A genealogist's perspecitive By Gabriel Braunstein, published in the JGSR News
A publication of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Rochester
The Jewish community of Argentina, with its more than 200,000 members, is one of the largest Jewish communities in the world,and accounts for about 50% of the Jews of Latin America. Many Jewish families have branches in Argentina, making this country a frequent object of genealogical inquiry. We will review the history of the Jewish immigration to Argentina to provide a frame of reference for genealogical research in that nation.
The Jewish immigration to Argentina can be broadly divided into four different periods:
(1) from the discovery of the American continent in 1492 to 1889, characterized by a very sparse Jewish population involved mainly in business and trade
(2) from 1889 to 1905, when many Jews who emigrated to Argentina settled as farmers under the auspices of the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA)
(3) from 1905 to 1930, mass emigration, when Jews settled in urban areas and worked in low-wage occupations; and
(4) from 1930 to 1950, when Jews left Europe to escape Nazi persecution and the devastation created by World War II.
First Period, 1492 - 1889
While most people remember 1492 as the year of the discovery of the American continent by Columbus, for Jews 1492 is the year of the expulsion from Spain. A significant number of those Jews expelled from Spain went to nearby Portugal where they lived for about 50 years until the King of Portugal, too, decided to adopt the Inquisition and expel the Jews. Some moved from Portugal to Brazil, a colony of Portugal in the new world, trying to escape persecution. From Brazil some moved south to the territories that later became Argentina. Evidence of the presence of Jews in Spanish South America can be found in recorded cases of inquisition prosecution dating from the seventeenth century.
In 1736 a viceroyship was established by the Spaniards in the southern portion of the continent. Since then, the city of Buenos Aires has been the political, economic, and cultural center of Argentina. European businesses established representations in Buenos Aires, and in some cases the representatives of those businesses were Jewish. Those merchants and businessmen, generally natives of France or England, constituted the first seed of the Jewish community of Argentina. In 1852, they established the Jewish Congregation of Buenos Aires in an attempt to preserve their religious identity. There is also evidence of a small Sephardic community in Buenos Aires by the end of the last century. An 1887 city census revealed the presence of 336 Jews in Buenos Aires, and it is estimated that there were about 1,500 Jews in the entire country.
Second Period, 1889 - 1905
The mass emigration of East European Jews to Argentina started in 1889 with the arrival of a group with about 820 Jews from the Pale. This arrival was preceded by a series of events that created the conditions necessary for the migration to take place.Argentina broke away from Spain and became an independent nation in a process that culminated on July 9, 1816. It proceeded, in a series of military campaigns, to establish sovereignty over huge extensions of territory in what used to be the Viceroyship of Rio de la Plata. In an attempt to populate these territories and accelerate the development of the nation, the government of Argentina promoted the absorption and settlement of European immigrants around the middle of the Nineteenth Century. In about 1881, this invitation was extended to the Jews of East Europe. At about the same time, violent pogroms took place in Russia, and new anti-Semitic laws were proclaimed that greatly undermined the quality of life for Jews. Also, Argentina and Russia established diplomatic relations in 1885, facilitating the exchange of information and travel between the two countries.
The combination of these events led to a wave of immigration from the Pale to Argentina. Its beginning traditionally is marked by a group of about 820 people from the vicinity of Kamenets-Podolskiy (Podolia), who arrived in Buenos Aires on August 14, 1889, aboard the S. S. Wesser. They settled as farmers in the province of Santa Fe, some 300 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.
The settlement was recognized by the province as the town of Moises Ville (Kiriat Moshe) on January 10, 1890. Their first year was extremely harsh; many of them, in particular the children, fell ill or died from malnutrition. Fortunately, their situation improved due to the intervention of Dr. Wilhelm Lowenthal, a Jewish scientist from Europe who was hired by the Government of Argentine to perform certain agricultural studies. Not only did he complain to the Argentinean authorities about the terrible situation of his brethren, but, more importantly, Dr. Lowenthal appears to be the person that influenced the German Jewish philanthropist, Baron Maurice Hirsh, to support Jewish immigration to Argentina. On August 24, 1891, the JCA was founded in London, with funds provided by Baron Hirsh, for the purpose of establishing agricultural colonies in Argentina (and later in other parts of South and North America) for the East-European Jewish immigrants.
