The Americas 61.2 (2004) 277-278
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Nearly 100,000 Jews fled Nazism and came to Latin America and the Caribbean between 1933 and 1945, about 15,000 less than the number who made their way to the United States during the same period. Two countries—Argentina, Brazil—absorbed fifty percent of the refugees, while the rest were sprinkled throughout the region. The ten essays in this anthology examine how Latin American governments responded to this "panic migration." There is little here about the refugees per se or their collective experience during or after their escape from Europe. Instead, particular attention is paid to placing the migration in a larger context, tracing the conjuncture of international events, domestic politics, economic conditions, and immigration policy throughout the region.
Taken together, these essays illustrate that it is not only difficult to generalize about the nature of the response to the panic migration, but also that ideology and discourse often had little to do with domestic political realities. The presence of anti-Semitic invective in the press or even the degree to which nativist politicians aired their prejudices publicly often had little to do with actual immigration practices. The contributors also demonstrate that political instability and economic problems did not necessarily predispose a country to be more or less willing to take in Jewish refugees. Nor was there a straightforward correlation between authoritarian regimes sympathetic to the Reich and restrictive immigration policies. And a restrictive policy apparently did not reflect on Jews already living in the country who, with some exceptions, were not treated as internal enemies and did not encounter harassment or restrictions. If anything, these essays indicate that the disparity between word and deed by Latin American states during this period often gave refugees the flexibility they needed to work their way through and around systems designed to prevent them from coming in the first place.
A perfect example of such unfettered contingency is a model essay by Leonardo Senkman that compares Argentine and Brazilian policies and praxis during the late [End Page 277] 1930s and early 1940s. Paradoxically, Argentina's democratically elected Roberto Ortiz (1938-1941) presided over a much more restrictive immigration policy than his Brazilian counterpart, the authoritarian Getúlio Vargas during the same period. In Argentina's case, the desire to remain neutral to protect its economic interests in Europe and ward off North American competition helps account for its adoption of a hard-line position on immigration. Still, despite this prohibition at a critical moment for stateless Jewish exiles, Argentina would let in more Jews than any other country in Latin America during the Third Reich. As xenophobic nationalism waxed in Argentina, it waned in Brazil, however. Reversing an earlier more restrictive regimen, Vargas switched gears with war looming on the horizon so as to court North American investment, and because, according to Senkman, the populist dictator was willing to open the Estado Novo's doors to wealthy immigrants who would help promote Vargas' modernizing agenda. Senkman takes exception with earlier studies on Jewish immigration to Brazil by Robert Levine and Jeffrey Lesser that in his mind overestimate the role played by the right-wing Integralists in shaping the Estado Novo's immigration policy. At a time when nations around the world were slamming their doors shut to Jewish immigration, Vargas' pragmatism proved to be a godsend to more than 8,517 Jews who entered Brazil from 1939 to 1941.
Paradoxes are also evident in Haim Avni's thoughtful comparative contribution on Bolivia and Peru. Bolivia was awash with political instability and its economy was in shambles because of the Chaco War, yet Bolivian military rulers surprisingly opened their doors to ten thousand Jewish immigrants. In contrast, neighboring Peru, a model of political stability and economic progress proved totally unsympathetic to immigration of any kind. Avni believes that Jews...