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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Ecuador

Jewish immigration in the NS period - agriculture project - industrialization - special middle strata

from: Ecuador; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 6

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




South American republic, with 5,695,000 inhabitants (estimate of mid-1968) of whom about 1,000 were Jews. It is generally believed that Jews were among the settlers of Ecuador in colonial times. Certain family names among established Ecuadorian families attest to their Sephardi ancestry.

[Jewish population figures]

Prior to World War II there was very little Jewish immigration to Ecuador. In 1904 there were only four Jewish families in the country, and a survey in 1917 indicated the presence of 14 Jews.

After 1924, when the United States established its immigration quota system, a handful more arrived in Ecuador. It was only in the wake of the rise of Nazism and the ensuing Holocaust in Europe that Jewish mass immigration to Ecuador began. During the years 1933-43 about 2,700 Jews arrived, and by 1945 there were already 3,000 new Jewish immigrants, 85% of whom were refugees from Europe.

At its peak (in 1950), the Jewish population of Ecuador was estimated at 4,000 persons; the majority lived in Quito, several hundred in Guayaquil and several scores in Ambato, Riobamba, and Cuenca. (col. 359)

Table. Jews in Ecuador 1917-1950
a handful more
+ about 2,700
3,000 immigrants
4,000 (the peak)
since 1950
sinking numbers
Table by Michael Palomino; from: Ecuador; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 6, col. 359-360

[1935-1936: Attempts for agricultural settlements don't give enough profit]


Unsuccessful attempts at agricultural settlement were made. In 1935 the Comité pour l'Etude de l'Industrie de l'Immigration dans la République de l'Equateur [[Committee for industry and immigration for the Republic of Ecuador]] was established in Paris by the territorialist organization, the Freeland League of Jewish Colonization, with the purpose of creating a settlement program in Ecuador.

[[The natives who were expelled from their territories are never mentioned in the article]].

An agreement was reached with the Ecuadorian government to transfer 500,000 acres of land to the Committee's jurisdiction for a period of 30 years to be settled by immigrants regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Several concessions were also promised, such as tax exemption for three years, citizenship after one year, customs exemption, and free transportation by train from the port to the interior of the country.

The president signed the agreement several months later on the condition that a detailed program be presented by May 1937 and that if the Committee could not manage to invest $ 8,000 and settle at least 100 families, the agreement would be abrogated. In the following year, two experts visited Ecuador to investigate the possibilities of settlement. Their findings were that such settlement was feasible and would not exceed an output of £ 72-93 ($360-465) on each family. These findings, however, (col. 360)

proved unacceptable to Jewish organizations such as *HICEM, which claimed that the land under consideration was too far from population centers and that the climate was too severe. The result of these objections was the total abandonment of the project.

The *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and HICEM also attempted to establish chicken farms for the immigrants, and 60 families were settled. But conditions precluded any success in the venture, which ultimately failed. (col. 361)


[1936: Liberal legislation - 1938: restriction of immigration]

Although Ecuador was characterized by a strong Roman Catholic tradition and was previously governed by constitutions that established Roman Catholicism as the State Church, by the time the large-scale Jewish immigration started, a liberal constitution (1936) guaranteed freedom of worship to all and also stipulated that education was to be essentially secular and lay. (col. 360)


Nevertheless, the country's basic humanitarian criterion gradually gave way to a policy of selectivity. Although Jewish immigration to Ecuador was based on agricultural opportunities and needs, it later developed that all the immigrants were actually merchants, industrialists, and businessmen. (col. 360)


Most of the immigrants were businessmen and professionals who preferred to carry on their professions. They discovered that balsa wood is excellent for furniture, and later introduced iron and steel furniture, previously unknown in the country. In addition retail stores were opened and the hotel trade was also developed, the latter leading to anti-Jewish pressure by Syrian and Cuban nationals who had been active in that field. (col. 361)


As a result, in 1938 legislation was passed compelling any Jew not engaged in agriculture or industry to leave the country. In addition, entry rights were limited to those Jews who possessed a minimum of $ 400, which they would have to invest in an industrial project. The Jewish community was able to defeat this law. (col. 361)


Liberal legislation has remained dominant ever since  (col. 360).

[1939: the case of the ship "Koenigstein" (King's Stone)]

In the early years of World War II, Ecuador still admitted a certain amount of immigrants. In 1939, when several South American countries refused to accept the 165 Jewish refugees from Germany aboard the ship "Koenigstein", Ecuador granted them entry permits. (col. 360)


In 1952 another was passed requiring every foreigner to supply proof that he was engaged in the occupation stipulated in his entry visa. This legislation was counteracted by the intervention of the *World Jewish Congress. (col. 360)


[Community structure and cultural life - special middle strata - no complete intermarriage assimilation]

The Ecuadorian Jewish community is a homogeneous group, a fact which has facilitated communal organization. The Asociación de Beneficencia Israelita [[Israelite Relief Association]], founded in 1938, is the central body for religious and cultural affairs that in turn established a court of arbitration and a hevra kaddisha [[holy assembly]]. Other organizations in the country are the Zionist Federation, *B'nai B'rith, *Wizo, Maccabi, and a cooperative bank. A bilingual Spanish-German bulletin, Informaciones, is the only publication of the community. The Jewish community of Ecuador is predominantly of German origin, but the young generation is Spanish-speaking. There is no complete assimilation by intermarriage, since the Jews form a separate middle-Stratum between the upper, traditionally Catholic classes and the lower classes consisting of the indigenous population.

There is no Jewish school in Ecuador, but the general atmosphere is one of Jewish cohesion and solidarity, and the children are receiving some Jewish education from a teacher hired by the community. The Jewish community of Quito owns a building, a home for the aged, and a synagogue that holds services on Sabbaths and holidays.

[Jewish personalities: industrialization with metal industries and pharmaceutical industries]

Ecuadorian Jews have achieved prominence in various fields of endeavor, including the academic fields, industry, and science. Benno Weiser (Benjamin Varon), who was active in Ecuadorian journalism, later entered the Israel diplomatic service and served in various Latin American countries. His brother, Max Weiser, was the first Israel consul in Ecuador [[of racist Zionist Israel]]. In the industrial field, where Jews played an especially important role, the manes Rothschild and Seligmann stand out in the area of the development of metal industries, and the pharmaceutical industry is indebted to Carlos Alberti Ottolenghi and Alberto Di Capua. Paul Engel, endocrinologist  and pathologist, was a co-founder of the Endocrine Society of Ecuador.

[Relations with racist Zionist Free Mason CIA Herzl Israel - cooperation]

From 1946, when the Ecuadorian representative at the UN suggested that the *Jewish Agency be recognized as the Jewish government in exile, Ecuador has traditionally maintained friendly relations with Israel, and has frequently supported Israel in the United Nations. Diplomatic relations have been established on the ambassadorial level, the Ecuadorian Embassy being located in Jerusalem.

In the later 1960s a network of technical cooperation and assistance was developed between the two countries, especially in the fields of agriculture, water development, and youth training.


-- A. Golodetz: Report on the Possibilities of Jewish Settlement in Ecuador (1936), 125-30
-- Weiser, in: Commentary, 3 (1947), 531-6
-- J. Shatzky: Yidishe Yishuvim in Latayn Amerike (1952), 162-7
-- A. Monk and J. Isaacson (eds.): Comunidades Judías de Latinoamérica (1968), 82-83.

[P.E.]> (col. 361)



Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Ecuador,
                            vol. 6, col. 359-360
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Ecuador, vol. 6, col. 359-360
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Ecuador,
                            vol. 6, col. 361-362
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Ecuador, vol. 6, col. 361-362