Talk closes German and European Studies event series
On Wednesday, the Center for German and European Studies hosted the final event in its series "Exile and Persecution: German Exiles in America." This event, "Exiles in Exile: Germans during the Second War in Colombia," consisted of a presentation by Rolando Vargas, the filmmaker behind the documentary Exiliados en Exilio, which was screened at a previous event in the series.
Vargas and Catherine Cely, his partner in the research and production that went into the documentary, began their research into the stories of German immigrants during World War II first through the records stored in the Colombian Archives and then delved into interviews with victims and the relatives of victims regarding the discrimination that they or their families experienced toward Germans in Colombia as the war broke out.
Vargas' presentation consisted of a number of slides showing photographs he took of various documents including letters written by politicians as they saw war breaking out in Europe that he and Cely found in the archives as well as photographs and letters provided by the families they interviewed. These documents revealed the discrimination against German immigrants.
Before the outbreak of the war, Vargas discovered that many Germans immigrated to Colombia. However, in 1941, Colombia, an ally of the United States, broke off relations with Nazi Germany and created a blacklist targeting potential enemies of the state, which included German immigrants. Vargas stated that citizens on this list were accused of being Nazis and that it was aimed entirely at the head of the families, rather than the entire family. The result was that these blacklisted men lost their livelihoods, as Colombians were not permitted to trade with them. In addition, a hotel in Fusagasug??, Colombia was transformed into a camp by the Colombian government in order to concentrate these potential enemies. This camp was unlike the Nazi concentration camps in that the occupants were treated well but, Vargas found, they had to pay to be there. Some had to pay for up to two years of hotel fees for being accused of Nazi alliances.
For those who remained, Vargas found that "their properties [including their businesses and their private homes] were administered" by the government, a political way to assert control over these families.
The stories from that time were difficult to come by, Vargas said. He also said that people were nervous because a stranger was calling them up to ask about their families during of the current political instability and the rise of rebel parties in Colombia. In addition, most people, he said, tried to forget that period and, in general, pretend that it never even happened as it was a dark moment in their country's history. Prof. Kathrin Seidl-G??mez (GRALL) said that after visiting Colombia herself, she found that "it's the artists who [touch on the subject], not the politicians." Finding out any information was difficult with such a general attitude.
Vargas' documentary, released in 2002, brought the subject to the discussion and is still widely viewed even 11 years later, Seidl-G??mez said.