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Reluctant partners: Juan Peron and the Jews of Argentina, 1946-1955.


The purpose of this paper is to present the relationship between Juan and Eva Peron and the Jews during Peron's first term in office from 1946 to 1955,(1) and the balance sheet of how the Jewish community fared under this volatile leader and his equally, if not more, volatile wife. Space limitations do not permit a consideration of Peron's second ill-fated government (1973-1974) nor a study of his foreign policy toward Israel, as exemplified mainly by Argentina's United Nations position in 1947 and 1948. Before undertaking a study of Peron and the Jews from 1946 to 1955, consideration will be given to a brief history of the Jewish Argentine community and two powerful forces that it has had to contend with throughout this century - anti-Semitism and nationalism. This historical background will place the Peronist phenomenon, and its implications for the Jews, in perspective.

Historical Background: The Argentine Jewish Community,

Anti-Semitism and Argentine Nationalism

Approximately 2,200,000 immigrants established residence in Argentina between 1870 and 1910. In 1914, about 33% of the population was not of native birth. Mass European immigration supplied workers, which facilitated the rapid expansion of Argentina's infrastructure and export sector prior to World War I. In the process, society was also altered, resulting in the growth of the middle and working classes. Jewish immigration initially represented a very small number of the new arrivals. Following 1889, however, large numbers of Russian Jews reached Argentine shores and they were the great majority of the 110,000 Jews in the country by 1914. By the mid-1930s, the Jewish population had grown to approximately 230,000, or 2% of the total population.(2)

Before proceeding, it is essential to note an anti-Semitic event of central importance in the history of Argentine Jewry, the "tragic week,"(3) which encompassed both a general strike and a pogrom against the Jewish community. The middle class-based Radical Party and the upper classes feared that this general strike was being perpetrated by foreign anarchism and communism. Russian Jewish immigrants of Buenos Aires were suspected by thc authorities be a significant contributor to "maximalism," as communism was labelled at that time in Argentina, resulting in violence against Jews. The "tragic week" foreshadowed more systematic outbreaks of anti-Semitism, as occurred during the period from 1930 to 1945.(4)

Regarding Argentine nationalism, it may be traced through some of its most influential proponents: Ricardo Rojas, such erstwhile liberals as Paul Groussac and Alfredo Colmo, and Manuel Galvez. The centenary of Argentina's independence (1910) marked the culmination of Argentine liberalism. Since 1910, struggles resulting from the social and labor demands of immigrant workers produced a hostile reaction on the part of the liberal ruling elite.(5) The latter, however, also recognized the necessity of granting social and political reforms to the newly emerging middle classes, which led to the presidential victory in 1916 of the Union Civica Radical (i.e., Radical Party) and its leader, Hipolito Yrigoyen. This triumph marked the first time that a popularly elected party gained political power in Argentina. Thus, the oligarchy not only had to deal with the demands of foreign immigrants, but also had begun to question the benefits acquired by the majority as a consequence of the opening up of the electoral process.(6)

Nationalists like Ricardo Rojas and Manuel Galvez judged the Jews of Argentina within the context of a "nationalistic restoration."(7) Most liberals of that pivotal period viewed Jews with prejudice, indicative of a shift in liberal thought vis-i-vis the Jews in the form of questioning the wisdom of promoting immigration. The major newspapers, La Nacion and La Prensa, also began a campaign against Jewish schools(8) under the pretext of preserving the spiritual heritage of native Argentines from their "foreignizing" influence. Ricardo Rojas emerged as the self-appointed leader of that campaign,(9) whose basic premise was that the immigrant's cultural identity conflicted with being Argentine.(10)

The issue of "double loyalty" was another indicator of the relationship between nationalism and the Jews of Argentina. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, in favor of a national homeland for the Jews, won the enthusiastic support of Argentine Jewry, but also drew the attention of notable intellectual liberals to an inherent conflict: the Zionism of Argentines facing the pressures of assimilation. For example, Paul Groussac, an important Argentine-French intellectual and director of the National Library, took issue with what he termed "nationalistic" Zionism; he viewed it as being in conflict with Argentine nationalism, which should take precedence. In this sense, Groussac was one of the first liberals receptive to a very crucial aspect of anti-Zionist nationalism: intolerance of alleged Jewish double loyalty.(11)

This belief in the incompatibility between Zionism and Argentine nationalism gained credibility in the 1920s and became entrenched in succeeding years.(12) The question of suspect loyalty was also found in the views of another famous Argentine, Clemente Onelli, Director of the Zoological Garden, who protested against the "separatist particularism," i.e., separate identity, of the Jews.(13) But Onelli's concern went beyond that of the "particularism of the Jew, to the very condition of being a Hebrew." He contended that Jews compromised Argentine ideals by hindering the integration of all races and nationalities within the nation's borders. Thus, Onelli wished to test Jewish

national loyalty ... via a standard not demanded of any other foreign


their assimilation, (or) ... de-Judaization; that is, their integration

into the country, stripped of their ancestral atavisms.(14)

Another nationalistic liberal, Alfredo Colmo(15) stated that Jews were unwilling to assimilate, and constituted a potentially powerful and autonomous force, which represented ati affront to the institutions, laws, and practices of the countries in which the lived. Jews, he maintained, did not have the right to make their condition as foreigners supersede that of other Argentines. Rather, Colmo concluded, Jews born in Argentina were Argentine above anything else.

