Eva Goldschmidt Wyman was 5 years old when she emigrated to Chile from Germany in 1939 to escape the Nazi regime.
She and her parents were among the 15,000 Jews who entered Chile between 1934 and 1947, according to her book, “Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Haven in Chile.” As the book describes, one of Chile’s presidents from that era, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, “wanted to make Chile an asylum for the persecuted, ‘el asilo contra la opresión,’ as stated in the Chilean national anthem.” During that time, Chile was third in Jewish immigration to Latin America (after Brazil and Argentina), according to the book.
The Nathan & Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, has highlighted Wyman as having a story in need of remembrance. Wyman lives in Normal, Illinois (her husband Mark Wyman is a professor emeritus of history at Illinois State University).
Kari Altman, the center’s coordinator of outreach and public relations, heard about Wyman through Liliana and Joel Rosenthal, members of Milwaukee’s Congregation Shalom. Liliana is from Chile, and she and Joel are involved in the local Jewish-Latinx community. The couple got in touch with Wyman after reading her book.
Excerpts from a recent interview with Wyman — edited for clarity and length — are published below.
CHRONICLE: Why do you think it’s important to share your story and other Holocaust stories?
WYMAN: “Well, I think that the world should know about the Holocaust, how cruel and evil man can be. On the other
hand, I wanted to thank Chile for opening its doors to Jewish immigration. We should celebrate that. Also, antisemitism seems to keep appearing. It is present, increasingly, today in the U.S. It should never be tolerated.
We need to stop it. We need to stop it as soon as it appears.”
CHRONICLE: During times like these that are hard — because of the coronavirus, for example — do you have more
hope because you’ve overcome something like the Holocaust that was so much more tragic and difficult?
WYMAN: “The Holocaust was much more tragic for Jews. I’m not sure that that gives me more hope.”
CHRONICLE: Is there anything else you think people should know about you or about Chile’s Jewish community?
WYMAN: “The Jewish immigration to Chile was good for Chile, too. Not only for the Jews, it was good for the Chileans. [Jews] opened factories — there was a Jewish shoe factory — they employed a lot of Chilean workers. Many people came with knowledge of how to do things that maybe … were not yet in Chile. You could become something after you arrived. Some people are against immigration, but immigrants can do a lot.”
CHRONICLE: How do you think about your own identity?
WYMAN: “I think I feel Jewish and I feel Chilean. I’ve lived a long time in the United States and maybe I feel also that maybe I belong here, too. But Chile has always been very important for me. I think the time I was in
Chile – from [age] 5 to 30 – is very important for how you feel about where you belong.”