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The Bolivian Schindler

Nobody knew until 2017

Mauricio Hochschild was a mining baron in Bolivia who persuaded the president to provide visas for 9000 Jewish refugees in 1939. Mauricio paid all their travel costs and gave them homes and jobs when they arrived.

Born Moritz Hochschild to a Jewish family in Germany in 1881, Moritz studied mining and engineering at Freiburg University. He worked in the mining industry in Spain, Australia and Chile, returning briefly to Germany during World War I. In 1919 Moritz moved to Bolivia with his new wife Kathe Rosenbaum, partly because of his passion for mountain climbing. Their son Gerardo was born in 1920, and tragically four years later Kathe died.

By the 1930’s Moritz – now known as Mauricio – had built a tin mining empire stretching from Peru to Chile. Mauricio traveled among Bolivia’s political and cultural elite, and he advised President German Busch on economic matters.

As the Nazi party consolidated power in the late 1930’s, persecution of the Jews grew more vicious by the day. In 1938, Mauricio met with President Busch and urged him to allow Jewish refugees to enter Bolivia. Busch didn’t want to help, until Mauricio persuaded him the immigrants would be highly productive workers who would grow the economy. Finally Busch agreed and provided special visas for the Jewish refugees. In the next year 9000 European Jews emigrated to Bolivia. Mauricio paid all of their travel costs. When they arrived, he paid their rent until they got on their feet.

Mauricio purchased three large country estates in Nor Yungas province, where he housed many of the migrants and put them to work creating a productive agricultural community. He found jobs for other migrants in his mining companies, and created a Jewish school in La Paz for the newcomers’ children.

Mauricio Hochschild’s heroism wasn’t discovered until 2017 when documents were found in a storage unit in La Paz. They were partly decomposed and hard to read, but after being deciphered told a powerful story. The number of lives Mauricio saved is incalculable, because many of the original 9000 had children and grandchildren, so many thousands of people owe their lives to Mauricio Hochschild.

Interestingly, Mauricio was not popular with the public during his lifetime. It was said that he had a short-temper, didn’t pay his share in taxes, and overworked his employees. He was imprisoned in the early 1940’s for tax evasion. After his release in 1944, he moved to the United States, and then to France after the war ended. In 1951 Mauricio donated the bulk of his fortune to charitable causes. He died in France in 1965 at age 84.

Mauricio was a complex and flawed individual. But it is now clear that he saved thousands of lives without ever calling attention to his own heroism.

For rescuing 9000 European Jews, we honor Moritz “Mauricio” Hochschild, the “Bolivian Schindler,” as this week’s Thursday Hero.

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