While Groussac, Onelli, and Colmo voiced the concerns of liberal nationalists, Manuel Galvez, ail important conservative Argentine nationalist who later expressed his admiration for fascism, perhaps best exemplified the position of Argentitie Hispano-Catholic nationalism vis-a-vis the Jews. His opposition to the Jewish immigration reflected a concern for the racial degeneration of Hispanidad (the essence of being Spanish). While Galvez was willing to tolerate the presence of Jews already in Argentina, he was opposed to an increase of their number, since at issue was an immigration which compromised Argentinidad and its Latin spirit. This reflected the basis of the nationalists' ambivalent prejudice toward Jews, as expressed by Galvez: in effect, the Jew was "a conspirator against nationalism ..."(17)

Regarding Peron's relation to, and use of, Argetine nationalism,(18) he "amended right-wing natiotialism, adding substance to rhetoric in a class and cultural appeal" to lower class native Argentines. For eight decades they had been ignored and looked down upon, but Peron told them that they were, in fact, the essence of being Argentine (i.e., of Argentinidad) and that he would be their benefactor.(19) Peron's 1946 electoral victory resulted from his adept exploitation of the discontents generated by the prior, infamous decade. The far right advocated nativism, which emphasized tradition and order in a reaction to modernity and political compromise. Nativism also had a strong anti-Semitic component. Peron combined and strengthened this nativism with appeals to populisni and nationalism. Aside from a brief flirtation with anti-Semitism, when Peron was closer to the position of right wing nationalism (which he later disavowed), he was not a racist, nor did he ever deny Argentine immigrants a place in the country. The entrepreneurs of the 1930s did well economically during his first term in office. Peron enhanced his populist image by portraying the rich as enemies, and he utilized force and intimidation to make others conform to his will, including some of his own supporters. Peron "was a bully, a bully who suffered bigots, but he was not one of them." In sum, Peronism was based "more on differences of income, status, and political allegiance than on race, ethnicity, or any combination of the two."(20)

Immediate Historical Background, 1943-1945

Peron's earlier political career provided little indication of his future accommodation with the Jewish community, or that he would differ substantially from other Argentine nationalists like Galvez. His association with the previous military junta, as Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare and Vice President, did not seem to augur well for the Jews. While Peron was not an ideological anti-Semite, his path to power, as part of this junta from 1943 to 1945, was closely linked to fascist ideology, and he greatly admired Benito Mussolini.(22) As labor minister, Peron was careful not to offend Jews in public speeches, but, at least quietly, he encouraged his followers in their anti-Jewish campaigns when he was still seeking political power, in late 1945. Appeals to anti-Semitism were made often and successfully for the purpose of attracting crowds to Peronist events.(23)

If Peron personally did not hold any anti-Semitic or right wing beliefs, the junta that he served, and which led him to power, was replete with those who did harbor such views. Among the most notorious of Peron's fascist colleagues was Gustavo Martinez Zuviria, who was appointed Justice and Education Minister in October 1943. Under the pen name Hugo Wast, Martinez Zuviria was a popular writer who produced blatantly anti-Semitic works to enhance his readership. The most notorious of these was the two-part novel El Kahal, Oro (1935).(24) Martinez Zuviria also demonstrated his authoritarian tendencies as Director of the National Library from 1931 to 1955, when he censored standard works that he viewed as too liberal for public consumption.(25) To the Jewish community's chagrin, Martinez Zuviria and his fascist colleagues carried out a campaign of harassment and repression. Laws targeted against Jews went into effect on August 19, 1943, including bans on kosher meat and Jewish publications. This anti-Semitic campaign attracted the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt, who expressed grave concern over the anti-Semitic and Nazi character of such actions.(26) While the military government of General Pedro Ramirez acceded to Roosevelt's wishes by lifting the ban on Jewish publishing, it still continued to display its anti-Jewish prejudices. For instance, the federal interventor in Entre Rios, who implemented national laws in this province, stated that Jewish and Masonic benefit society charters would not be renewed.(27) Acts of violence against Jews complemented these attacks on Jewish culture. One journalist reported that Peron's police allowed hoodlums to paint on a sidewalk, "Kill a Jew and be a patriot!"(28) and the New York Times reported that

alarm and even tcrror are beginning to spread in the Jewish quarter because

for some time all gatherings of Colonel Peron's followers have been a signal

for some action against Jews.(29)

These fears were based on more than just rumors and hostile rallies. Synagogues throughout Argentina were periodically bombed, and Jews were often victims of anti-Semitic gangs. Invariably, those who carried out such crimes received tacit government approval and protection, combined with public indifference. As World War II drew to a close, Peron, ever adept in gauging the political wind, lessened his support of the Axis and reluctantly leaned more in the direction of the United States. In doing so, he was careful to demonstrate that he was not anti-Semitic, although he would not take steps to protect Jews from right wing gangs or the general discrimination that he had helped to foster. It was not until seven months after Germany's surrender that he publicly stated that participants in anti-Semitic demonstrations exceeded all democratic bounds and could not be a part of any Argentine political organization.(30)

Behind the scenes, fascist-leaning government officials were dismissed in a quiet but steady manner. Martinez Zuviria was dismissed as early as February 1944. As World World II ended, the Argentine government hastened to promote a democratic image. Government officials were quick to condemn anti-Semitic acts in a reflection of Peron's new liberal viewpoint. For example, General Felipe Urdapileta, the Interior Minister, stated in late 1945 that such acts were repudiated by the government, which viewed them as allen to the nation's sense of tolerance and justice.(31)

