In honor of Bolivia’s declaration of independence from Spain on August 6, 1825, Jewish Treats presents a history of Jews in Bolivia. 

Jewish history in Bolivia begins in the days before it was Bolivia, when the region was still part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. At that time, as in many parts of South America, the original European settlement consisted of many Marranos, Jews who kept their identity a secret while pretending to be Catholic. While there are remnants of Jewish culture, such as a custom of sitting on the ground during mourning, the original Jewish settlers faded away when the Inquisition was established in 1570.

Bolivian Jewish history does not begin again until the early 20th century with the arrival of small groups of Jews. One Alexandrian immigrant, Isaac Antaki, opened a large textile factory in the city of Cochabamba and helped establish a Jewish community and built a synagogue. Outside of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, and in addition to Santa Cruz, Cochabamba is one of the few Bolivian places that maintains a Jewish community to this day.

Major Jewish immigration to Bolivia did not take place until the 1930s, with the rise of the Nazis to power in Europe. At first, thousands of Jews were allowed into the country, many of them aided by Maurice Hochschild, a Jewish immigrant who had made his fortune in Bolivian tin mines. By 1939, as in many countries, public sentiment had turned against open immigration (and the government against Hochschild, who was imprisoned both in 1939 and in 1944). Although immigration was closed to Jews as of 1940, small groups did manage to enter the country.

Following the war, economic conditions led many of the Jewish immigrants to emigrate to other countries, but a small Jewish population remains in the three cities mentioned above.

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