Jewish Tours

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Virtual Jewish History Tour


By Jacqueline Shields


The Beginning of a Community

A few isolated Jews came to Paraguay from France, Switzerland, and Italy toward the end of the 19th century and merged with the native population without ever establishing a community. On the eve of World War I, a number of Sephardi Jews emigrated from Palestine. The families, Arditi, Cohenca, Levi, Mendelzon, and Varzan, formed the first community, la Alianza Israelita, in 1917 and established the first synagogue with other Sephardim from Turkey and Greece.

A second wave of immigration in the early 1920s brought Jews from the Ukraine and Poland who founded the Ashkenazi community, Union Hebraica. Between 1933 and 1939, between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia took advantage of Paraguay's liberal immigration laws to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe. Most of them used Paraguay or their Paraguayan visas as stepping stones to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay where immigration laws were more severe. The small fraction that remained in Paraguay established the Union de Israelitas por Socorro Mutuo. This group built the main synagogue, later located within the premises of the Union Hebraica. After World War II, a last group of immigrants, mostly survivors from the concentration camps, arrived.

There were some short-lived anti-Semitic decrees in 1936, and some anti-Semitic incidents prior to the establishment of the regime of General Alfredo Stroessner in 1954; however, after that, Jews were not disturbed. Paraguay voted in 1947 for the UN Resolution on the partition of Palestine and has always been friendly to Israel. The population, which lost two-thirds of its members in the war against an array of larger nations between 1865 and 1870, tends to empathize with Israel. An Israeli Embassy was established in 1968.


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