Peron and the Jews, 1946-1955

During Peron's rule, the Jewish community was a hesitant partner of the not so consistent Argentine leader. For example, while he spoke highly of the new state of Israel, he instructed the Argentine delegation to the United Nations to abstain on the U.N. vote for Israeli statehood. He claimed to sympathize withjewish refugees of the Holocaust, yet restricted Jewish immigration.(32) He expressed admiration for the Jewish community and its official organizational representative, DAIA, or Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas, but, at the same time, he established a rival Peronist kehillah representative organization, Organizacion Israelita Argentina (OIA).(33) However, despite, these and other inconsistencies, the Jewish community decided early on that it was best to "play ball" with, rather than oppose, the powerful Argentine leader.(34)

Peron's rhetoric constituted a vital component of his political style,(35) and he displayed a dynamism and charisma which symbolized national pride. Thus, his pro-Jewish rhetoric and willingness to accept the Jewish community as a significant component of Argentine society helped calm latent Argentine anti-Semitism. For example, he greeted the Jews of Argentina in September 1946, on the occasion of the Jewish New Year:

The Argentine Nation has always respected all creeds and ideals because, being a civilized country, her Constitution and her line of conduct are based on this principle.

Therefore, as President of the Argentine people, I neither can nor wish to tolerate any sort of discrimination. I judge all citizens of this country not by their thoughts, but by their actions.

As for myself, I have given proof - not only by word but by deed - that my judgment is not prejudiced. For the sake of humanity, I wish that all nations and leaders might act with equal tolerance ....

Therefore, the President of Argentina shares in the celebration of the Jewish New Year holidays with the same sentiment as he shares the joys and sorrows of each Argentine citizen. And so, I take this opportunity to convey, through the President of ... [DAIA], my greetings to all Jewish citizens.(36)

These elevated words were negated, however, by his sometimes condescending attitude toward Jews collectively. Perhaps he even fancied himself as a European prince defending the Jews under his charge. In a July 5, 1951 speech, Peron praised Jewish humility:

When a Jew comes to ask that his rights be respected, he does this humbly,

without arrogance and without pressing that he have justice. This demonstration

is for me ... the greatest quality that a man can have who claims

his rights.(37)

The Peronist leader's position on the question of Jewish rights, however, was often clearly hypocritical, particularly regarding anti-Semitic activities. For example, a wave of anti-Semitic publications caused Jewish protest in May 1950. When the distribution of these publications continued unabated, DAIA directly appealed to Peron, who offered only a bland, noncommittal response.

Fortunately, the periodicals mentioned in your above-cited letter in no way

represent the national sentiment, despite the fact that they enjoy the unconditional

benefits that stem from freedom of the press, which the laws of our

country assure everyone.(38)

Peron, however, was hardly a champion of freedom of expression and of the press, for he was zealous in his attempts to replace publications critical of his regime with state-controlled ones. But his insincere and evasive answer foreclosed any further discussion. This indifferent attitude resulted widespread distribution of anti-Jewish material throughout the Peron presidency.(39)

Moreover, Peron's call for restraint on the part of his more rabid nationalist anti-Semitic followers(40) was largely due to pragmatic rather than moral considerations. In taped memoirs, the recorded his reply to a German who, having fled to Argentina following World War II, exhorted Peron to take care of the Jewish question. Peron reasoned that if Hitler could not solve the Jewish problem with 100 million Germans, then how could he do anything with only 20 million Argentines. Furthermore, Peron noted that it was impossible to kill or deport the Jews. Thus, he concluded, the best manner in which to deal with Jews was to integrate them as much as possible into Argentine society.(41) This reflected Peronist opposition to anti-Semitic nationalists who opposed Jewish integration into Argentine society. Thus, Peronism advocated assimilation for the Jews of Argentina. This policy resulted in no attacks on the Jewish community during Peron's first administration.(42) But while some Jews did assimilate, the Jewish community as a whole managed to maintain its identity despite these Peronist pressures.

Besides the fact that Peron did not share Nazi racial beliefs, his response to the Jewish problem (i.e., assimilation) also marked another distinction between his regime and one attempting to impose a truly Nazi-fascistic government in Argentina. This reflected his inherent dislike of violence as a major component in the achievement of his political ends. While he frequently would look the other way when violence was committed by others on his behalf, and would occasionally resort to inflammatory speeches, he never was inclined to make violence itself a major feature of his political philosophy, as Mussolini or Hitler did.(43)

Peron's position regarding the issue of Jewish immigration after World War II was not wholly favorable, but it was an improvement over Argentina's prior policies. His boasts of empathy and assistance for Jewish refugees were essentially overblown rhetoric and, in spite of his promises of government understanding, DAIA had to continue to petition the Argentine government, even following Peron's demise in 1955, by calling for the removal of artificial barriers to immigration and a general amnesty, for illegal immigrants.(44)

Tactfully, DAIA did not point to Peron's willingness to allow Germans, a number of whom were war criminals, into Argentina following World War II. His position on the matter of immigration was neither pro-German nor anti-Jewish, but merely cynical and pragmatic. Jewish refugees, who were poor, could not offer the large bribes that the Germans did to influence Peron's decisions. Furthermore, he discovered that restrictions on immigration allowed him to manipulate the Jewish community, and thus he was hesitant to relinquish this leverage.(45)

