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Jews in Colombia

Marranos - religious freedom - immigrants - anti-Semitism during NS times and after World War II - riots - central Jewish organization - Jews in the different towns - Herzl Zionism and Herzl Israel

Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia,
                vol. 5, col. 744, map of Jewish settlements in Colombia
                at the end of 19th century (Cartagena, Barranquilla,
                Santa María, and Ríohacha), and in 1970 (Barranquilla,
                Medellín, Cali, and Bogotá)
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia, vol. 5, col. 744, map of Jewish settlements in Colombia at the end of 19th century (Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa María, and Ríohacha), and in 1970 (Barranquilla, Medellín, Cali, and Bogotá)

from: Colombia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 5

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



<COLOMBIA, South American republic; population 19,829,185 (1968 est.); Jewish population estimated at approximately 11,000.


[[The natives of Colombia who are robbed the country are never mentioned in the article]].

Jewish settlement in the country dates back to the arrival of the *Marranos during the Colonial Period. The first to reach the area came with the Spanish conquerors during the 16th century.

From the beginning of the 17th century, in the wake of the establishment of the Inquisition in Cartagena, the dangers increased for those who practiced Judaism in secret. In 1636, many Marranos of Cartagena were caught as part of the destruction of the "Complicidad Grande" [["Great Confident"]] in Lima, and in 1638 the most prominent among them, Juan Rodriguez Mesa, was to put to death in the auto-da-fé.

[Customs resembling to Judaism in Colombia - theory of descendants]

Certain customs and traditions prevalent especially in the region of Antioquia and a number of personal characteristics attributed to its inhabitants that resemble Jewish customs and characteristics have inspired the theory that a large number of the descendants of the Marranos are concentrated in the region. A special study conducted in Antioquia, however, does not support the theory.

[Freedom of religion since 1886 - Catholicism is state religion until 1936]

The church was traditionally very powerful in Colombia, even after the country achieved independence, and its status was one of the main issues of political struggle. Until 1853 Roman Catholicism was the only religion permitted, Between 1861 and 1886 the influence of the liberals brought about freedom of religion and the restriction of the church's power, but from then until 1936 Roman Catholicism was the national religion protected by (col. 744)

the state. The constitution of 1886, reformed in 1936 and 1945, guarantees freedom of religion as long as its practice is "not contrary to Christian morals or to the laws".

[Open Jewish settlers since end of 18th century - cemeteries - Jewish congregations - Alliance committee]

It was only at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, however, that the first Jews openly began to settle in Columbia. They came from the Antilles islands of Jamaica and Curaçao and by the middle of the century had settled in Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Riohacha, and Cartagena, as well as in other port cities.

In 1844 a cemetery was established in Santa Maria. In 1853, the Jews of Barranquilla were granted a plot of ground by the government to be set aside as a cemetery; in 1874, the Jews, together with the Protestants and the Catholics, set up a new communal cemetery divided into sections.

In the same year a Jewish congregation was organized and several of its members were active in the development of vital concerns, such as the local bank and the water works. From its inception in 1877 until the beginning of the 20th century , the latter was headed by two Jews, Augustin Senior and David de Sola, who were also among the leaders of the Jewish community. The descendants of the first Jews of Barranquilla are Catholics and are today among the leaders of the non-Jewish community. A local committee of the *Alliance Israélite Universelle was established in Barranquilla in 1867 and in Ríohacha in 1871.

[Beginning of 20th century: Sephardi Jewish immigration from Greece, Turkey, North Africa, and Syria]

The contemporary Jewish community was established at the beginning of the 20th century. The Sephardi Jews who came from Greece, Turkey, North Africa, and Syria during the post-World War I period constituted the first group of practicing Jews in the country. They engaged in commerce in manufactured articles and founded two silk factories in Barranquilla. At about the same time, Jewish immigrants began to arrive from Eastern Europe, mainly from Poland, as well as from Palestine. At first they engaged in peddling and then gradually entered manufacturing and business, considering Colombia only a temporary haven.

