‘Dalai Lama of the Rainforest’ awarded top German honour
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‘Dalai Lama of the Rainforest’ awarded top German honour

Claudia Andujar given the Goethe Medal for her work helping an Amazonian tribe in the years after she fled Nazi Europe

Claudia Andujar, photographer and activist, with Davi Kopenawa, a shaman and key spokesperson for the Yanomami, 2010.
© Fiona Watson/Survival
Claudia Andujar, photographer and activist, with Davi Kopenawa, a shaman and key spokesperson for the Yanomami, 2010. © Fiona Watson/Survival

A woman who fled the Nazis as a child and later led a campaign to save an Amazonian tribe is to receive Germany’s top cultural honour.

Claudia Andujar, who will receive the prestigious Goethe Medal at a ceremony in Weimar on Tuesday, dedicated much of her life to helping the Yanomami tribe in northern Brazil. Her concerted efforts eventually led to the establishment of the world’s largest forested area under indigenous control.

She was brought up near the Romanian-Hungarian border, until the town was occupied by the Nazis, at which point her Jewish father was arrested. He later died in a concentration camp.

Andujar fled with her mother through Austria, then Switzlerland, and finally gained passage to the United States, where she became a photographer, meeting the tribe in 1971 on an assignment for a magazine.

She returned many times to see bulldozers razing Yanomami villages to build a motorway, with waves of disease brought in by the construction crews. Later, illegal gold miners decimated the Yanomami population.

Her striking black and white images of the tribe remain famous today and played a crucial role in the establishment of the Yanomami Park, where she became known as the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest”.

Previous winners of the Goethe Medal include the Argentina-born conductor Daniel Barenboim, the spy novelist John le Carré and the Jewish Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind.

Reacting, she said: “In concentration camps, prisoners were marked with numbers tattooed on their arms. For me, they were the ones marked for death. What I later tried to do with the Yanomami was to mark them for life, for survival.”

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