultant differences of policy, Bolivia was remarkably consistent in maintaining a friendly attitude to Israel. Israel's first minister presented his credentials in 1957, and an embassy was established in 1964; Bolivia, in turn, established its embassy in Jerusalem in the same year.

The two countries engaged in a variety of assistance programs. A technical cooperation agreement between the two countries, signed in 1962, provides for an agricultural mission of Nahal officers that has been active in Bolivia in cooperation with the Bolivian army in the fields of agricultural settlement and training. Bolivian students on scholarships in Israel included irrigation engineers and youth leaders. An effort in the private sphere is a joint study in medicinal tropical plants undertaken by the School of Pharmacology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its Bolivian counterpart. In 1968 there were 1,700 Jews in Bolivia.


-- Mangan, in: Commentary, 14 (1952), 99-106
-- N. Lorch: Ha-Nahar ha-Lohesh (1969), passim
-- Asociación Filantrópica Israelita, Buenos Aires: Zehn Jahre Aufbauarbeit in Suedamerika (Gerl. and Sp., 1943), 172-98
-- "Enciclopedia Judaica Castellana" and its volume on contemporary Jewry
-- J. Shatzky: Comunidades Judías en Latinoamérica (1952), 64-69
-- A. Monk and J. Isaacson: Comunidades Judías de Latinoamérica (1968), 36-40

[N.L.]> (col. 1189)


Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Bolivia, sources
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Bolivia, vol.
                          4, col. 1187-1188
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Bolivia, vol. 4, col. 1187-1188
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Bolivia, vol.
                          4, col. 1189
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Bolivia, vol. 4, col. 1189