We asked Brigitte Bailer – Austrian historian and IHRA delegate – to review two educational resources covering stories of refugees seeking protection in Latin America and Cuba. You can find these resources on the website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum: Refuge in Latin America and Seeking Refuge in Cuba, 1939.

By Brigitte Bailer

The resources on refuge in Latin America and Cuba give an historical overview on refugee policies in different Latin American countries. Most of these countries strongly restricted the number of admitted Jewish refugees while non-Jewish refugees found it easier to be accepted.

One of the reasons was widespread antisemitism as well as prejudices and fears exploited by anti-immigrant groups and parties. This led to increasingly tight immigration laws. But there were exceptions as well. Like Bolivia, where more than 20.000 refugees were admitted. And there’s the story of a Mexican diplomat in Marseille who saved thousands of Jews by ordering to issue visa to them.

These resources are very useful to educators, but also in discussing the current refugee situation in general. They cover a lot of topics which are of importance in today’s debates in the Western World:

  • The desperate and often fruitless search of refugees for a safe haven
  • The use of the economic crises by anti-immigrant parties and groups
  • The rise of prejudices against Jewish refugees using for instance fears of economic competition. In the wake of these prejudices we see the growing rejection of refugees
  • Individual persons as well as some nations saved thousands nevertheless
Letter from the Hamburg-Amerika Line sent to Ella Schatz confirming her passage on board the Orinoco. February 15, 1939. Source: Ralph Harpuder; US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Discover the stories of the passengers of the Orduña, the Orbita, the Flandre and the Orinoco. All of them were fleeing Nazi-Germany. Some succeeded, but some were forced to return to the place they fled.

Then there are also the stories of efforts made by the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and the Mexican diplomat in Marseilles Gilberto Bosques Saldivar. Efforts to give Jewish refugees the protection they were seeking.

Cuban immigration papers issued to Ella Schatz, a passenger on board the Orinoco, en route to Cuba. April 16, 1939. Source: Ralph Harpuder; US Holocaust Memorial Museum

What are your thoughts on the resources we present here? Would you use them as an educator when talking about refugees today? Do you see similarities with today’s political discourses and policies towards refugees? We look forward to your feedback! You can share your thoughts by leaving a reply.