German Brazilian - Forced Assimilation

Forced Assimilation

We most desire that at any cost a German country containing some 20 to 30 million Germans may grow in the twentieth century in Brazil, and that, no matter whether it remains a portion of Brazil or becomes a self-containing state or enters into close relations with our empire.
- Gustav von Schmoller, German economist(1900).

When Germans first arrived in Southern Brazil in 1824, they found a country with a climate, vegetation and culture very different from those of Germany. Southern Brazil was a land of gauchos, cattle herders who lived, and still live, in the Pampas region of the Southern Cone. In the following decades, however, waves of German-speaking immigrants arrived, to the point that in many areas of Southern Brazil the vast majority of the inhabitants were Germans and even after three or four generations born in Brazil, these people used to consider themselves Germans.

Between 1937 and 1945 a significant portion of the Brazilian population suffered interference in daily life produced by a "campaign of nationalization". This population – called "alien" by the Brazilian government - was composed of immigrants and their descendants. Both the Brazilian Empire and the early Republic allowed groups of immigrants to settle in isolated communities, mainly in Southern Brazil, and to some extent in other parts, such as Espírito Santo, in the Southeast. These people had not been assimilated into the majority Brazilian society, a fact that worried the government of President Getúlio Vargas. The army had an important role during this process of forced assimilation of these areas of "foreign colonization" that created so-called "ethnic cysts" in Brazil. German Brazilians saw themselves as part of a pluralist society, so that the Deutschtum conception (of being part of a community with a shared German ancestry) seemed compatible with the fact that they were also Brazilian citizens. However, the Brazilian government only accepted the idea of the jus soli, so that all people born in Brazil should see themselves as Brazilians, and leave other ethnic associations behind. The Brazilian view contrasted with the jus sanguinis conception of most German Brazilians of that time, who were still connected to the ancestral homeland.

Not only the people of German origin were considered "alien": almost all descendants of immigrants, in some degree, were "non-assimilated", in the opinion of Bethlem and other participants in the campaign. However, evidence of greater resistance to abrasileiramento (Brazilianization) was found in those areas considered "redoubts of Germanism", a situation considered risky to the cultural, racial and territorial integrity of the nation. One of the areas considered "non-patriotic" was the Vale do Itajaí, where the population was composed mostly of Germans, Italians and Poles. In the 1930s, the Vale do Itajaí was described as a place of "strange costumes, full of non-national Brazilians, contaminated by ideals of a nation that collapsed Brazil, a place of disintegration of national spirit". During this period of nationalization, the Germans were considered the most "alien", the Italians closest to the Brazilians, and the Poles in an intermediary position, but none of them were seen as unequivocally Brazilian. The fear of secession was not a novelty in regard to the definition of the Brazilian nation-state: long before 1939, Brazilian nationalists feared the collapse of the South, considering it "too Germanized". Many members of the Brazilian army participated during this process, such as Nogueira:

As we can see, the German colonization has deep roots, has developed across the south of Brazil and would have terrifying aspects if the appropriate measures were not adopted, aimed at defending the interests of the sacred homeland and cut any and all possibility of disintegration of our territory" (Nogueira 1947:18).

Nogueira also compared the German Brazilians to "an octopus extending its tentacles" in Southern Brazil. Nogueira used the image of the occupation of the most fertile areas of southern territory by foreigners, who had no intention of being integrated into the country, but had remained segregated since the beginning of their settlement. The record of the first impressions about the city of Blumenau in his book received the subtitle of "One Weird City", arguing that "the German language is spoken without constraints, including in public offices". Silvio Romero (1906) compared German immigration to the Barbarian Invasions which brought about the end of the Roman Empire. Writings by different authors against the German settlement in Brazil displayed clear xenophobia against the so-called "German threat". The Portuguese language was presented as a fundamental criterion of nationality and this justified the nationalization of education and the closing of ethnic schools. Most German Brazilians could barely speak Portuguese, and when German was prohibited in the country, they faced many difficulties due to this language barrier.

From this perspective, the human element representative of the "more legitimate" national formation had the task of conforming immigrants and their descendants to the myth of the amalgam of the three races that makes up the Brazilian nation (Europeans, Black Africans and Amerindians).

In the 1930s, Brazil was home to one of the largest German populations outside Germany, with 100,000 German-born people and a community of 1 million people of German descent, whose ancestors had been settling the country since 1824. Brazil also had the largest number of members of the Nazi Party outside of Germany, with 2,822 members. The large number of people with German roots and a notable number of Nazi members were used by the Brazilian government to justify their programs of nationalization. During World War II, in 1942, Nazi Germany attacked Brazilian ships and Brazil declared war against Germany. President Getúlio Vargas initiated a strict program of forced cultural assimilation - Nacionalismo- that worked quite efficiently, if not initially. He forbade any organised manifestation of German culture in Brazil. Schools were required to teach exclusively in Portuguese, and the publishing of books, newspapers and magazines in foreign languages (which in practice meant German language and Italian language) was subjected to prior censorship by the Ministry of Justice The use of foreign languages in governmental precincts was forbidden, as well as the use of foreign languages in religious services. Members of the Brazilian army were sent to areas of "foreign colonization" to "monitor" the local population. There are records of arrest or moral coercion motivated by the use of foreign languages.

Read more about this topic:  German Brazilian

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