In the early days of his regime, the immigration of agricultural and technical workers from Southern Europe, Ireland, Belgium, and The Netherlands, was favored, rather than the thousands of displaced Jews then seeking refuge.(46) Until mid-1947, only a few hundred Jews arrived in Argentina. Thereafter, a more favorable policy emerged, with the dismissal of the Immigration Director, who had a well-documented fascist and anti-Semitic history.(47) According to Haim Avni, a total of 4,000 Jewish immigrants arrived from 1946 to 1949 with Peron in power, relative to a total population of about 16 million.(48) From 1933 to 1947, neither the United States, Australia, Canada, nor other countries with a prior history of admitting immigrants, opened their doors to Jewish immigrants. After the war, their record with respect to Jewish immigration improved slightly. Peo6n's record, from 1946 to 1949, relative to total population, was less favorable to Jewish D.P.s than that of Australia and Canada, but was as favorable as that of the United States. According to Mark Wischnitzer, an authority on Jewish immigration, 54,000 Jews came to the United States from the end of World War II to 1948, relative to a total population of about 150 million. This compares to Australia, which, in a similar period, admitted 6,000 Jews relative to a population of about 7.4 million, and Canada, which admited 7,500 Jews relative to a total population of about 12.6 million.(49)

In addition, as alluded to earlier, Peron sought direct control and leverage over the Jewish community by forming the rival Jewish communal organization, Organizacion Israelita Argentina (OIA). Led by the Peron loyalist, Pablo Manguel, the OIA automatically lent its full approval to Peron, from its first communication in 1947 until Peron's fall from power in 1955.(50) For his part, Peron attempted to enhance the OIA's prestige by directing all of his goodwill messages to the Jewish community through it. He always made a point of emphasizing that the OIA was the one Jewish organization struggling for democracy and the rights of minorities. Regarding his revision of the Argentine Constitution, Peron in 1949 pointed to Article 26, which barred racial discrimination in Argentina, and credited that article to the efforts of the OIA.(51)

Peron's dual manipulation of the Jewish community, via immigration limitations and the puppet organization, OIA, coalesced when he gave the OIA authority to select Jews for citizenship and reject those who were not eligible. Proper immigration documents, obtained through the OIA, were even required for applicants who had close relatives in the country. This patronage award to the Peronist Jewish organization hindered Jewish immigration because Jews were the only ones who required the approval of two authorities, the government and the OIA.(52)

The Jewish community's complicated relations with the Peron regime had an additional factor to contend with, the mercurial Eva Maria Duarte de Peron, Peron's wife.(53) Evita was a dominating presence in both the Peron government and in the country as a whole, an almost unheard of occurrence in a male-oriented society. Her insatiable quest and will for power even surpassed that of Peron, and greatly facilitated his rise to, and retention of, power. Evita's was "the iron character around which Peron wrapped his flexible ambitions," resulting in it formidable political partnership.

The Jewish community, thus, also had to deal with Evita. She moralized politics by continually condemning the rich and other alleged foes of the working class. In adjition, she personalized politics by the use of extra-legal measures to intimidate enemies. Her tendencies toward both democracy and demagoguery were so powerful that perhaps even she could not distinguish between the two. Both of these characteristics were clearly present in her behavior toward the Jews of Argentina.

Always aware of the political worth of public posturing, Eva became more famous than her husband for her passionate speeches in the cause of all deprived Argentines. She made eloquent and sincere appeals for equal rights, frequently before specially selected, Jewish audiences. However, her positions toward the Jewish community were so capricious and frequently irresponsible as to negate her attempts to appear benevolent. Her vendetta against the Jewish Groisman family in 1950-2 vividly demonstrated the dark side of Eva, and epitomized the tenuous situation of Argentine Jews vis-a-vis the Perons. The impetus for the Groisman incident was Evita's regular use of extortion for business contributions to the Eva Maria Duarte de Peron Social Aid Foundation, which was both funded and managed by the government. As Evita was quick to point out, the foundation promoted the construction of schools, hospitals, and low cost hotels. However, there were rumors that foundation funds were also used to further Peron's political and economic interests.(54) A number of businessmen made large contributions to the foundation, due more to practical than idealistic considerations. The Groismans, owners of the famous Buenos Aires Mu-Mu candy factory, unfortunately, did not perceive this nuance.

A long-simmering conflict between the Groisman family and Evita reached its height when the foundation ordered approximately $10,000 worth of candy destined to poor children during the Christmas season, in her name. The Groismans filled the order and forwarded a bill, which enraged Evita, who was seeking simple political extortion. The Groisman family then pressed for payment, which proved to be both a momentous and totally disastrous decision.

Evita already disliked the Groismans because one of the brothers, a family business lawyer, was a well-known opposition socialist leader. It is unclear whether the billing for the candy order incurred Evita's final wrath or merely served as an excuse to lash out at the political opposition. What is certain, however, was her vindictive campaign against this family and their company. Official "inspectors" quickly visited the factory, publicly announcing that it was infested with rodents. They further claimed that the candy was poisonous, an outrageous charge worthy of the most fervent anti-Semite. In short order, the factory was shut down, the owners evicted, and their 700 employees thrown out of work. The Groismans were ruined financially, and the Jewish community was anguished over these developments due to Evita's great popularity with the Argentine masses, who would be inclined to believe what she said. Her shrill claim that this Jewish family was literally poisoning the nation was the material of which pogroms are fashioned.

