Hotel Bolivia : The Culture of Memory in a Refuge From Nazism

ISBN 10: 0809055457 / ISBN 13: 9780809055456
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Synopsis: In the 1930s, thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe found refuge in Bolivia. Their story has been largely overlooked until now. Leo Spitzer--whose Viennese Jewish family arrived in La Paz in 1939--is a historian whose beautifully written book is a personal testament to the diverse cultures that shaped him and a haunting consideration of the way we make meaning out of the cultural baggage we carry wherever we go. 60 illustrations.

Review: When, in the mid-1930s, Jews began to leave Europe in flight from Nazi persecution, they found that they were welcome only in a few countries. One of them was Bolivia, which, despite the presence of many pro-Nazi German émigrés, readily accepted 20,000 Jewish refugees. Thousands of miles away from the unfolding Holocaust, these newcomers struggled to rebuild their lives--to find work, to begin families, to make a home among strangers. And they struggled to retain the memory of their now destroyed homelands, to preserve their customs and languages in the shock of displacement. Leo Spitzer, born in La Paz to Austrian Jewish refugees, offers an ethnographic historical account of the world of the Bolivian Jews, an account made richer by his explorations of his family's past. At the heart of his study is a troubling question: should not all the Jews of Europe, well aware of Hitler's intentions, have left their homes and come to places like Bolivia? His consideration of why so many stayed to face death lends philosophical weight to what is already a valuable contribution to Holocaust studies--even if Spitzer modestly closes by suggesting that the story of the Bolivian Jews may well "shrink to a paragraph, a sentence, even to a footnote within the larger story of Nazi persecution." --Gregory McNamee

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