Emigratie naar Argentinië

ANTIQUUM PERACTUM SIT

Old things (past) should be considered past

The History of Dutch Immigration to Argentina

and the Origins of the Reformed Movement (1888-1910)


© Gerardo C.C. Oberman


Gerardo C.C. Oberman

Gerardo C.C. Oberman was born in Kampen, The Netherlands, in 1965, ordained in the Reformed Church in Argentina, and professor of theology in the Reformed Seminary in Buenos Aires. This work was submitted as his PHD dissertation in the History Department of the Facultad de Teologia of the Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos (ISEDET).

Translated from the Spanish (1997) by Weller Language Services, Hubert P. Weller, President, 87 West 14th Street, Holland, MI 49423

Inhoudsopgave Antiquum Peractum Sit

PREFACE

As a child I used to nose around secretly in the file cabinet of my father, an immense metallic piece of furniture full of fascinating papers. Old and "forbidden" papers exercised on me a double attraction that nevertheless I can summarize in a phrase: to unveil mysteries, to draw away the veil from what by ignorance has become magic. The fact is that history has certainly something magical, something captivating that is only possible to discover to the degree that we value the inheritance that it has left to us and to the degree that we are capable of recognizing that we are the fruit of it.

Many years ago I began to gather information that had to do with the young history of our Reformed Churches in Argentina. I was soon disappointed when I discovered that most people recalled or knew nothing. Some few persons collaborated providing photocopies of some old articles that referred to the early days. Among them were Mrs. Mae de Rooy, Mr. S. Sonneveldt, and Mrs. E. Pluis de Sonneveldt, descendants, both of these, of the first Dutch migrants to Argentina; Mrs. Lidia Zijlstra, widow of the beloved teacher Slebos; Mrs. Guillermina (Minke) De Boer, niece of the elder Fritz Benning; and Mr. Antonio Millenaar, who as an amateur historian has much material on the Dutch in Argentina and on the early history of the Argentine Reformed movement. Maybe these were not a lot of things, but for all historians every little thing helps. One bit of data leads to another and that is the way one arrives at the sources.

Do these sources still exist? No matter how frustrating it may be, we must admit that in Argentina many of the sources concerning the period and the communities we are studying are inaccessible. We can't really say that they no longer exist because maybe they lie forgotten and corroding in some old box. The possibility of maintaining an orderly and copious file is in Argentina almost a luxury. But that does not absolve us of the responsibility that we should have toward our history. In the "files" of the Reformed Church of Buenos Aires, which lie in disarray in a drawer without a key, are several volumes from a very old Bible that, per chance, belonged to a strange personage to whom we will make reference in this book: "Pastor" Andreas Struis. There is also a Bible printed in 1688 that the church in Rosario gave to the church in Buenos Aires1. Moths also must be fed...! But, it is in that file of the church in Buenos Aires, thank God, where one can still find some old documents of the period that we wish to study or that make reference to it.

The history of the Reformed Churches in Argentina is a fascinating history. And, in spite of the fact that it has been only a hundred years since the first Reformed community in Argentina was established, that of Rosario, it is necessary to study this history by periods. Maybe this will not please some, but it is the best way to savor fully each stage without allowing anything to be overlooked. There are so many wonderful anecdotes! We hope, in time, to be able to devote ourselves to the study of the subsequent stages of the history of our churches.

The interest in getting to the sources that would lead to the origins of the Rosario and Buenos Aires communities lay latent for a long time, and when we were presented with the possibility of traveling to Holland, that hope began to take on a new life. Though Rullman is "irritated" in his book upon determining that there was no way to arrive at the sources that would make it possible to  uncover the mystery of the first Reformed community in Rosario, something told me that in Holland one could begin to discover the unknown. And, oh paradox of fate, the sources were resting under the very nose of Rullman: in the Archives of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, in Leusden, in the boxes with Minutes and letters of the Deputaten voor Correspondentie met Buitenlands(ch)e Kerken2, henceforth referred to as Representatives. The material is of untold value.

