Colonization of Argentina

While many Kerschens moved directly from the Luxembourg to the United States, some went to Argentina first. Joseph Kerschen (the Great-Great-Grandfather of your webmaster, Arthur Kerschen III), and his family moved to Argentina before coming to the United States.

According to the French journal, Migrance:

In 1888, when Nicholas Kerschen was 22 and his father Joseph was 59, "Argentina Fever" swept through Luxembourg. Between 800 and 1000 Luxembourg residents (about 0.5% of the total population) traveled to Antwerp Harbor in Belgium and emigrated to Argentina.

Encouraged by Father Jean-Pierre Didier, 100 Luxembourg families settled in an area near Benito Juárez, Argentina, a town about 400 km south of Buenos Ares, the nearest major city. The area had previously been used only for cattle and not for farming. The area was owned by the Ayerza family of Buenos Ares, friends of Father Didier. He appointed his nephew, Jean-Baptist Kirsch, as "mayordomo" of the settlement. He named it "San Antonio de Iraola" and directed the conversion of the area to farming.

Luxembourg immigrants were directed to the settlement of "San Antonio de Iraola" where they were offered a contract to rent the farmlands for 3 pesos per year per hectare with a contractual obligation to rent for 6 years. Unknown to these Luxembourg colonists, other farmlands were being sold outright for 3 pesos/hectare. There was a worldwide drop in crop prices around 1890, which resulted in a 25% drop in the value of exports from Argentina. Gastric epidemics, measles and other poorly diagnosed fevers killed 12% of the colonists at "San Antonio de Iraola", and three years of poor harvests with mediocre yields created despair in the settlement. Rapid depreciation of the value of the Peso accelerated the financial decline in the Luxembourg community.

In 1891, the Luxembourg community decided to leave the settlement of "San Antonio de Iraola", but the Ayerza family refused to release them from their contract without rent payment for the full six years. A new authoritarian "Mayordomo" named Witry was appointed. He was forced to flee to Uruguay after some settlers attempted to murder him. When the catholic priest of the parish, Father Schwebag, was replaced by a new German priest, Father Becher, the morale of the community was definitively broken. "San Antonio de Iraola" was abandoned, despite their contractual obligations to the Ayerza family. 20% returned to Luxembourg, many scattered throughout Argentina to find more favorable conditions, and some migrated directly to the United States.

Was Joseph Kerschen among those settlers in "San Antonio de Iraola"? Possibly.

Evidence so far:

In December 1981, Arthur Kerschen, the grandson of Joseph Kerschen, and my grandfather, reported to me that his father and grandfather had moved to Argentina to farm in the late 1800s. He reported that Joseph Kerschen had died and was buried there, somewhere near Buenos Ares, Argentina. He reported that while thier farming was successful, the family farm was confiscated by the government of Argentina and his father, Nicholas Kerschen, subsequently moved to the United States.

Joseph Kerschen and Catherine Goldschmidt's last known child, Catherina Kerschen, was born in Tetange, Luxembourg on 25 July, 1882. All of thier children, from 1866 to 1882 were born in Tetange except for one, Jeannette Kerschen was born in 1880 in Paris, France.

Marguerite and Marie Kerschen, daughters of Joseph and Catherine, arrived at Ellis Island, NY on the La Normandie on May 6, 1895, sailing out of Havre, France. They reported that they were headed for Detroit, Michigan.

One year later, on June 29, 1896, Catherine Goldschmidt (Kerschen) arrived at Ellis Island with Nicholas Kerschen, her son, Catherina, her daughter, Jean-Baptist Kerschen, her son, his wife Anna and thier two children, Edward and Jeannette. They arrived on the La Bourgogne sailing out of Havre, France and they were also headed for Detroit, Michigan.

The story handed down fits the account in the journal Migrance, and the time period correlates closely. Earlier successful settlements into Argentina in the 1850s and 1860s led to the Argentine Fever of the 1880s. The stories of the failure at "San Antonio de Iraola" stifled further emigration to Argentina from Luxembourg until the 1940s. The family of Joseph Kerschen, though not he himself, may be counted among those who went back to Luxembourg, although some turned around and headed for the United States a few years later.

My Great-Grandfather, Nicholas Kerschen, died in 1939 in Detroit, Michigan. In 1953, another Nicholas Kerschen, living in Dudelange, Luxembourg, wrote an account of what happened in the “Lëtzeburger Journal”, a Luxembourg newspaper. (San Antonio. Ein Luxemburger Dorf in der Pampa. Erinnerungen von N. Kerschen, Separatdruck des “Lëtzeburger Journal”, Grevenmacher) In English the title is, "San Antonio. A Luxembourg village in the Pampa. Recollections of N. Kerschen." How this Nicholas Kerschen of 1953 is related to the first is not yet known. Perhaps he was a nephew.

In 1953, residents of Benito Juárez reported that the farms at "San Antonio de Iraola" were still visible when you travel past by rail, but were then covered with trees. The churchyard was clearly visible because it rested on higher ground and 30 graves of those original Luxembourg settlers could still be seen there. That is all that remained of San Antonio de Iraola. Perhaps Joseph Kerschen could still be found among those 30 graves.

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French Article in Migrance, Luxembourg : histoires croisées des migrations

LUXEMBOURG IMMIGRANTS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS IN ARGENTINA 1880 - 1940, This paper was first published in AEMI Journal, Volume 2, 2004.

Luxembourgers in Latin America and the Permanent Threat of Failure «Return Migration» in the social context of a European micro-society, by Claude Wey