Jewish Tours

Buenos Aires, Argentina


ARGENTINA, South American Federal Republic, general population (2004) 39,150,000; Jewish population 190,000.

Economy and Social Stratification

During World War II, growing industrialization in Argentina further encouraged the Jews to found new industries. The furniture, fur, and particularly the wool and textile industries, including the export of raincoats, woolens, and leather goods, were joined by enterprises in new fields such as plastics, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, the automobile industry, electrical goods and electronics, and a large part of heavy industry. Jewish companies, often very large ones, existed within the new industries after World War II to supply the local market. Jews also engaged in all aspects of the building industry, played a significant role in the commerce that developed around the new branches of industry, and diversified their positions in the liberal professions.

The economic development of the Jewish population in the post-World War II era is also reflected in the considerable progress made by their financial institutions. Though the largest Jewish bank, the Banco Israelita del Río de la Plata, closed as a result of a financial scandal in 1963, other banks, such as the Banco Comercial de Buenos Aires and the Banco Mercantil Argentino, which served the general community, gained in status and the Cooperativas de Crédito also prospered. These cooperatives, which spread throughout Argentina, expanded especially among the Jewish population and in the late 1960s had many thousands of members – merchants, farmers, middle-class industrialists, and even salaried workers.

A small part of the large profits from the cooperatives' financial activities, which in fact include normal banking operations, was devoted to public and social purposes such as financing Jewish schools, cultural centers, and Jewish political activity, considerably influencing Jewish communal institutions. Thus Argentinean Jewry was greatly alarmed in 1966 when General Onganía's revolutionary government intended to limit or abolish the operations of the credit associations, and Jewish institutions suffered profoundly from the economic decline of the cooperatives after the bankruptcy of many of them at the beginning of the 1970s.

Economic changes naturally altered the social and economic class structure of Argentinean Jewry. There were fewer blue-collar workers, as more Jews entered the free and academic professions. By the early 1960s the socio-economic profile of the Jewish community was very different from that of the period of mass immigration. The relative proportion of blue-collar workers (in industries such as textiles, woodworking, leather goods, metalwork, and auto repair) declined to less than one-third of the total work force; the rest of the Jewish population was employed in commerce, clerical work, and the free professions. The percentage of farmers had already dwindled to almost zero. This process, which continued during the following decades, led to the concentration of the Jews at various levels of the middle class.

The status of Jews in the general population was exemplified by a census taken of the Jewish community in Quilmes, near Buenos Aires, in 1968. There were 1,169 Jews out of a total population of 317,783. In the economically viable portion of the Jewish population, only 26.7% were salaried workers, of whom 3.5% were laborers and the remainder were white-collar workers. The percentage of salaried workers in the general population was 81.2%, of whom at least half were laborers. On the other hand, 70.9% of the economically viable Jewish population were employers and self-employed, while the parallel figure for the general population was only 16.3%.

During this period, poverty was not eradicated among Argentinean Jewry, and AMIA alone spent some 6–7% of its budget in 1965–67 on supporting the poor (apart from the aid extended by other welfare associations). Nevertheless, the Jewish relationship to the Argentinean proletariat was becoming increasingly that of the employer to employees. Along with this, Jews were to a great extent absent from the upper and ruling echelons of society.


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