The Groismans pressed Jewish community leaders to defend them in this matter, but these officials were most reluctant to take issue directly with the Perons. While DAIA did offer considerable funds for a legal defense, no lawyers were willing to jeopardize their careers, for fear of Peronist retribution. The Groisman family, however, would not back down. Following unsuccessful appeals to a number of community leaders, they went to Rabbi Amram Blum, who was acquainted with Peron. Rabbi Blum was the ideal intermediary, assuring the Groisillans of his determination to broach the matter with Peron. Initially, Blum visited with community leaders, but his plan was quickly rejected, though he made the case that they should not remain indifferent to the Groisman's fate, since a similar one could await them. These leaders, however, wanted to avold a confrontation with Peron and warned that if Blum followed through on his plan to see the Argentine president, he should in no way make any claims to speak for any other community official or institution. Guillermo Schlesinger, the community's senior rabbi, was more direct, suggesting that Blum, new to the country, should keep out of political matters altogether. This should not imply that the Jewish communal establishment was callously indifferent to this situation, which was extremely complicated and perilous. However, if the Jewish leadership had confronted Peron and labelled Eva's accusations as false, this might have incurred Peron's wrath, which could have been directed against other segments of the Jewish community and had the potential for provoking state repression and anti-Semitic riots. At the very least, the Jewish establishment might reasonably have had such concerns, which would necessarily have overshadowed the plight of one Jewish family (i.e. the Groismans'), considering that the safety of the whole community could have been jeopardized. In the opinion of several community leaders, Blum was idealistic but shortsighted in his courageous attempt to restore a family's business, which could have had dangerous consequences for the Jews had Peron been offended by such an overture.

Blum, nevertheless, arranged a meeting with Peron, which took place during the intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the long interim, over one year, between the closing of the factory and this meeting, two important events had occurred which affected the situation; most significant was Eva Peron's premature death due to cancer in July 1952, which definitely made Blum's task easier. At the same time, however, the longer the factory remained dormant, the more difficult it became to reopen it. In addition, several of Peron's advisors were inclined not to restart the business. Thus, Blum still had to overcome substantial obstacles.

The meeting began on a positive note, with Peron warmly greeting the rabbi. In the course of the conversation, Peron was impressed by Blum's courage in bringing up this sensitive issue. Blum explained that the whole Jewish community was concerned and insecure about the negative implications of the Groisman episode, and that Peron's favorable intervention in the matter would greatly reassure them. As a token gesture, Peron summoned the Minister of Commerce, who was a suspect anti-Semite. The latter argued that a reopening of the plant would take several months, and that the long layoff of its employees would complicate thcir repayment for time lost from work. It appeared that Blum had lost his case, for Peron seemed to go along with the minister's opinion. As the meeting was drawing to a close, however, Blum indicated to Peron that Yom Kippur was approaching. He explained to the Argentine president that God forgives all for the sins of the past year on that day and, in a similar fashion, the rabbi then appealed to Peron to forgive the Groisman family and bring this positive New Year's message to the Jewish community.

This risky but brilliant strategy proved to be successful. Peron was taken in by this praise and the drama of granting a large favor to the Jews at the time of this most holy of days. It may be speculated that Peron was sincerely touched by Blum's eloquent appeal or perhaps he thought that, by agreeing with him, he could enhance his popularity with, and influence over, the Jews. Regardless of the president's iylotives, the outcome marked a victory for the courageous rabbi and the beleaguered family. Just prior to Yom Kippur, Peron and Blum jointly, announced on the radio the reopening of the Groisman candy factory.

The Groisman incident reflected Peronist treatment of the Jews. Though not overtly anti-Semitic, Juan and Eva Peron nonetheless frequently endangered the individual and collective interests of Jews through their capricious actions. Simultaneously, however, they kept open the channels of communication with the Jewish community and were always willing to entertain their requests. It seemed as though the only consistent element in Peron's stance toward the Jews was his willingness to listen to anyone who would most satisfy his self-interest.(55)

In the final analysis, however, Peron's opportunism vis-a-vis the Jewish community was in no way totally negative. Notwithstanding his frequently shallow rhetoric and inconsistent positions, the number of precedents established by him in the area of Jewish rights was quite impressive. He overturned established Argentine tradition by appointing. Jews to significant government posts, like Pablo Manguel as Argentina's first Ambassador to Israel, Liberto Rabovitsch to federal judge, and Abraham Krislavin as sub-secretary to the Minister of the Interior. Jews also held important positions in the Peronist party structure. Most notable among these officials was congressional deputy Jose Alexenicer, who held a leadership position in the important interior city of Cordoba. The army, a stronghold of anti-Semitism, also was affected by Peron's public commitment into eliminating discrimination in Argentina. For example, he insisted that the army grant official leave to all Jewish soldiers during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Peron's dictatorial tendencies, abhorrent as they may have been, were not really linked to anti-Seinitism. For instance, his suppression of opposition newspapers did not specifically target. Jews or blame them for his actions, despite the considerable presence of Jewish journalists in the press, who could have been used as targets had Peron chosen to. A clear case in point was Peron's nationalization of Argentina's major daily newspaper, La Prensa, in retaliation for its highly critical attitude toward his regime. He later reopened the newspaper after installing Peronist unionists. The Peron administration selected Cesar Tiempo, a great twentieth century Argentine jewish writer and playwright, as editor of La Prensa's famous literary supplement. To his credit, Peron did not attempt to justify his campaign against the newspaper by invoking images of a Jewish conspiracy which controlled the media.(56)


The election of Juan Domingo Peron as president of Argentina in 1946, largely due to his appeals to the working class and Argentine nationalism, marked a new era for that nation. The first meaningful changes in the country's social structure took place in his regime. His populism included the notion of an industrialized nation consisting of a multiple class alliance. Through this alliance, continued economic growth would ease inevitable social conflict, thereby substantially altering the direction of Argentine society.(57)

The Peron period had a great and mostly positive impact on the Jews of Argentina. Thus, in spite of continued anti-Semitic activities by proponents of right wing nationalism, in 1949 the American Jewish Committee concluded that, generally, there was little for the Argentine Jews to complain about.(58) Peron's pro-Jewish stance, questionable just prior to his assumption of power in 1945, had become a significant component of his policies. Following 1948, relations between Peron and the Jews were reasonably cordial.

