Throughout my eight-plus years of studying World War II and the Holocaust, I have identified many people whom I would describe as heroes. There were the well known such as Oskar Schindler who rescued 1,000 Jews. And there were the countless heroes with less recognition – those who sheltered Jews in their basements, attics, or barns and those who offered food or means to escape.
But the name Moritz Hochschild did not become known to me until recently and I am amazed by the size of his efforts coupled with the fact that these works have gone substantially unnoticed. The information can be summarized as follows:
Hochschild was a German Jew who was born in 1881 in Western Germany. In 1921, he moved to Bolivia and began to develop what would become a mining empire. In 1939, he began to see what the Jews were experiencing in Europe and persuaded the president of Bolivia to allow Jewish immigration. He raised funds to transport Jews and began to relocate as many as he could.
He then began employing Jews in his mines and offices, developed housing and schools for the immigrants and created a home that was safe from tyranny and destruction. By 1940, Hochschild had rescued 9,000 Jews from Europe. But when he died in 1965, virtually no-one knew his name and those records that referenced him characterized him as an unpleasant and tyrannical employer.
Thankfully, we have finally learned all there was to learn about what Hochschild did and the enormous scope of his achievements. There is a lesson to those of us who may think of ourselves as incapable of heroism or greatness. We all have the opportunity to complete acts of kindness, large and small, in unusual or everyday situations. If we are socially conscious, firmly committed to humanitarian efforts, and willing to do what is available to us, we are all capable of being heroes.
It is impossible to count how many thousands of Jews owe their lives to Mr. Hochschild’s efforts. But it seems to me that when we emulate his acts of the heart, we can tip our hats to him and his character. Shalom.