A Latin American lifeline

Chilean Maria Edwards de Errazuriz is a Righteous Gentile featured in ‘The Stories of Saviors and Survivors’ exhibition.

An illustration of Maria Edwards de Errazuriz by Eli Deitch, based on an old photograph (photo credit: Courtesy)
An illustration of Maria Edwards de Errazuriz by Eli Deitch, based on an old photograph
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An increasing number of stories have come to light about acts of kindness toward Jews during the Holocaust, often from unlikely sources – as evidenced by the addition of names to the Righteous Among the Nations section of Yad Vashem. One name introduced in 2006 was Maria Edwards de Errazuriz, the widow of a Chilean diplomat who was in Paris in 1940 when the Germans invaded France. De Errazuriz is one of the heroic non-Jewish Latin Americans whose story features in “The Stories of Saviors and Survivors” exhibition, which will be unveiled at the Jerusalem House of Quality next week.
The exhibition includes facsimiles of passports and other documents used to get Jews out of Nazi-occupied Europe to safe havens in Latin America. There are also gripping videos of interviews with four Holocaust survivors, as well as two with descendants of Chilean diplomats who helped Jews during World War II, and one with a Chilean Foreign Ministry official who researched some of his predecessors’ efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust.
“We are a group of four students [from the Department of Photographic Media of Hadassah College in Jerusalem],” explains Maya Dafna, who conceived the idea for the exhibition. “Each took one or two Holocaust survivors, each of whom was saved by a diplomat from South America – Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and other countries.”
Her colleagues in the project are Maayan Diskin, Avital Hirsh and David Michael Cohen.
“The plan was not to focus on the long Holocaust story of each of the interviewees,” she continues. “The point was to highlight the positive aspect, of the respective Latin American consul’s actions in helping Jews to survive.”
In the case of De Errazuriz, her diplomat husband committed suicide in 1922, but she decided to stay on in Paris. During the German occupation, she volunteered at the Rothschild Hospital and also joined the French Resistance. While at the hospital, she saw the Gestapo rounding up Jewish women for deportation, including those who had just given birth.
Realizing the babies were being left behind untended, she helped get them to places where they could be cared for in safe conditions. The Gestapo eventually caught up with her, and she was arrested and tortured, but she managed to survive thanks to her diplomatic connections. In 1953, she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for bravery in France. She remarried in the 1960s and moved back to Chile, where she died in 1972.
The seven interviews in the exhibition – four of them conducted in Israel and three via Skype to Chile – will be screened in a continuous loop. One of the survivors, Eli Kotzer, who lives in Ramat Aviv, is alive today thanks to the courage of a Chilean diplomat by the name of Samuel del Campo.
It seems that Del Campo worked tirelessly on behalf of Jews during World War II. When the Germans invaded France, he was stationed in Paris but was then transferred to Bucharest, where he managed to save the lives of 250 Jews from the Bukovina and Bessarabia regions by negotiating with the military governor and managing to secure the requisite Chilean papers. After diplomatic ties between Nazi Germany and Chile were severed in January 1943, Del Campo was appointed consul-general of Chile in Zurich. However, the Swiss government refused him entry to Switzerland because of his efforts on behalf of Jews. Del Campo eventually managed to escape the clutches of the Gestapo by hiding away in Turkey.
For Dafna, helping to compile the material for “The Stories of Saviors and Survivors” was not just an academic or professional pursuit.
“I have a grandfather and grandmother who were Holocaust survivors,” she says.
Her grandfather escaped from Auschwitz as a young child.
“I don’t know if it is a matter of serendipity, but this is the third Holocaust project I have been involved with during my studies at Hadassah.
I also took portrait photographs of survivors,” she notes. “I am grateful for being involved in this topic, and the survivors were delighted to see their portraits. Besides my family connection, it is a very important area. It allows me to hear stories I didn’t know about before, and it gives me a wider perspective on the whole period in history. Also, these interviews help the survivors to tell their story, which they are eager to do, especially to the younger generation.”
Dafna’s interviewee is an octogenarian who hails from Czernowitz, which has been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Poland and Romania, and is today in Ukraine.
“He is a very colorful, warm and open man,” she says. “His father contacted the Chilean representative in Poland at the time [Del Campo] and he obtained a visa for the interviewee which allowed him to cross any border without interference. My interviewee showed me the original document, which he says is the reason he is alive today.”
The papers helped to get the interviewee’s complicatedly extended family out of Poland and to safety.
“The visa was for him, his father, his father’s second wife and the interviewee’s birth mother,” says Dafna, adding that Del Campo also managed to get other members of the community out of Poland. “They didn’t all survive, but Del Campo rescued quite a few of them.”
On the face of it, there does not seem to be any obvious reason for a Chilean diplomat to make the effort to save the lives of several hundred Polish Jews. Presumably, in addition to being grateful for the crucial diplomatic intervention, the survivors were also surprised by the origin of the fateful helping hand.
“My interviewee did not say so specifically, but a few years ago, he sent a letter to the Chilean government thanking the country for saving his life,” explains Dafna. “My interviewee’s eyes light up every time he talks about Chile.”
“The Stories of Saviors and Survivors” is the result of cooperation between the Foreign Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality, Hadassah College, and Jerusalem House of Quality director Yitzhak Weiss.
Attending the exhibition, which opens on April 29 at 6 p.m., will be El Salvador Ambassador to Israel Suzana Gun de Hasenson, as well as former MK Colette Avital, who chairs The Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors.
For more information: 054-746-2384 or www.art-jerusalem.com/minisite.