There was likely no more dramatic place for Jews fleeing the holocaust to end up than Bolivia. But for a small group, that unlikely land is exactly where they found refuge from Hitler’s wickedness. The crevice in the high Andes in which is nestled La Paz, the Altiplano – that massive highland valley which once held the greatest of all civilizations. The Yungus, a tropical lowland jungle where they tried their hand at farming. Cochabamba or Santa Cruz. They called it “Hotel Bolivia“, because they did not intent to stay there. It was too foreign; for the Jews of Austria trading Vienna with its opera houses and elegant restaurants for coca leaves and the immutable gaze of the Aymara – they were nonetheless grateful for a modicum of safety in a world that had become perilous.
This book is a story of refuge by an Austrian Jew born in La Paz. Nostalgia and sorrow and stress mingled with relief and gratitude. The tale of the Jewish people is so extraordinary, of suffering and resilience and the struggle to be free. And this book was extremely moving for all these reasons; but also because in a microcosm of one family it showed the difficulties and the loss of millions upon millions of people.
There is still a small community of Jews in La Paz, despite the instability of the last 80 years in that Andean nation and their flirtations with dictatorship and violence and even some racist laws of their own. While most have left “Hotel Bolivia” for greener pastures in places like Argentina or the United States – or back to Austria – many, perhaps 1000 have stayed on and continue to meet in Confiteria Elis to exchange stories and to remember, until that day when they make their final journey to the Jewish cemetery in La Paz to join their parents and grandparents who found safety tucked away in the Andes mountains.