Betsy Touriel-Kapner, the daughter of Austrian Holocaust survivors, tells the stories of her parents escape from Austria to Bolivia.
Betsy Touriel-Kapner’s maternal grandparents, Gisela and Friedrich Aschkenasi, lived in Vienna, Austria, where they were married in 1924. Their daughter Gerda was born in 1932. In March 1938, the Nazis annexed Austria (an event termed “the Anschluss”) and soon enacted laws to strip Jews of their citizenship and careers. Jewish children, like Gerda, could no longer attend school. Betsy’s grandfather was sent to Dachau concentration camp, then Buchenwald, with other Austrian Jews who were prominent community members or businessmen. Gisela sold most of their belongings to bribe her husband out of Buchenwald.
The family of three managed to leave Austria by ship at the eve of World War II, traveling to Italy, then Chile, and overland to Bolivia with a visa from the Bolivian consulate. A German mining baron, Mauritz Hochschild, who operated tin mines in Bolivia, had convinced the Bolivian president to offer visas to Jews facing persecution in Austria and Germany. Some of these refugees, like Betsy’s grandparents, stayed in Bolivia permanently. Her grandfather became vice president of the mines run by Hochschild – who overall helped save nearly 20,000 Jews.
Betsy’s mother Gerda spent the rest of her childhood in Bolivia and attended high school and college there. Gerda travelled to Seattle to visit family in the 1950s, when she met a local man, Gabriel Touriel, who soon became her husband. They made their home in Tacoma, where Betsy and her brothers were born and raised.
After retiring from a career in the aerospace industry, Betsy felt a responsibility to share the story of her relatives and their unusual escape from Europe. Her grandparents and mother were refugees in South America, and her mother was later an immigrant to the United States. Their experiences of courage and rescue offer enduring lessons of resilience. Since 2020, Betsy has been a member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity Speakers Bureau, telling this family history to students and community members.