Isaac Enrique Havilio once had one of the most important import/export businesses in Argentina. But after that country’s financial crisis of 2002, he went bankrupt and lost his life savings. Now Enrique, who has several severe medical problems, receives help from the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program of Tzedaka Foundation in Buenos Aires and says, “The funds I receive for services keep me alive.”
Enrique was born in 1930 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia; his father was a well-known and influential businessman who ran the largest information-data company in the Balkan region. Enrique, his parents and older brother lived there until the Nazis invaded in April 1941. Though they had visas to immigrate to the United States, the family wasn’t quick enough to leave and lost their chance. And when their home was taken over by a German officer, the family went into hiding. The Nazis thought Enrique’s father was a spy, because of the data-collection business, and were constantly on the lookout for him. For about nine months, the family moved from house to house every few weeks, staying with non-Jewish Serbian friends. “We never carried suitcases, but bags, and I moved with my father and my brother with my mother,” Enrique remembered.
And then, some good luck: A former employee of Enrique’s father was a German well-placed in the Gestapo, and he got authorization for the family to go to Split, at that time controlled by the Italians. The family pretended to be Catholic – Enrique’s father knew Latin and Greek – and the ruse worked, rewarding them with a visa to Argentina. An Italian officer who came to their house in Split to listen to the BBC on the radio got them transit visas to Rome – because the soldier wanted a way to send letters there. From Rome they went to Barcelona, and arrived in Argentina in late 1942 after a 42-day sea voyage, finally safe.
In Buenos Aires, Enrique was enrolled at a top academic high school – he was soon expelled for fighting with pro-Nazi groups – and then a U.S. prep school. He graduated from Stanford University, and then later received a master’s degree there in the history of philosophy. When Enrique married a non-Jewish woman, he was disowned by his family and to survive, he sold encyclopedias door-to-door, and then opened a gift shop. After 30 years, that shop was transformed into one of the most important import/export businesses in Argentina.
In the 2002 financial crisis, Enrique lost everything and went bankrupt. “I was suicidal,” he said. In addition, one of his children is severely disabled and needs permanent, costly help.
In 2009, Chabad in Buenos Aires steered Enrique to Tzedaka Foundation, which, through grants from the Claims Conference, assists approximately 380 Shoah survivors. Now 83-year-old Enrique, who lives in the apartment of his youngest daughter, receives housekeeping help, medications, and transportation services, and participates in Tzedaka’s survivor socialization program.
He is very close with his four children. He has had two heart attacks and suffers from severe osteoarthritis, which makes it difficult to walk. He also suffers from severe hearing problems. The cost of Enrique’s hearing aids, which he desperately needs, will be subsidized by Tzedaka. He also received help in filling out the application for the Hardship Fund, and received the one-time payment in 2010, a critical source of income for him. “The program is so wonderful and makes me feel like I belong to the Jewish community,” he said. “There was a big gap for the past 20 years in my life and now this program is my only connection to the Jewish community.
Enrique is grateful for the help he is receiving, and his outlook has brightened. He contributes to Tzedaka’s newsletter for German-speaking Jews in Argentina. To earn a little money, Enrique became an actor, and now, late in life, has small parts in Argentine television, movies and theater.
“When I first came to Tzedaka I was very depressed,” Enrique said. “Since Tzedaka has come into my life, I have much more confidence and I have my life back.”