The first letter from Argentina dates from 1893 and that letter was answered by the great theologian H. Bavinck, at the time rector of the Theological School of Kampen. Licenciado P. van Beek kindly photocopied all the material available in the said archive (up to 1908), so that we too were able to make use of it in Argentina3. The information obtained from those old documents, plus data obtained in Argentina taken from the few available sources and from the contributions of a great many people whom we cannot mention here4, are the basis of Chapter IV, the principal one in extension and in importance.

Also we spent several days buried in the Algemene Rijksarchief in The Hague, seeking in the so-called Legatie Argentinie old documents and books and materials that had to do with the Dutch immigration to Argentina before 1910. Fundamentally from there we have drawn the names and other data about the Dutch that found themselves in Argentina before the date indicated5. These names, added to those which were given to us by CEMLA [Center for the Study of Latin American Immigration, in Buenos Aires]6, permitted us to assemble a list of more than 3000 names that for obvious reasons of space we cannot include in this book.

From ads published in several daily newspapers and bulletins in Holland we did not obtain the hoped-for response. However there were persons who responded with data and stories that, with gratitude, we make abundant use in this work. To them also goes a warm word of recognition. Especially to Mr. A. J. Barth, in charge of the archives in Goes, who took the trouble to nose about for us in the archives of Zeeland.

We must express our appreciation to the Latijns Amerika Sectie of Zending and Werelddiakonaat of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland7 for financing our trip and time of study in the Low Countries. Part of the year that we were there was devoted to the investigation of the topic about which we are writing.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to someone who during a year guided my study in the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam, Dr. J. Vree Azn. His wise counsel, his constant encouragement and stimulus were an invaluable help in several difficult moments and finally made possible with steadfastness and not without certain sacrifice, that this humble contribution might come to light.

I wish to thank the Facultad de Teología of the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (ISEDET) for having accepted a previous version of this present work in partial fulfillment of the degree of Licenciatura in Theology. Dr. A. Zorzin was kind enough to approve that original text. His advice in the preparation of the final draft was also very valuable.

At the suggestion of the History Department of the Facultad de Teología of the ISEDET we have translated to Spanish all the original citations in the Dutch language, as well as some citations in German, English, and Afrikaans. One loses in this process part of the riches and testimonial force that many of those citations have in the language in which they were thought and written. We have not translated names of institutions and some words that are difficult to interpret and whose wrong translation would affect the sense of the phrase. These appear in italics in this work. To facilitate a fluent reading for readers not familiar with the Dutch language, we have decided to translate in the footnotes the names of the books of minutes, etc. For example, instead of notulenboek we will use "minutes book"; instead of vergadering we will use "meeting", etc. The sources are found correctly cited in their original language at the end of the work.

Allow me yet one more note of special gratitude toward those persons who with their silent and disinterested contribution made possible the publication of this book.

We hope with all our heart that the work that you have in your hands will fulfill the objective of throwing light on an obscure period of our history, of rescuing from the waters of forgetfulness a very rich period of our church life. We hope that it will be, also, a contribution to the History of our Protestant communities in the Río de la Plata, and a contribution that at the same time will encourage others to be interested in this type of adventure.

Those who were able to keep alive the torch of faith well deserve it.

Gerardo Oberman

Buenos Aires, September of 1993

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

The history of the Reformed communities of Dutch origin in Argentina goes back to the years 1889/1890, years of a great abundance of migrants in which also large contingents of Dutch immigrants entered the country.

This Dutch migration to which we refer is not, in any way, comparable to that which several decades before had given rise to the formation of important colonies in the United States of North America. To that Nordic country had migrated very homogeneous groups, almost always led by a pastor. The motives that led to their emigration were of a religious nature. After the Secession of 1834 (Afscheiding) many people who had adhered to the movement considered it necessary to safeguard the purity of their faith far from situations that might influence them negatively. That is the explanation for that first great migration to the new world.

Those who arrive in Argentina toward the end of the past century did not come impelled by their religious convictions. They left their country to escape hunger and poverty. The emigration was spontaneous and disorganized. This was detrimental not only religiously but also socially. Groups previously organized in Holland might have been able to defend with more force their rights once having arrived in the land of promise. The sad reality was that, as we cite in chapter III, paragraph 5, in words of one of those who lived in the flesh the solitary and painful integration into the Argentine reality: "each one is left here to his own destiny,"

However, Dutch men and women who arrived in the country aboard one of the ships that toward the end of the century crowded the pier in the port of Buenos Aires, were those who with the passage of time felt the need to be organized as a community in connection with their faith in God and their Calvinist Reformed tradition. They were convinced of the fact that they were not left to their own destiny, that there was One who shared with them in their sufferings, that, in the midst of the distrust and the hopelessness, there was One on whom they could rely and in whom they could place their hopes. That conviction was able to keep them firm in the midst of the storms of life, in a world that for them was strange and hostile.

Their initiatives in church organization notwithstanding, they did not always meet with success. In one place, after several years of continuous ups and downs, the church ended up disappearing (Rosario). In other places, however, after obscure and difficult beginnings, the church eventually became a flourishing institution (Tres Arroyos).

Already in 1889 we can speak of moderately organized religious activities in Tres Arroyos and in Rosario, where that year an "Immanuel Evangelization Association" is organized. By 1894 we already have evidence of formal meetings in the neighborhood of Barracas, to the south of the city of Buenos Aires. Even though the evolution of these groups is not the same everywhere we should emphasize that these organizational initiatives occur almost in parallel and without previous contacts between the various groups.

As a contribution to the study of the rich history of our Reformed communities in Argentina we have decided to study in depth a quite obscure and forgotten period: the period that precedes the arrival of Pastor Antonie Cornelis Sonneveldt in these lands, which didn't occur until late 1910. With his arrival one can speak of the beginning of a new stage, more organized and more dynamic. Therefore we end our investigation at that point, looking at only some of the things that have to do with the following period. In our analysis of the community in Rosario we extend ourselves until 1923, the year in which the Reformed church in that locality disappears.

We want in this work to devote space to what Pastor J. van Lonkhuijzen in 1908 already considered a stage that has been transcended8. With his arrival and stay in the country during the first months of 1908, we can already sense a change in the life of the Reformed communities in Rosario and Buenos Aires. But, that change will not become something "new" until the arrival in the country of Pastor Sonneveldt.

We have also limited ourselves with respect to the communities to be investigated. Before 1910 there were four large settlements of Reformed people of Dutch origin in the country. By order of "organization" Rosario (1893), Buenos Aires (1900), Comodoro Rivadavia (1903) and Tres Arroyos (1908)9. Concerning the last two places there is already good material written. We want to prioritize then the study of the two remaining communities: that of Rosario and that of Buenos Aires. We can also justify the choice of the objects of our study by citing their common condition of being "city churches", in contraposition to the churches of Tres Arroyos and Comodoro Rivadavia which could be characterized as "rural churches".

In this Introduction we will limit ourselves to outlining briefly the origins of these two latter communities, referring interested parties to extant archival and bibliographical materials.

Comodoro Rivadavia: concerning the boeren (farmers) who originating in South Africa and settled in Chubut between 1902 and 1905, we recommend the very complete study by F.R.P. De Bruijn, titled Die kerkelike lewe van die afrikaners in Argentinie (1903-1915)10. Also we recommend an examination of extant archival materials in the Reformed Church of Comodoro Rivadavia and in the Reformed Church of Buenos Aires. These documents contain interesting details that trace for us the evolution of the group11. The division between Gereformeerden (Reformed) and Nederduitschen (literally "low Germans," a noun that refers to a conservative current within the Reformed world of that period) would merit an entire chapter if we took the space to study the history of the Reformed community in Comodoro Rivadavia12. With respect to this church we can say that "on September 13, 1903 Pastor Vorster organized the whole group, of which all members of the Nederduitsch Gereformeerde Kerk, into a congregation"13. Pastor Van Lonkhuijzen attempted several times to organize a Reformed church (Gereformeerde Kerk) in Chubut but always found himself faced with the negative response of Pastor A. J. Jacobs (1906-1910) and of the majority group of the Nederduitsch Gereformeerde Kerk. Pastor Sonneveldt finally succeeded in 1912 in organizing a Reformed church14.

As both churches were subsequently merged, we maintain as the original date of organization the earlier one. This is confirmed in a letter that Pastor Louis P. Vorster sent on March 17, 1904 to Pastor A. Keizer, then residing in the United States of North America, with the request that it be forwarded later to elder Fritz Benning of Buenos Aires. Keizer reports on his trip to Argentina in the company of 33 South African families who would eventually settle in Chubut, and also mentions the organization of a Reformed church. But, first and foremost, he is astonished by the fact that the Reformed people in Buenos Aires, in spite of the fact that the news of their arrival was published in several newspapers, had not sought contact with them. As far as he was concerned, he was not aware of the existence of said group of Reformed people until he read an article by brother Benning that appeared in the North American Christian newspaper De Wachter. In the letter he expresses his desire that the Reformed community in Buenos Aires get in touch "with the Holl. Geref. Gemeente of Chubut which I organized"15.

Until the moment in which Pastor Sonneveldt accepted the call to go to serve these scattered South Africans (1914), the Reformed element was not properly served. These words are confirmed by the fact that Pastor Sonneveldt, in a six-week visit to that Boer colony between the months of January and February of 1913, preached 25 times, confirmed elders and deacons, organized a Youth Association and baptized 60 (sixty!) children16.

Tres Arroyos: the Dutch farmers residing in the colony called Micaella Cascallares17 (some 20 km to the south of Tres Arroyos) and in Tres Arroyos18 also soon organized Bible study groups and cultural meetings in which sermons were read. Another independent group had been formed in San Cayetano (60 km from Tres Arroyos). Later they would be merged with the group in Tres Arroyos. On April 27, 1908 Pastor Van Lonkhuijzen organized in Tres Arroyos, finally and after a heated assembly, a church with 17 members19. In Diego Zijlstra's opinion "from a human point of view, the church should not have been established in such precarious conditions, with a great majority of persons so inept, by any perspective"20.

In an anonymous document of nine pages written by a member of the congregation in Tres Arroyos, this episode is analyzed differently. According to its author, Van Lonkhuijzen "arrived with the salt when they had already eaten the egg". In a first moment Rinze Visbeek had written to Holland so that from there, considering the situation of the Dutch disseminated throughout the area, some spiritual assistance should be sent. But the request did not obtain a response. Some years afterwards a Baptist pastor arrived in the city, a man "who without much effort was able to win over to his church the less learned from among our compatriots. Also the leaders followed that pastor and soon, more or less willingly, the rest followed them. The banks, etc. were moved to the meeting place of the Baptists"21. Pastor Roberto F. Elder, since it is of him that we are speaking, belonged in reality at that time to the Evangelical Union of South America and didn't join the Baptist Mission until 192022. But what is certain is that his passing through Tres Arroyos divided the Dutch community. On the one hand were those who continued to petition Holland and awaited the arrival of a pastor to guide them. And, on the other side, were those who needed to live their faith, independently of the denomination through which to channel it. It is in that way that people like Lorenzo (Rinze) Visbeek, who, as we were saying, had even pushed for contact with the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland23, and Lorenzo Pluis, with their respective families, join the group formed by Pastor Elder. In the case of Lorenzo Visbeek we should speak even of a "conversion"24. The two persons mentioned worked as pastors for the Baptist Church, their ministries being a great blessing to that denomination25. This situation explains, in part, the lukewarm beginnings of the Reformed enterprise in the city of Tres Arroyos. Many were already rowing in a different boat.

The following were members of the first consistory of the Nederlandsche Gereformeerde Kerk, organized by Van Lonkhuijzen: Juan Dekker, Juan Pluis and Juan Blom, elders; Luis Pluis and Jacobo Ebbens, deacons. Later M. Wilgenhoff is included as a third deacon26. Some of the remaining members of the church were: De Vries, Smith, Olthoff, Zijlstra. The first meetings were carried out in a premises (house) on Humberto Street 1 to 400, as opposite Italia Plaza27. Prior to the organization of the church, Buenos Aires had sent one of its elders, Fritz Benning, to talk with the Dutch of that area "about the preaching of the Word of God in the Dutch language, the organization of a Dutch Christian School for the youth in that place, and about the joint work with Dutch brothers in other parts of the country, so that the Dutch nation not be lost"28.

At that place, as demonstrated by the development of the assembly to which we were referring above, there wasn't a consensus either with respect to topic of whether or not to organize a church.

If there is a constant in the development of the history of each one of these four large Reformed communities, it is precisely the marked division of groups: some favorable to the organization of a church based on Reformed principles, and others detracting (maybe circumstantially) from this idea. In some places this contributed to the dissolution of the group, as in the case of Rosario. In the case of Tres Arroyos we can say with Rullman that "the church of Tres Arroyos was marching through dark times to an encounter with a luminous future"29. We would like to occupy ourselves with the origins of this Reformed community in Tres Arroyos. But, as we have already said, some things have been written about it and there is too much archival material for us to take this up later. We recommend the reading of the thesis by C. te Voortwis: Dutch immigration in Argentina, the case of Tres Arroyos. The figures and the life behind the figures30. Also it is extremely enriching to read the memoirs of Diego Zijlstra: Like lambs without a shepherd, published in successive numbers of the magazine Juventud Calvinista31.

We have considered it necessary to overburden the reader with two perhaps weighty chapters with historical data (political, social, economic and religious analysis) of the two countries that form part of any migrant endeavor. For all of us it is good to refresh our memory from time to time. Furthermore these data help us to better place the events in the corresponding context.

We hope the reader will forgive, also, the abusive use of footnotes. It cost us much time and effort to obtain some materials, and it is not right that we fail to mention them each time we refer to them. Furthermore, this is the only way to help other scholars to gain access to the sources and to the bibliography that made possible the preparation of the work that you have in your hands.

NOTES

1 "This book is a gift from the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk of Rosario de Santa Fe to the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk of Buenos Aires, for the use of the pastor". The occasion in which this Bible was given coincided, probably, with the departure of Pastor Struis from Rosario to go to serve the Church in Buenos Aires (1900).

2 Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland = Reformed Churches in Holland. Deputaten voor Correspondentie met Buitenlands(ch)e Kerken = Representatives for Correspondence with Churches abroad.

3 Naturally we place this material at the disposal of those interested.

4 See Sources not published, at the end of this work.

5 Given the length of the list we have decided not to annex it to the present work, though it is at the disposal of the interested reader.

6 Center of Latin American Migrant Studies. Listado de Pasajeros de Ultramar. Holandeses ingresados entre 1882 y 1925.

7 Latin American Mission Section and World Deaconry of the Reformed Churches in Holland.

8 Cf. his annotations upon closing the first minutes book of the Reformed community of Buenos Aires. We will make reference to them at the end of chapter IV of this work.

9 A copy of the organization record of the congregation can be seen -properly framed- in one of the meeting rooms behind the current place of worship of the Reformed Church of that city, Maipu 475, inaugurated March 6, 1943.

10 Klerksdorp, Oktober 1974. The work is the outcome of an exhaustive field investigation carried out at the beginning of the decade of the '70s in our country.

