An Unknown Country: The Jewish Exiles of Ecuador
An Unknown Country is an independent film that tells the story of European Jews who escaped the Nazi terror and found refuge in an unlikely destination: Ecuador, a South American republic barely known at the time. Featuring first hand accounts and archival material, the film opens a window on the exiles' perilous escape and difficult adjustment as they remade their lives in what was for them an exotic, unfamiliar land.
Through the exiles' personal testimonies, the documentary chronicles their harrowing search for a country that would take them in when most had closed their doors. It sheds light on why Ecuador, a small country with few resources, granted asylum to the refugees. It also explores the actions of Ecuador's consuls in Europe. Some exacted heavy fees for visas, while others helped for humanitarian reasons. One consul daringly issued Ecuadorian passports to stateless Jews to delay deportation to death camps. For his life-saving efforts, he was honored posthumously by Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the holocaust.
The film provides fresh insights as it shows the refugees' struggles to build new lives while holding onto elements of their European culture. It explores relations between the local inhabitants and the European immigrants in their midst, and highlights the contributions the immigrants made to the economic, scientific, artistic, and social life of their host country.
In the present day, we follow the children of the refugee--now living abroad--as they return to Ecuador, the land of their birth. During this reunion, they reconnect with childhood memories and rediscover the unique and peculiar aspects of the country that welcomed their parents.
In the refugees' poignant experience is a lesson in survival and perseverance. The film fulfills a vital mission in capturing and preserving the stories of those who witnessed and endured one of the most harrowing periods of the 20th century.
Filmmaker Eva Zelig began work on this project in 2010 when she traveled to Ecuador to shoot the reunion. She interviewed exlies, their children and grandchildren, both there and in the United States.
Dr. Leo Spitzer, Vernon Professor of History Emeritus at Dartmouth College and author of Hotel Bolivia: The Culture of Memory in a Refuge from Nazism (1998), will give a lecture to introduce the film.
Center for Jewish History (View)
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