The colony of Moises Ville was the first of a group of about 18 Jewish agricultural settlements established by the JCA in various provinces of Argentina. Here is a list of these settlements, including the year of foundation and location:
Third Period, 1905 - 1930
This period is characterized by the concentration of the new immigrants in big cities, particularly Buenos Aires.
They came mainly from Poland, Russia, Rumania, Hungary, Syria, Turkey, and Morocco, escaping poverty and persecution. However, they did not have the support of the JCA that previous immigrants enjoyed. Not only were they poor and ignorant of the language and customs of the new country, but they also had to confront the situation on their own.
These urban Jews started as low-wage workers, peddlers, small merchants and artisans, living in small, overcrowded apartments. In time they advanced socially and economically to become merchants, store owners, and professionals, and later businessmen, industrialists, and distinguished scholars, leaving their mark in almost every aspect of Argentine society.
During this period there was a significant influx of Sephardic Jews, mainly from Syria, Turkey, and Morocco. They established their own institutions and temples and constituted about 10% of the total Jewish population.
The City of Buenos Aires and its surroundings became the principal center of Jewish life in Argentina in the early years of this century. By 1934, more than half of the estimated 218,000 Jews of Argentina lived there. Within the city, two districts, Once and Villa Crespo, stood out due to their high concentration of Jewish residents. New institutions were created to satisfy the needs of the growing community: A Hevra Kedusha was established in 1900 for burial purposes, and the first Jewish cemetery of Buenos Aires was opened in 1910 in Liniers, a suburb of the big city. A Bikur Holim was created in 1900 to assist the sick and needy, leading to the establishment of a hospital (Hospital Israelita) and a home for orphans and seniors.
The Jewish population in the main cities of the central provinces also increased significantly. By 1934, about 30% of the Jewish population of Argentina lived in these provinces, leading to the formation of local Jewish institutions and cemeteries. Among the cities with the largest communities are Santa Fe and Rosario in the province of Santa Fe, and Parana and Cordoba in Entre Rios.
Fourth Period, 1930 - 1950
In the fourth period of Jewish immigration to Argentina, Jews, mainly from Germany, fled Europe escaping the madness of the Nazi regime.
At that time, the Government of Argentina started to impose restrictions on immigration due to internal political and economic problems and, therefore, raised serious obstacles to the immigration of the German Jews.
Many of them had to enter the country without proper documentation and by illegal means, making the adjustment to their new life even more difficult.
A fraction of the German families were assisted by the JCA, which established exclusively for them the colony Avigdor in 1936.
Others were settled in existing colonies of the JCA; however, the majority of German immigrants settled in big cities. Despite the fact that many of them had professional or craft skills, they could not immediately be absorbed by the economy of Argentina, and had to earn a living in low-wage, low level positions, much like their East European predecessors. Within a few decades they were able to improve their socio-economic position to become part of the elite of the Jewish community.
The German Jews created their own institutions and, for some time, were rather isolated from the mainstream of the community. The two most important institutions of the Jewish community of Argentina were established in this period. The Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas, or DAlA, was created in 1935 to protest the rise of Nazism in Germany and later became the political arm of the community.
The immigration of Jews essentially stopped after World War II. The Jewish population of Argentina peaked around 1960, when it reached approximately 310,000, and then started to decrease, due to assimilation, emigration to Israel, and emigration to other countries because of economic or political reasons. In 1982, 233,000 Jews were believed to live in Argentina.
For the genealogist, some of the most important sources of information are vital records (birth, marriage, death), kept in Argentina by an agency called Registro Civil. The Registro Civil has branches in the Federal District (Capital Federal) and in the capital cities of each one of the provinces.
Record keeping started in 1886 for the Federal District and somewhat later in the provinces. Immigration information is kept at the Direccion Nacional de Migraciones. It can also be obtained from a private institution, created a few years ago, called Centro de Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos or CEMLA.
(Note: Since the original publication of this article things have changed and today you can obtain part of the data on line or by post through CEMLA or AMIA or the AGJA)
a) vital records
b) immigration, naturalization and other government registries
c) Jewish institutions.