Anti-Semites and ultra-nationalists were not part of mainstream Argentine politics, and were largely held in check under Peron.(59) During the Peronist era in general there was a decrease in anti-Semitism.(60) Despite restrictions onjewish immigration, and tolerance for Nazis escaping Europe, Peron himself was not anti-Semitic. He liberalized prior Argentine immigration policies toward Jews, and his positive rccord in that regard is as good as that of the United States, through not as good as other democracies, such as Australia and Canada, with a prior history of admitting immigrants. His economic policies benefited Jews, who experienced greater economic mobility and opportunity than ever before.(61)

This was the case as long as Peron remained in power. The military and segments of the upper class, however, helped to overthrow him in September, 1955. Together with the Church, both had been major proponents of anti-Semitism in the past. With Peron out of the way to restrain them, they enjoyed a political resurgencc, which resulted in a new wave of anti-Semitism.(62) With a few brief respites, this initiated a spiraling anti-Semitic trend, extending from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, when Raul Alfonsin was democratically elected president in 1983.

With the exception of the Groisman incident, the Jews under Peron's "benign neutrality" were relatively prosperous and secure. By the time of Peron's ouster he had complied, in many respects, an admirable record. However, some have noted perceptively that, in spite of this record, Argentine Jewish liberals still portray Peronism as anti-Semitic, even with all of the benefits that the regime brought to them.(63) It required many years before such Jews were willing to disassociate Peron from his anti-Semitic supporters, and they never did so completely. During his regime, the Jewish community was in a state of intimidation, since there was always the chance that Peron could turn against it, although he never did.(64)

Thus, most Jews resented the Argentine leader, more due to his dictatorial methods than his opinions toward them. Former Russian and German Jews who fled to Argentina were all too aware of the perlis of being under a dictator, however momentarily benevolent he might be.(65)

Argentine Jews generally remember the Peron period as one of reckless government and as a tragic time in the nation's history. Some believed that he made too many concessions to the masses to win their support, and did not govern or manage the economy well. Jews considered themselves fortunate, but not because they believed that Peron protected them. Rather, according to an anonymous Jewish businessman, Jews were lucky despite Peron, for the atmosphere was ripe for a pogrom, though none ever materialized. Somehow, then, failed to detect any influen of Peron in this circumstance, despite the dictatorial power these same Jews ascribed to him. Jewish intellectuals also were concerned regarding Peron, who harmed higher education with his "reforms" and repression of the universities, because jews wei-e represetite(i iii pi-oportioiiiitely lilghei- numbers, and were, thus, likely to bc disproportionately affected by his inteference.

Not all Jews, however, hold negative views. Some concede that small businessmen profited from Peron's general promotion of industrial and commercial activities. Young Jews saw more employment opportunities open up in previously restricted areas, such as civil service. Economic prosperity under him afforded a majority of jews upward mobility from the working class to the middle class.(66) Most of all, Jewish community leaders pointed out that if they humored him, then he generally would respond in a benevolent manner.

While Peron was not totally successful in portraying himself as a friend of the Jewish community, he acted more favorably to the Jews than did the preceding military ruiers during the period 1930 to 1945. And it was ironic that Peron's long series of successors, both civilian and military, were either less inclined or less able to control outbreaks of anti-Semitism than was Peron in his first term in office. Considering the fact that Jews in Argentina have been constantly vulnerable, they were fortunate that Peron's particular style of demagoguery prompted him to try to be popular with all groups, as opposed to looking for scapegoats. While not ignoring his authoritarian tendencies and his expediency in governance, Peron did make an effort to integrate Jews into Argentine society on an equal basis. Despite all of his deficiencies, he still developed into a head of state who was among the most benevolent towards the Jews in Argentina's modern history.(67)

