Friday, November 9, 2012

Colombia's Cultural Immigrants

'Let's Help the Victims of Fascism!!!' 
Many of the immigrants came fleeing 
fascism in Europe.
Colombia has attracted far fewer European immigrants than have other Latin American nations. Nevertheless, they have made a big impact on the country's arts and culture, as an exhibition on now thru January in the Luis Angel Arango Library shows.

My knowledge of Colombian cultural history is way too thin to evaluate the influence of these men and women. However, their stories, as refugees from European fascism or South American dictatorships, were surely gripping.

A letter by writer Otto de Greiff to
Casimiro Eiger offering sympathy for
the murders of Eiger's relatives by the
Nazis in Poland.
The most detailed drama told in the exhibit is that of Casimiro Eiger, born in Poland in 1909. He traveled to Paris to study, and while there Nazi Germany invaded his homeland. Soon after, the Nazis invaded France as well. Eiger, who was Jewish, fled to Morroco, where he and other refugees boarded a ship that sailed to West Africa, but then returned them to Morocco, then controlled by Vichy France, a Nazi puppet Regime. The refugees then boarded another ship, which sailed along the South American coast seeking a country which would accept them. They were finally allowed to enter Curacao, a Dutch colony in the Caribbean. From there, Eiger emigrated to Colombia. The exhibit includes a brief letter from Colombian poet and journalist Otto de Greiff expressing his sympathies that Eiger's relatives back in Poland had been murdered by the Nazis.

In Colombia, Eiger became an accomplished art critic and promoter of the arts.

Eiger worked in Bogotá with Hans Unger, another refugee from Naziism who had arrived in Colombia
By Robert West.
from Austria in 1938. Unger was one of several German-speaking immigrants who set up literary bookstores which also contained art galleries and became centers of intellectual activity. Unger established his Libreria Central in the Pasaje Santa Fe, just off of Ave. Jimenez. Nearby, an immigrant from Germany and dissenter against Naziism Karl Buchholz opened the Librería Buchholz bookstore/gallery, which soon became another cultural landmark.

A fellow member of the exodus from Hitlerism was Walter Engel, who fled Austria for Colombia in 1948. In Colombia, Engel became an art critic and friend of artist Fernando Botero. In 1965, he moved to Toronto, Canada, where he opened an art gallery which promoted Latin American works.

Clemente Airó also fled fascism, but that of Francisco Franco in Spain. Born in Madrid in 1918, the anti-fascist Airó was interned in a concentration camp and Franco took power. Airó fled to Colombia in 1941 and here founded a monthly arts magazine called Espiral, which also advocated leftist causes. He died in 1957.

Marta Traba (1923 - '83) fled the Peron dictatorship in Argentina and came to Colombia in 1954. She became a noted essayist and art critic. She died in Spain.

The exhibit also includes the documentary-style photos of Robert West, whose origin is not mentioned. Nearby are photos by anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, who left Austria for Colombia right before World War II. Reichel-Dolmatoff, who died in 1995, is remembered as the father of anthropology in Colombia. But recent research revealed that as a young man in Austria he had been a fervent Nazi and apparently assassinated rivals of Hitler. The library's exhibit doesn't mention this dark part of Reichel-Dolmatoff's past.

The Alsina, in which Casimiro Eiger and
other refugees fled Nazi Europe. 

Karl Buchholz in an interview. 

Photos by Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff.

Photos by Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff.

By Robert West.

Photos by Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff.

Photos by Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff.

Photos by Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff.

Art critic Marta Traba.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, I wish I could be there to visit the exhibit. Thanks Mike.

mauricio forero l said...

Miguel, whats up dude!!
Let me tell you Mike, what you do not know, is that many middle class and even some high class Bogotanos were involve in some kind of Nazy ideology, i know that sadly my maternal grandfather was a fan of Hitler, later when one of his daughters got married with a Jewish man in Israle he was very upset, but also he would tell me of meetings he had with other people in support of the Nazy cause. One of his friends was an Italian that a met in the seventies and that did not hide his virulent fascism and Mike, the guy had many followers ( older Bogotyanos ) It is sad, but is one of thous things that i remember from my grandpa. Excellent post Mike.

M. F.

Miguel said...

Hi Mauricio,

That is an interesting and sad bit of history you tell.

Thanks for your comment.


Carlito said...

Colombia has few immigrants compared to other countries like Peru or Argentina; but that's because when the debate came (how to build a real nation, around middle XIX century) we opted for isolationism instead of immigrationism. The idea behind was to control who has the power and our elites were afraid of external competition and that "lesser apt races" entered the country. It must be said that for todays standards, XIX people were quite racists (and classists).
The results of such strategy are still visible today.

Miguel said...

I think that by today's standards, 100 or even 50 years ago every nation was racist.

But Colombia's history and geography also served as obstacles to immigration. People from northern Europe and Asia naturally migrated towards other temperate nations. And, while Venezuela was having an oil boom and Argentina was thriving, Colombia was suffering civil wars and narco cartels. If you were a poor peasant in Germany, Italy or Korea looking across the ocean, which country would you choose?