One of the most important, and accessible, of the resources for genealogical research in Argentina is the registry of vital records, (“Registro Civil” in Spanish). Birth, marriage, and death records can provide a wealth of information on the person or persons described in the document, as well as on his/her immediate relatives. Birth certificates may include date, place, time of birth; sex and name of child; name of parents, their ages, addresses, nationalities, and occupations; names of witnesses, their ages, marital status, nationalities, occupations, and addresses; sometimes information about the grandparents can also be found. Marriage certificates may include date and place of civil wedding, names and ages of bride and groom, their addresses, nationalities, and occupations; names, ages, addresses, and nationalities of parents; names of witnesses, their ages, marital status, nationalities, occupations, and addresses. Death records include the name, sex of the deceased, birth information, and names of the parents. Early documents were written in the Napoleonic style, newer ones have a more concise format but contain essentially the same information.
Vital records are kept at the capital city of the province in which the record was made, and at Buenos Aires, also called the Federal District (“Capital Federal”), for residents of that district. For records pertaining to the Federal District write to:
Direccion General del Registro CivilFor records pertaining to the Province of Buenos Aires (capital city of La Plata), but not to the Federal District, write to:
Direccion General del Registro Civil
Provincia de Buenos Aires
Calle 1 y 60
Ciudad de La Plata
Provincia de Buenos Aires
For records pertaining to the Province of Santa Fe write to:
For other provinces write to the: “Direccion General del Registro Civil” in the capital city of that province. Addresses for these institutions can be obtained from representatives of Argentina in the United States.
Direccion General del Registro Civil
Ciudad de Santa Fe
Provincia de Santa Fe
The law ordering the keeping of vital records was promulgated in Argentina in 1884 and implemented first, in 1886, in the Federal District and later in the provinces. The table below provides the year in which records were started in the provinces that had settlements from the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), the capital city, the year the settlement was established, and the name of nearby towns with train stations (where we can also expect to find a significant Jewish population).
These records are maintained by year in alphabetical order at the Camara Nacional Electoral.
Information on the arrival of immigrants was maintained by vessel, according to the arrival date. For each arrival there is a list of passengers, not in alphabetical order. This list may contain: name and age of passenger, nationality or religion, residence or port of departure, occupation.
This information is in different places depending on the date of arrival; Before 1882: Archivo General de la Nacion; after 1882: Direccion Nacional de Migraciones. The Centro de Estudios Migratorios para Latino-America (CEMLA) has computerized information for arrivals between 1874 and 1925 and, therefore, can often be the fastest source for those years.
There have been several censes in Argentina at irregular intervals. The first census was taken in 1869, the second in 1895, and the third in 1914. Other censes were taken in 1947, 1960, and 1980. Information about these censes can be requested from the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Y Censos.
The many institutions supporting all aspects of Jewish life and community needs may also be valuable genealogical resources. The Jewish Community of Argentina can be described as traditional rather than religious. An expression of this was the formation of social, cultural, and sports oriented institutions as gathering centers in those cities or neighborhoods where Jews lived. In every city with a significant Jewish population, one expects to find one or more Jewish social institution maintaining schools, synagogue, and cemetery. For the genealogist, the most important of these institutions is AMIA, the Kheila of Buenos Aires (whose building was destroyed in a terrorist bombing a couple of years ago). There is a temporary address for AMIA while a new building is erected on the old site:
For those interested in the rest of the country, there will be a Jewish Society in almost every province. For example in the City of Santa Fe, capital of the Province of Santa Fe we find the Comunidad Israelita de Santa Fe, and the Sociedad Hebrea Sefaradi.
A note of caution: I have included many addresses in this article, however, in my personal research I have not used mail inquiries. I have asked relatives to get documents for me or, on a few occasions, have requested documents personally during visits to Argentina. If you decide to write, please share with the rest of us the results of your inquiry; with a note in Jewishgen, or a letter to me. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Argentina has been formed very recently. They may be of great help in the future, but I would suggest not overwhelming them with requests and queries at this time. They are busy enough with their own research and the organization of their new society.
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in this article:
Camara Nacional Electoral
Poder Judicial de la Nacion
25 de Mayo 245
Archivo General de la Nacion
Avenida Leandro N. Alem 246
Direccion Nacional de Migraciones
Avenida Antartida Argentina 1335
Centro de Estudios Migratorios para Latino-America (CEMLA)
Avenida Independencia 20
Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Y Censos
Julio A. Roca 609
AMIA (temporary address)
AMIA (permanent address)
Comunidad Israelita de Santa Fe
4 de Enero 2539
Santa Fe, Santa Fe
Sociedad Hebrea Sefaradi
Santa Fe, Santa Fe