A Girl's Journey to Ecuador

Jews and Expats in Ecuador

Under Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain was declared a unified Catholic Kingdom and, starting in 1492, the same year Columbus set out for the “New World,” Jews were systematically expelled from Spain, or forced to convert to Catholicism.  Despite a 1501 decree that barred Jews and Muslims from Spain and Portugal’s new world colonies, some fled to the New World, hiding their Jewish ancestry and publicly practicing Catholicism (Schwarz 1941).  The Spanish inquisition which sought to “purify” Spain and her colonies of heretics who were thought to be corrupting Catholicism, spread to the New World and suspected Jews who were living in the Spanish colonies were burned at the stake. Until the mid 19th century and the Independence of the colonies from Spain, there was little open practice of Judaism in the New World. With independence, many Latin American countries granted rights of religious freedom (Ben-Ur 2004).

In the 19th century, there was increased Jewish migration from Central Europe and North Africa, the latter where many Spanish Jews had fled centuries earlier. The Moroccan civil war and efforts to secularize schools drove the French-speaking Jewish emigration from Morocco (Ben Ur 2004). The emigration from Europe was primarily of Yiddish speaking Ashkenazim who left before World War One to escape economic hardship and anti-semitism.  Most of the Jewish immigration was to Argentina and Brazil, although there were small groups in the Andean countries, including Ecuador.  Jewish emigration from Europe increased considerably after Hitler came to power in 1933, and by 1941 there were 400,000 Jews in Latin America (Schwarz 1941:109) and perhaps 3,000 in Ecuador (Weiser 1949:532).

Weiser comments that in the late 1930s, when Ina and her family lived in Quito, there was little prejudice towards foreigners, and few distinctions made among them. 

As Weiser writes in 1947:
There have never been many gringos in Ecuador. They have always been treated with respect, no matter their nationality, and addressed as “Mister”. Xenophobia did not exist. An Ecuadorian would rather have rented his house to a gringo for three hundred sucres than to a compatriot for four hundred. To be an extranjero was like a guarantee of punctuality, cleanliness and reliability. The Germans, Austrians and Czechs who now arrived found their way smoothed by other outlanders who had preceded them under other circumstances (1947:531).

In the 1940s the Jewish community in Quito, immigrants from Germany but also from other Eastern European countries, formed a number of organizations, including a women’s league, a Jewish burial society, an athletic organization and a cooperative bank. However, despite the fact that her mother was Jewish, Ina’s family did not identify as Jewish and the blossoming Jewish community, intent on maintaining Jewish religious traditions, was not one that Ina’s Freethinking family would have naturally gravitated towards.

Ben Ur, Aviva, 2005. Jews in Latin America.950-966. Encyclopedia of Diasporas. Springer.
Benno Weiser, 1947. Ecuador, Eight Years on Ararat: The Story of a South American Haven. American Jewish Committee. Jan 1:531-536.
Schwarz, Ernst, 1941. The Jew in Latin America: His Past, His Present, His Future. World Affairs, 104(2):108-111.

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