[NS times and new Jewish immigration - numbers]

The rise of Nazism in Germany changed the transient character of the community and also brought the last major wave of Jewish immigrants, who came from Germany and Central Europe. Of the 3,595 Jews who arrived between 1933 and 1942, 2,347 were German. According to official population statistics, in 1935 there were 2,045 Jews in Colombia. Of those, 1,100 were in Bogotá, 400 in Cali, 150 in Medellín and Barranquilla, and the rest in other places. Two years later the number was estimated at over 3,000, and by 1943 the Jewish population reached 6,625.

[[Jews immigrating under other nationality cuotas and concealing their religion are not mentioned in the arcitle]].

In 1934 active anti-immigration propaganda was instigated by the Chambers of Commerce. The press voiced its unanimous opposition to aliens, and in October 1938 the government passed new laws directed especially against Jews. In 1939 immigration ceased completely, and between 1945 and 1950 only 350 Jews entered the country.

[[The anti-immigration propaganda probably came from the Hitler regime which spread anti-Semitic propaganda in the whole world. Probably Jews have entered the country under other national contingents or as "Christs", but there is no indication]].

[Jewish functions in the technical development of Colombia]

Most of the immigrants entered the fields of minor industry and crafts and have played an important role in the economic and industrial development of the country. Attempts at agricultural settlement failed for the most part; of the 200 settlers in 1938-39, only 46 were left by the end of 1942. The chief causes for this failure were the difficult and unknown climatic and agricultural conditions and especially the low standard of living of the farmers in Colombia.

[[When the Jews had listened to the natives this agricultural desaster probably would not have happened]].

On the other hand, Jews played a prominent role in business, and their presence in new industries and large-scale commerce had increased in the wake of Columbia's steady development since World War II.

[Anti-Semitic media in Colombia and intrigues against Jewish businessmen - riots of April 1948 and investigations of Jewish shops]

Colombia proved fertile ground for German-inspired anti-Semitism before, during, and even after World War II. Despite the accession of the liberals to power in 1930, anti-Jewish feelings found expression in the form of anti-Semitic journalism in official newspapers such as El (col. 745)

Espectador [["The Visitor"]] and El Tiempo [["The Times"]]. Notoriously anti-Jewish books were openly sold in Colombian bookstores, and anti-Semitic publications such as the Revista Antisemita Colombiana [["Columbian Anti-Semitic Review"]] appeared.

A great deal of the economic unrest of the period was likewise fomented by the Nazis, who instigated local businessmen to protest alleged Jewish "competition".

The postwar period, a time of overwhelming social and political upheaval in the country, also witnessed overt expressions of anti-Semitism. The riots in Bogotá during the Pan-American Conference of April 1948 brought severe consequences for the Jewish community;

[[these anti Jewish riots were provoked by racist Zionist invasion and expulsion of Palstinians in Palestine]];

some 130 Jewish shops were destroyed or looted at that time. In 1948 the government ordered an investigation into the funds held by the "Semites" who had entered Colombia since 1937. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism has not become a usual phenomenon indulged by the masses.

Contemporary Period.

[Central Jewish organization since approx. 1945 - ethnic Jews Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Germans - four synagogues in Bogotá]

Until World War II Colombian Jewry was rather loosely organized. The responsibility for this lay to a great extent with the authorities, who in 1940 still refused to approve the establishment of a central organization of the Jews of Bogotá and Cali, claiming that such a body would prevent the community's assimilation.

[[Racist Catholic "Christians" wanted that all Jewish children would be "Jesus" human beings]].

The Holocaust, however, spurred communal organization, and today the Jewish community is united under the umbrella organization Federación General de Comunidades [[General Community Federation]], which is based in Bogotá and is affiliated with the [[racist Zionist]] *World Jewish Congress. The Jewish community of Bogotá (6,506 persons according to a 1966 estimate) comprises three main groups: the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim, and the Germans.

Each has its own communal institutions: the Centro Israelita de Bogotá [[Israelite Center of Bogotá]] (founded 1928), the Comunidad Hebrea Sefaradi [[Hebrew Sefardi Community]] (reorganized 1943), and the Asociación Israelita Montefiore [[Israelite Montefiore Association]]. In addition, other cultural and Zionist organizations such as *B'nai B'rith, *WIZO, *General Zionists and *Maccabi serve the community. The Colombo Hebrew School in Bogotá educates about 1,000 students from kindergarten through high school, and religious life centers around the four synagogues in the city: two Ashkenazi, one Sephardi, and one German.

