|Holocaust survivors, still strong and eloquent.|
By the time I entered the standing-room-only event at the Bogotá Museum of Modern Art , the accounts of horrific experiences had passed and the survivors were describing the war's end, their migrations to Colombia and whether they could ever forgive, a point they disagreed on.
|Faces of many who did not survive.|
The museum's Shoa exhibition, which fills some three levels, is sophisticated and detailed, with personal experiences, photos, recordings and examinations of Spain's mixed role in the Holocaust (a fascist nation friendly to Hitler, some Spanish diplomats individually risked their lives to save Jews and others). The exhibition also looks at South America's involvement in World War II and Jewish refugees' efforts to flee to Latin America. The information is powerful and moving, as the account of history's most terrible and calculated slaughter must be.
|A rally of Nazi fanatics in Barranquilla during WWII|
Some other Latin American nations, or their officials, did play either tragic or heroic roles during the war. Cuba notoriously turned the S.S. St. Louis, a ship packed with Jewish refugees, back to Europe, where many were murdered by the Nazis. In contrast, the Dominican Republic agreed to accept 100,000 Jewish refugees, although escaping Europe became so difficult that only 645 people actually made it. George Mantello, an El Salvadoran diplomat stationed in Switzerland distributed El Salvadoran citizenship papers, which saved the lives of thousands of Eastern European Jews and later helped pressure Hungary to resist the Nazis' deportations of Jews to Auschwitz.
After the war, many Jewish survivors, German refugees and Nazi persecutors took refuge in South America, but relatively few came to Colombia, which at the time was suffering a period known as 'La Violencia,' a politically-driven fratricide which at times rivalled Naziism in barbarity.
Five of those Jews who did come to Colombia, mostly because they had relatives already here, spoke on Tuesday at the Modern Art Museum. Now octogenarians, they heard with difficulty, but spoke strongly, with no lack of passion or strong beliefs. A woman whose family managed to send her to England to wait out the war recalled how after Germany's surrender the refugee children received lists of the dead from the Red Cross - "where they found their parents' names."
|Max Kirschberg shows the number tattooed on|
his arm in Auschwitz.
"Memory is the best shield so that it doesn't happen again," said one woman. Others spoke out against neonaziism, or the importance of living one's own life in a good way.
The survivors have handled their experiences differently. One decided to forgive. Another said she could not, until she had the permission of "my aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives" slaughtered by naziism. A woman from Holland has vowed never to step on German soil.
Yet, despite the world's collective memory, genocide has happen multiple times since World War II, in Africa, Serbia, Cambodia, and likely other places - while the rest of the world did little.
Still, the Colombian survivors managed to draw positiveness from tragedy. "There is one God for all of us," said one survivor, to a strong applause from the packed room.
|Inge Chaskel hasn't let her WWII experiences ruin her life.|
Sadly, at least one Israeli is accused by Colombia of helping train Colombian paramilitaries to commit such crimes.
Like many nations, Colombia also has its own skinheads and neo-Nazis - a bizarre phenomenon in a nation where the great majority of people are of Spanish, Indian or African descent, or of mixed background.
On the other hand, having lived throughout South America, I've seen and heard less racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia here than in other Latin American nations.
There have been at least two famous Jewish Colombians: Actress Fanny Mikey, who organized theatre festivals and founded the National Theatre, and Leo Siegfried Kopp, who founded the Bavaria Beer Company and who has become a kind of saint in Bogotá's Central Cemetery.
The Shoa exhibition ends March 31. The museum is also showing films about the Holocaust.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours