Recovering Memories: Holocaust Survivors in Latin America

USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research has decided to endorse the initiative of a group of seven scholars from different Latin American countries to study Holocaust Survivors in Latin America as part of its Interdisciplinary Research Week. Not an alien in the context of terrorscapes and transitional justice, Latin America has been a space of contested narratives regarding mass violence.

In countries like Colombia, realities of forced displacement, illegal prosecution, and war narratives have been ongoing historically, which has been widely documented and studied. However, there is still much to be discovered, especially as these narratives coexist with narratives of survival from the Holocaust. In this regard, Latin America has been related to the Holocaust mostly as an important space for refuge after WWII.

The links, interconnections and detachments from cultural, political and economic realities within Latin American countries are still raw spaces to explore. We are set out to discover how identities of Holocaust survivors were transformed by exile to those specific places, and how survival appears as a dimension that keeps reinventing itself, insofar as subjects change after exposure to new experiences across the continent. Dictatorships, armed conflicts, organized crime, even the weather (inverted seasons or the absence of them), are interconnected aspects to boost cultural belonging or distrust. How these aspects are interconnected throughout the life course of survivors constitute the way in which their narratives can offer us more diverse inputs to understand national frameworks of memory in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

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Cauca Valley in the South of Colombia, near Cali, one of the cities that hosted Jewish refugees.

During the Interdisciplinary Research Week, the group will have access to testimonies of Holocaust survivors who settled in the aforementioned countries. We will use a variety of research methods including text mining, mapping trajectories of survival, and using indexing terms in order to deepen our understanding of identity, acculturation and survival. This initiative provides insight into the importance of tracing memory and experiences of displacement and refugee-seeking throughout time. These narratives tell us more about ourselves, while also telling us about our past: What they say, how they say it, when they say it. These aspects become of utmost importance when tracing subjectivities in memory reconstruction.

When Holocaust survivors arrived to Latin American countries, they became part of the story, but they did not necessarily became part of local memory, or at least not everywhere, and not in the same way. Both history and memory regarding the Holocaust are still undefined landscapes in Latin American settings. While Argentina is a country that has more experience documenting experiences of arrival and settlement of Holocaust survivors, Chile, Colombia and Mexico are on their way to strengthen the field, and innovative methods are required to perform this task properly. This work is still in progress, but can be achieved through innovation, rigorousness and a bunch of people with very different backgrounds building new possibilities.

 

The group of scholars includes the author, Lorena Ávila Jaimes, who studied Political Science and has a MA in Public Policy from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. She is interested in the intersections between memory studies and transitional justice. She also holds an LLM in International Law and Human Rights from Tilburg University and an MSc in Victimology and Criminal Justice from the same University.

Other Scholars on this project are:

  • Yael Siman (Iboamericana University)
  • Nancy Nicholls Lopeandía (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)
  • Susana Sosenski (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
  • Emmanuel Kahan (Universidad Nacional de La Plata)
  • Alejandra Morales Stekel (Jewish Interactive Museum of Chile)
  • Daniela Gleizer Salzman (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

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