[Jewish community in Cali]

The Jewish communities in the other principal cities are also well organized. Cali has an estimated Jewish population of more than 3,000. All the organizations within the city, as well as those in the small towns in the region, have united to form the Unión Federal Hebrea [[Federal Hebrew Union]], which offers religious and social services. The community has two synagogues, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi, and a school, the Colegio Jorge Isaacs. It also sponsors a summer camp for children, the only one of its kind in the country.

[Jewish community in Barranquilla]

In Barranquilla, which is the third largest Jewish community in the country, 865 Jews were counted in 1955, of whom approximately half were East Europeans, one-third Sephardim, and the rest Germans. Economically, the Jews are in a favourable position, but they are not involved in general public life. Their organizations include the Club Unión, a social organization which encompassed the community as a whole; religious institutions maintained individually by each sector; general organizations such as  [[racist Zionist]] B'nai B'rith, etc.; and an umbrella organization that includes all the organizations. The day school has a student enrollment of 300; the number of mixed marriages is small.

[Cultural life - racist Zionist movement since 1927 - migration to racist Zionist Herzl Israel]

The cultural life of the Jewish community in Colombia is not exceptionally active. A good part of the social life centers are institutions of entertainment and leisure. At the same time, great affinity was evinced for the Zionist Movement, whose Colombia branch was founded in 1927, and for the State of [[Herzl]] Israel. Between 1962 and 1964, 146 Colombian Jews migrated to Israel, and there were 62 youths from Colombia among the volunteers who went to Israel after the Six-Day War (1967).

[[Israel has its base on the ideology of Theodor Herzl with the book "The Jewish State" in which is stated that the Arabs can be driven away as the natives in the "USA" were driven away. There is no borderline indicated as during the foundation of Israel in May 1948 was no borderline indicated either. A "Greater Israel" should have its borderline on the Euphrates according to First Mose chapter 15 phrase 18 (see the Bible)]].

[No political positions - Jewish publications]

Jewish participation in (col. 746)

political life in Colombia is minimal. There are no Jewish members of parliament or Jewish statesmen. The relations between the Jews and the Roman Catholic Church are cordial and were strengthened during Pope Paul VI's visit to the country in 1969, when a delegation of leaders of the Jewish community was received by him. Throughout the years, a variety of Jewish publications have appeared in the country.

By 1970 only two remained, both in Bogotá: Menora [["Candlestand"]] established 1950, had a Zionist-Revisionist orientation, stressed political problems, and presented community news; Ideal, Zionist and nonpartisan, published cultural and general news, both local and international.

[Relations of Columbia with racist Zionist Herzl Israel with embassies]

Columbia did not vote for the partition of Palestine in 1947, nor did it recognize the State of Israel immediately upon its establishment. Later, however, it maintained an embassy in Jerusalem and Israel has established an embassy in Bogotá. Cordial relations exist between the two countries. A large number of Colombians participated in technical courses offered in Israel and have even established an organization called Shalom.


-- C.S. Rosenthal, in: JSOS, 18 (1956), 262-74
-- Jewish Central Information Office, Amsterdam: Position of Jews in Columbia (1937)
-- J. Beller: Jews in Latin America (1969), 58-67
-- J. Shatzky: Yidishe Yishuvim in Latayn Amerike (1959), 195-208
-- A. Monk and J. Isaacson (eds.): Comunidades Judías de Latinoamérica (1968), 57-63
-- Asociación Filantrópica Israelita, Buenos Aires: Zehn Jahre Aufbauarbeit in Suedamerika (Ger. and Sp. 1943), 250-75

[M.N.E.]> (col. 747)


Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Columbia, sources
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia,
                            vol. 5, col. 744
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia, vol. 5, col. 744
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia,
                            vol. 5, col. 745-746
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia, vol. 5, col. 745-746
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia,
                            vol. 5, col. 747
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Colombia, vol. 5, col. 747