(1.) Much has been written about Peron and the Peron period. See, for example, Robert J. Alexander, The Peron Era (New York: Russell & Russell, 1955, 1965); Robert J. Alexander, Juan Domingo Peron: A History (Boulder, Colo.: West Press, 1979); Robert D. Crassweller, Peron and the Enigmas of Argentina (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987); and Frederick C. Turner and Jose Enrique Miguens, eds., Juan Peron and the Reshaping of Argentina, Pitt Latin American series (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983). (2.) Sandra McGee Deutsch, "The Argentine Right and the Jews, 1919-1933," Journal of Latin American Studies, 18, no. 1 (May 1986): 114-115. (3.) Daniel J. Elazar, Jewish Communities in Frontier Societies: Argentina, Australia, and South Africa (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1983), p. 104. (4.) Victor Mirelman, "The Semana Tragica of 1919 and the Jews in Argentina," Jewish Social Studies 37(January 1975): 61-62. (5.) Leonardo Senkman, "El nacionalismo y los judios, 1909-1932," Nueva Presencia, 1 no. 3 (July 23, 1977): 6. (6.) Ibid. (7.) lbid. (8.) See, for example, La Prensa, December 15, 1908, p. 9 and La Nacion, June 19, 1914, P. 11. (9.) Senkman, Op. cit., p. 6. See also Ricardo Rojas, La restauracion nacionalista: informe sobre educacion (Buenos Aires: Ministerio de Justicia e Instruccion Publica, 1909), esp. pp. 335-336 and 341. (10.) Senkman, Op. cit., p. 6. (11.) Paul Groussac, Le sionisme et le prise de Jerusalem," Le Courrie de La Plata, December 30, 1917. For an analysis of Groussac's remarks, see Senkman, Op. cit., p. 6 and Salomon Resnick, "Paul Groussac y el sionismo," Vida Nuestra, 1 no. 7 (January 1918): 151-154. (12.) Senkman, Op. cit., p. 6. (13.) Clemente Onelli, "El sionismo inegral," Vida Nuestra 1 no. 12 (June 1918): 286-287. For rejoinders to Onelli, see Leon Kibrick, "El Sr. Onelli y la questi(in judia, " in this same issue, and Abraham Bublick, "El Sr. Onelli y el sionismo," Israel no. 22 (1918): 458-459 and Israel no. 23 (1918): 478-482. (14.) Senkman, Op. cit., p. 6. (15.) Alfredo Colmo, "Israel en America," Vida Nuestra 1 no. 12 (June 1918): 274-275. (16.) Senkman, Op. cit., p. 6. (17.) Gilvez's views are found in Manuel Galvez, "Antisemitismo," Criterio, 5 no. 239 September 29, 1932): 300-302, and Senkman, Op. cit., p. 6. (18.) For further discussion of Peron's place within the larger context of Argentine nationalism see, among others, Juan Jose Hernandez Arregui, La formacion de la conciencia nacional, 1930-1960, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Hachea, 1970), pp. 393-435, and Marvin Goldwert, Democracy, Militarism, and Nationalism in Argentina, 1930-1966: And Interpretation, Latin American monographs, no. 25 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972), pp. 75-139. (19.) Bernard E. Segal, "Jews and the Argentine Center: A Middleinan Minority," in The Jewish Presence in Latin America, Thematic Studies in Latin America, Judith Laikin Elkin an(i Gilbert W. Merkx, eds. (Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987), p. 206. (20.) Ibid, pp. 207 and 208. For more information on the infamous decade serving as a backdrop to Peron's rise to power, see Mark Falcoff and Ronald H. Dolkart, eds., Prologue to Peo6n: Argentina in Depression and War, I930-1943 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975). (21.) For Jewish perceptions of Peron reflecting their initial skepticism of him prior to his assumption of power in June 1946, see, for example, Alfred Temkin, "Argentina: The Choice Before Peron,"Commentary vol. 1 no. 8 (June 1946): 14-21; Ray Josephs, "Argentina's Jews Face Trouble," National Jewish Monthly 60 no. 11 July/August 1946): 396-397; Ray Josephs, "Don't Cheer for Peron," National Jewish Monthly vol. 61 no. 3 (November 1946): 88-89, 109; Sidney Hertzberg, "Argentina," Commentary vol. 1 no. 3 January 1946): 41; and Letter from Joseph M. Proskauer, President, American Jewish Committee, to James F. Byrnes, U.S. Secretary of State, November 28, 1945, File 835.4016/11-2845, National Archives, Washington, D.C. (22.) Robert A. Potash, The Army and Politics in Argentina, 1928-1945. Yrigoyen to Peron (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969), p. 211. (23.) Robert Weisbrot, The Jews of Argentina From the Inquisition to Peron (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979), p. 227. See also Arnaldo Cortesi, "Peronistas Renew Anti-Jewish Moves: Police Look On as Mobs Storm Buenos Aires Streets - Fear Spreads in Community," The New York Times, November 28, 1945, p. 8. (24.) Hugo Wast, El Kahal, Oro (Buenos Aires: Editores de Hugo Wast, 1938). According to Dagobert D. Runes, Kahal was the title of a book by "Jewish renegade. Jacob Brofman in Russia (1869)," which contained charges of Jewish conspiracies similar to those in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which was "another framed anti-Jewish plot deriving from a Russian publication." Kahal is also one of the terms for Jewish communal self-government, particularly in the Middle Ages and up to the eighteenth century. See Dagobert D. Runes, ed., Concise Dictionary of Judaism (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959), p. 143, and David Bridger and Samuel Wolk, eds., The New Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Behrman House, 1962), p. 260. See, also, Encyclopedia Judaica, 1972, s.v. "Community". From these definitions, it may be seen how Wast misrepresented the governing function of this institution and was influenced by previous conspiratorial theories, especially those contained in the "Protocols." See also Wast, Oro/Gold (Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1939), which is an English version by Victor Rollins. (25.) On Wast's anti-Semitism, see Allan Metz, "Hugo Wast: The Anti-Semitic Director of Argentina's National Library, 1931-1955," Libraries & Culture 27, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 36-42 and Alfred Werner, "|Streicher of