Reviewed by John Chromy (India 1963–65); (PC CD/Eastern Caribbean (1977–79); (Assoc Dir-PC/Washington 1979–1981)
In Italy their baby son was named Enrico, and through the support of a network of Jewish people, the Cohen family were able to obtain a visa to enter Ecuador, one of the few western countries willing to take in Jewish immigrants despite the rapidly growing nightmare unfolding in Europe. Arriving on an hacienda in the Altiplano, young Enrico acquired his second name, Enrique, when his family was employed on the ranch and he began school.
The story follows his family’s move three years later to Quito where his father opened a small shop and Enrique entered public school, Escuela Espejo, where he thrived academically, but faced numerous social issues as a non-hispanic young boy.
Life in Quito was generally good, but here was a young Jewish boy who spoke only Spanish, knowing neither German nor Yiddish, he could not communicate with his family members in other countries. Nor was he much interested in being a practicing Jew, mostly he was interested in playing soccer.
As he neared the Bar Mitzvah age of 13, Enrique’s parents shipped him to relatives in Toledo, Ohio where he could be treated for a rare skin condition that needed a specialist’s care. In Ohio he became Henry as he learned English, began his Jewish studies and matured into a brilliant, mature young man.
Upon his return to Ecuador a year later, Enrico/ Enrique/Henry prepared and stood for his Bar Mitzvah during which he was given the Hebrew name Tzvi ben Avraham as he entered the world of adulthood and all its responsibilities.
Ms. Rubenstein provides many intriguing insights into this Jewish family and their community’s support network. The escape from nazi/fascist Europe is both frightening and heartwarming in its success. Enrique’s many social adventures in Ecuador are fun reads and his eventual success in becoming a pillar of the business community in Quito is a very satisfying ending.
All-in-all, a good read.
Our thanks should go out to Ms. Rubenstein for sharing this unique family story, and shining light on Ecuador’s generosity in accepting endangered immigrants in the 1930s when few other countries did so.
Reviewer John Chromy was a Peace Corps Volunteer in India (1963–65), a PC Country Director in the Eastern Caribbean (1977–79), and Associate Director at Peace Corps/Washington (1979–1981) overseeing Volunteer Recruitment, Selection, Placement, Medical Services and Payroll. He spent several weeks in Afghanistan in 1976 and again in 2004.
He is now retired and living in Washington DC after a 40 year career in community-based development on both the domestic and international fronts.