11 See for example the letter that the consistory of the Church of Buenos Aires sends to the Representatives, dated July 2, 1908. In it are detailed the problems that the group of the Reformed had with the newly arrived South African Pastor Jacobs who, according to what we read, had a tendency to join Methodist groups. Already by that time the existence of a group of 80 gereformeerden is noted.

12 This topic was one of those which caused Pastor A.C. Sonneveldt the most grief and consternation during his pastoral period at the head of the Church of Comodoro Rivadavia. In the minute of the consistory meeting of the Gereformeerde Kerk of Chubut of October 30, 1926, article 3, we read: "The situation of the congregation after the interruption of the cooperative work is discussed at length". As of that date, the desired unification of the two groups still had not been achieved. Cf. also "Eerste verslag aan de Deputaten van N. Amerika en Nederland voor Argentinie", signed by Pastor A.C. Sonneveldt and drafted probably in 1916. Archive of the Reformed Churches in Argentina.

13 De Bruijn, op.cit., p. 10.

14 Ibid., pp. 209-219.

15 It is possible to consult this letter in the archive of the IRA.

16 Letter from the consistory of the Nederlandsche Gereformeerde Kerk of Buenos Aires to the Representatives in Holland, Buenos Aires, June 18, 1913.

17 Rural colony founded in 1889 by Benjamín Castillo. 249 Dutch and Belgians were sent there. Cf. La voz del pueblo 1902-1977. 75 años de periodismo unidos a la historia de Tres Arroyos y la zona, la Voz del pueblo, Tres Arroyos, 1977. p. 124.

18 Town founded on April 24, 1884, and declared a city in 1908, the year in which the Reformed Church is also organized there. Ibid., pp. 31-32.

19 Cf. J.A.C Rullman, Een geslaagde mislukking. Geschiedenis van de gereformeerden in Argentinie, pp. 35-36. Also the interesting historical review drafted by Diego Zijlstra and published in April of 1958 in Kerkblad voor Zuid-Amerika, year 29, no. 6, pp. 1-3.

20 Cf. the article cited in the previous note, p. 3.

21 Anonymous, "Kort overzicht der Ger. Kerk en School te Tres Arroyos. vanaf 1889 tot op heden". Written very probably in 1922, p. 3. We consider of fundamental importance the reading of this manuscript, whose original can be consulted in the file of the Reformed Church of Tres Arroyos.

22 Cf. AAVV. Los Bautistas en las Repúblicas del Plata, pp 39, 69 and 130.

23 Cf. Minute of the Synod of the GKN of 1905, held in Utrecht, pp. 143-146.

24 "He was converted in Tres Arroyos in 1903 and was baptized on May 1, 1904 by the missionary Roberto F. Elder". AAVV, Los Bautistas en las Repúblicas del Plata, pp. 181-182.

25 Ibid. pp. 123-125, 134, 142, 168, 177, 181-183, 192, 293. In the Guide of Evangelical Churches, published by the Argentine Federation of Evangelical Churches in 1966, there is mention of four Baptist pastors surnamed Pluis (Francisco, Lorenzo, R.L. and Teodoro), cf. p. 30.

26 See the minute of the first consistory meeting of that church, carried out on June 8, 1908. Also the minute of the following meeting, celebrated on June 18.

27 Cf. Album del centenario de Tres Arroyos, 1884 - April - 1984. La Voz del Pueblo, Tres Arroyos, 1984, pp. 129-130.

28 Letter of representation delivered to elder Fritz Benning, signed by Pastor Van Lonkhuijzen, C. de Boe and K. Pluis, Buenos Aires, April 21, 1908.

29 Op.cit., p. 36.

30 Scriptie aan de UvA, Amsterdam, 1988. The work is the resuslt of a field investigation carried out by the author in this country in the year 1986.

31 No. 109, May of 1955 to No. 141, August- September 1959. Regrettably we have not had access to the original manuscript, though we know that it is in the hands of his family in the area of Tres Arroyos.

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