Making a difference in Sao Paulo | German-Jewish cultural heritage in Brazil | DW | 29.11.2012
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Making a difference in Sao Paulo

The Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo now has 20 million residents. Around 70,000 of them are Jews. It is a minority which helps shape the life in the city nonetheless. Here are just three examples.

It's supposedly the best hospital in Brazil. A model clinic, a worldwide leader for liver transplants. The Albert Einstein Hospital: a veritable city within a city, founded on the day it's genial namesake died on April 18, 1955.

Give and take

Today, around 70,000 Jewish people live in the Latin American city of Sao Paulo. And no matter who you talk to, everyone says that the city welcomed them with open arms.

And because of that, some people like to give something in return.

"We decided to do something for the most important thing of all. And that is life itself," said Claudio Lottenberg, an ophthalmologist and president of the Albert Einstein Hospital.

The Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulowir unentgeltlich benutzen dürfen. Die Fotos dürfen ausschließlich im Rahmen des Projekts Spurensuche verwendet werden. Alle Bilder hat Silke Bartlick im Juni 2012 in Sao Paulo/Brasilien aufgenommen

The Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is a city of nightmarish contrasts, from crude and dazzling wealth to bitter and life-threatening poverty, a city full of Gods, as colorful as New York, a melting-pot of people, cuisines and cultures.

According to Claudio Lottenberg, the Jewish community is active all over the city: in politics, in economics, in academia, in science and culture. It includes people from the upper- and middle-classes, the educated and highly privileged.

A representative cross-section of the city's general population it is not. Coincidence? No, says Rabbi Ruben Sternschein. Many in Sao Paulo's existing Jewish community have German roots. "And this liberal Judaism is exemplified through a sense of social responsibility and an interest in education," he added.

Culture for sale

Pedro Herz sells culture in his bookstores in Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities. He has around 2,000 employees and imports around 10 ton of airfreight every week, mainly from the USA and England.

The majority is books, of course, but also CDs, DVDs, games and newspapers. It's an empire: A chain of cultivated department stores with a brand recognition that stretches way beyond the borders of Brazil. Pedro Herz is extremely proud of Livraria Cultura.

It all began in 1947 with a small library. Friends and acquaintances of Pedro Herz's family wanted to read something. They were immigrants just like Eva Herz and her husband, who had fled from Berlin in 1938.

But where could one buy German books in Sao Paulo in 1947? The few books that were there were in private ownership. Nevertheless, Eva Herz collected 10 books together and lent them out on a weekly basis.

And that's how it all began, Pedro Herz says. Some 20 years later he opened the first Livraria Cultura on the Avenida Paulista. He's has been there from day one, first as a bookseller, then as the director of the business.

The flagship store - a concept store in a former cinema - encompasses three floors and is the largest bookstore in the country. It even has a small theater, just a short walk away there are specialist bookstore for art, photography and the entire catalogues of select publishing houses.

"I believe that we built something great, my sons and I," Pedro Herz says. But he's not stopping there - more branches are due to open in the near future.

Helping is human

The journey from the Avenida Paulista takes at least half an hour, without traffic. Then you come to Margrit Herzberg and "Lar das Criancas" - a children's home founded by German immigrants Charlotte Hamburger from Berlin and Ida Hoffman from southern Germany.

In the early days, Jewish children were brought there in order for their parents to concentrate on building a new life. When that was successful and the demand for places at the home began to decline, Lar das Crianca wasn't closed. Instead it opened up to a new customer base: poor and needy Brazilian children.

Ruins of an old house in Sao Paolo

Sao Paulo still bears traces of the past

Margret Herzberg, the director of the children's home, says once people can take care of themselves, it's their responsibility to try to help others where they can.

Around 250 children profit from this philosophy each year, including young people who are given the opportunity to blossom. "In Lar das Criancas they learn to believe in themselves," Ruben Sternschein explains.

It makes it easier for them to find their place in life. Sternschein knows hundreds of cases where that way of thinking has been successful.

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