A city shaped by Jewish culture | German-Jewish cultural heritage in Argentina | DW | 29.11.2012
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A city shaped by Jewish culture

No other country in Latin America received as many European Jews fleeing the Nazi regime than Argentina. The influence of their culture can be felt even today - especially in Buenos Aires.

In the middle of Buenos Aires, in the district of Once, there's an American fast-food chain. It's the only kosher outlet of the chain outside of Israel.

That's no coincidence: The largest Jewish community in Latin America, with 250,000 members, lives in Argentina. There are as many Jews living in Buenos Aires as in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile put together.

Finding refuge in Argentina

Already in the late 19th century, the German entrepreneur and philanthropist Baron Moritz von Hirsch had settled eastern European and later German Jews in Argentina. These settlements were to be the foundation of the Jewish community in the country.

During the Nazi dictatorship, 45,000 Jews fled from Germany to Argentina - despite the fact that the South American country had imposed harsh limitations on immigration and many Germans in Buenos Aires sympathized with the Nazi regime.

An aid organization for German-speaking Jews was founded in the 1930s to help immigrants build a new life. The Asociación Filantrópica Israelita, as it is still known today, continues to run important social projects and institutions.

Street scene in Buenos Aires

The Jewish community in Argentina assimilated very quickly into Argentine society

Steeped in Jewish culture

In modern-day Buenos Aires, entire districts remain steeped in Jewish culture, including the cloth merchant quarter of Once in the city center of Belgrano in the North of the city, where many Jews from Germany and Austria settled.

The majority of the city's 55 synagogues are located in these districts. Alongside them are cultural organizations and sports clubs, Jewish clubs, restaurants and theaters. Since two terrorist attacks on Jewish institutions killed more than 100 people in the 1990s, almost all of these locations are heavily guarded.

Yet the number of Jews living in Argentina has been in decline for many years. That can be attributed to the decreasing size of families, but also to their quick assimilation into Argentine society. Many children and grandchildren of immigrants married non-Jewish Argentines.

When the country went bankrupt in 2001, a quarter of the Jewish population were financially ruined overnight and many thousands immigrated to Israel. Nevertheless, Buenos Aires is shaped by Jewish customs and culture like no other Latin American city.

German-Jewish author Robert Schopflocher wrote, "It is mostly the relatives of the second generation who feel they are true Argentines."

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