The Americas

'Bolivian Schindler' saved some 9,000 lives during Holocaust, papers show

Mauricio Hochschild

Mauricio Hochschild  (Archivo Histórico de la Corporación Minera de Bolivia )

Out of dusty old documents found in a La Paz, Bolivia warehouse has come out the extraordinary story of Mauricio Hochschild, a German immigrant and mining tycoon who helped thousands of Jews escape from the Nazis in the late 30s.

Hailed by the local media as the “Bolivian Schindler,” Hochschild left behind a trove of files and photographs that document his leading role in saving at least 9,000 lives. In many cases he paid for their travel and initial accommodations out of his own pocket.

The discovery is all the more surprising because in his time Hochschild was vilified as a ruthless tycoon.

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“These papers are going to change many things of the Bolivian history; the political ramifications are yet to come,” said Edgar Ramirez, the archive director of the Mining Corporation of Bolivia (Comibol). “Hochschild was the bad guy.”

Hochschild was born in Biblis, western Germany, in 1881 and moved to Bolivia in 1921 lured by his love of mountain climbing.

A Jew himself, he amassed his fortune mostly through tin mining – he is one of Bolivia’s “Barons of Tin” – and became an influential figure in political circles. That’s how in 1938 he persuaded President German Busch to provide especial visas to Jewish migrants who were fleeing Europe amid escalating Nazism. He argued they could contribute to the country’s force labor, especially in the farming sector.

Ramirez said he believes Hochschild had high connections with the Resistance.

“I am convinced that Hochschild was part of the anti-fascist apparatus,” Ramirez told Fox News. “In order to do what he did he had to be a man linked to the resistance movements that were operating around the world.”

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The documents show Hochschild also placed some of the newcomers in his mining firm and set up schools for the children in La Paz. One handwritten letter on behalf of the children asks Hochschild to expand their facility "in view of the number of children who are here and others who want to come."  

Organizing and filing the Hochschild documents was a titanic task, Ramirez said, because they had been left exposed to the elements and in complete disarray. He said they were mixed up with garbage and all kinds of unrelated material.

After being moved at least twice throughout the decades, the giant pile of documents was found in a Comibol storage warehouse.

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“When we started rescuing the documentation, everything was mixed: mixed with titles and deeds, with cartons, with trash,” Ramirez recalled. “A selection was made, the material was classified and that is when the find takes place.”

He said the papers show Hochschild created two organizations directly related to the aid effort: the Society for the Protection of Israeli Immigrants (SOPRO), dedicated to obtaining funds for the Jewish families, and the Colonization Society of Bolivia (SOCOBO), which managed an agricultural project in Nor Yungas, where he bought three estates to receive the Jews.

“Was he a charitable man? I have a question mark there because Hochschild is considered the worst of the three ‘Barons of Tin’; they say he was short-tempered, he didn’t pay taxes, he exploited his workforce,” said Ramirez.

The other two mining magnates were Victor Aramayo and Simon Patiño. All three were responsible for over half of global tin production at the time.

Things changed quite drastically for the industry in the mid-40s, when the government enacted a law requiring more tax contribution from mining corporations. Hochschild refused to comply and ended up in prison. After his release in 1944, he left Bolivia for the United States and never returned.

He died in Paris in 1965, by then owner of a worldwide empire still thriving today.

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