Argentina," Congress Weekly vol. no. 10, no. 29 (October 29, 1943): 8-9. (26.) Ray Josephs, Argentine Diary (New York: Random House, 1944), p. 190. See also by the same author, "Argentina: Land of (Broken) Promise," in the National Jewish Monthly, vol. 58 no. 8 (April 1944): 249-251 282-283, and "Peron Has Not Changed," National Jewish Monthly, vol. 63 no. 2 (October 1948): 46-47. This quotation also appeared in "Roosevelt Assails Argentine Ban on Jewish Press, and It is Lifted," New York Times, October 16, 1943, pp. 1, 5. (27.) Arnaldo Cortesi, "Minorities Curbed Anew in Argentina," New York Times, October 24, 1943, p. 28, and George Blanksten, Peron's Argentina (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 226. (28.) Edward Tomlinson, Battle for the Hemisphere (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), p. 122. (29.) Arnaldo Cortesi, "Peronistas Renew Anti-Jewish Moves," New York Times, November 28, 1945, p. 8. (30.) "Peron Assails Riots; Denies Responsibility," New York Times, December 12, 1945, p. 13. For more about the meeting itself, see Arnaldo Cortesi, "Peron Thugs Kill 4 in Argentine Rally," New York Times, December 9, 1945, pp. 1, 22. (31.) Buenos Aires Herald, November 2, 1945. (32.) For more on Peron's Jewish immigration policy, see Haim Avni, Argentina y la historia de la immigracion judia, 1810-1950 Jerusalem: Editorial Universitaria Magnes; Buenos Aires: AMIA, Comunidad de Buenos Aires, 1983), pp. 496-504. (33.) Weisbrot, Jews of Argentina, pp. 228-229. (34.) Mann to Hoyt, "Jewish Delegation Visits President Peron" Reference to Buenos Aires Despatch 2052, March 14, 1947, File 835.4016/3-1947), National Archives, Washington, D.C. (35.) See Juan Peron, Expone ante las organizaciones Israelitas las realidades del justicialismo (Buenos Aires: Presidencia de la Nacion, 1951), Peron y el pueblo judio (Buenos Aires: DAIA, 1974), and Peron, Pensamiento del Presidente Peron sobre el pueblo juidio (Buenos Aires: DAIA, 1954). (36.) Juan Peron to Moises Goldman, September 26, 1946, Z5, File 11160, Zionist Archives, Jerusalem. (37.) Peron, El pensamiento del Presidente Peron sobre el pueblo judio, p. 29. (38.) DAIA memorandum, August 28, 1950, to President Peron; Juan Duarte (Peron's private secretary) to DAIA, September 8, 1950. (39.) Weisbrot, Jews of Algentina, pp. 229-231. (40.) Cabot to Secretary of state, File 835.00/12-445, December 4, 1945, National Archives, Washington, D.C,. (41.) Torcuato Luca de Tena, Luis Calvo, and Esteban Peicovich, eds., Yo, Juan Domingo Peron. relato autobiografico (Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1976), pp. 88, 90. (42.) Judith Laikin Elkin, "Antisemitism in Argentina: The Jewish Response," in Living With Antisemitism: Modern Responses, ed Jejuda Reinharz, The Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry Series, 6 (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1987), p. 341. (43.) Joseph A. Page, Peron: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1983), p. 90. (44.) Jose Ventura (president of DAIA) to D. Laureano Landaburu (Minister of the Interior), October 16, 1956. (45.) Weisbrot, Jews of Argentina, pp. 231-232. (46.) American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 48, 1946-7, p. 248. (47.) Santiago M. Peralta, La accion del puebto judio en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: n.p., 1943); American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 49, 1947-8, p. 269; Haim Avni, Op. cit., p. 504. (48.) Avni, Op. cit., p. 517. (49.) Mark Wischnitzer, To Dwell in Safety: The Story of Jewish Migration Since 1800 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1948), p. 268; Avni, Op. cit., p. 514. (50.) More about the Organizacion Israelita Argentina's formationn and its initial pledge of loyalty to Argentina and support for Peron may. be found in Mundo Israelita, "Manifesto: por que estamos con el gobiertio," May 1, 1947. (51.) Mundo Israelita, March 19, 1949. (52.) Weisbrot, Jews of Argentina, p. 232. (53.) For more on Evita's life, see Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro, Eva Peron (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980) and J.M. Taylor, Eva Peron: The Myths of a Woman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). (54.) For details of the foundation and its corruption, see Blanksten, pp. 102-109. (55.) Weisbrot, Jews of Argentina, pp. 232-237. (56.) Ibid., pp. 237-238. (57.) Eugene F. Sofer, From Pale to Pampa: A Social History of the Jews of Buenos Aires (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1982), p. 125. (58.) M. Senderey, "South America: Political Situation, Argentina," in American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 50, 1948-1949, p. 269. (59.) For the contemporary Jewish reaction to Peron's downfall in 1955, see, for example, Jean Jaffe, "Change in Argentina?" Jewish Frontier (July 1955): 16-18; Jean Jaffe, "Argentine Jewry under Peron," Congress Weekly, Vol. 22 no. 26 (October 10, 1955): 5-6: and Argentina," American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 57, 1956, pp. 520-521, 637. (60.) Meyer Weinberg, Because They Were Jews: A History of Antisemilism, Contributions to the Study of World History, no. 4 (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1986), pp. 11-12. (61.) Ibid., pp. 12-13. (62.) Ibid., p. 13. (63.) Juan Jose Sebreli, La cuestion judia en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Editorial Tiempo Contemporaneo, 1968), p. 239. (64.) Robert Weisbrot, "Anti-Semitism in Argentina," Midstream 24 (May 1978): 13. (65.) For a case in point, see Allan Metz, "Why Sosua? Rafael Trujillo's Motives for Jewish Refugee Settlement in the Dominican Republic," Contemporary Jewry 11, no. 1 (1990): 3-28. (66.) Elkin, p. 335. (67.) Weisbrot, Jews of Argentina. pp. 238-240.
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Title Annotation:Argentine president
Author:Metz, Allan
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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