The Promised Land of the Pampas

Javier Sinay on the forgotten history of the first Jewish immigrants in Argentina

From the cover of <em>The Murders of Moisés Ville</em> (Restless Books)
From the cover of The Murders of Moisés Ville (Restless Books)

In 1889, a group of Jewish families fleeing Russian pogroms arrived in Argentina, hoping for a new life—or at least a safe place to reside for a while before making their way to Israel. Moisés Ville, the town they founded, some 400 miles from Buenos Aires, was one of the first Jewish agricultural communities in Argentina and over the next 50 years would come to be called the “Jerusalem of South America,” replete with theaters, libraries, and two synagogues. But this sunny story of life in the new world has a dark underside, as Argentinian journalist Javier Sinay learned one day, upon reading a 1947 Yiddish newspaper article written by his own great-grandfather. The article detailed 22 murders of Jewish colonists in swift succession, all in the last decade of the 19th century. Why these people were killed—and what it says about the complex history of this once grand town—is the subject of Sinay’s new book, The Murders of Moisés Ville, translated from the Spanish by Robert Croll. Sinay joins us to talk about how a story from 100 years ago changed the way he saw his country, and his own relationship to Judaism.

Go beyond the episode: 

All images courtesy of Javier Sinay:

  • Farmers in Moisés Ville circa 1890 (General Archive of the Nation of Argentina)
  • Javier Sinay’s great-grand father, Mijl Hacohen Sinay (date unknown)

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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