Brazil like the other South American countries proclaimed its neutrality at the outbreak of World War II. South American economies were primarily based on exporting commodities and thus were affected by the War. The British naval blockade disrupted trade with Germany, but demand increased in Allied countries. Thus the question for Brazil became the ability of the Allies to defeat the German U-boat campaign. Strangely there was very little attention given to NAZI racial policies and what this portended for a multi-racial country like Brazil. The United States even before entering World War II was concerned about NAZI influence in South America. There were about 1.5 million ethnic Germans in South America, about two-thirds lived in Brazil. They were not well assimilated and more sympathetic to the NAZIs than the more assimilated ethnic-Germans in the United States. Germans controlled the commercial airlines in Brazil. There was also an important German military mission. Latin American countries were not directly involved in World War II until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, each of the Latin American countries, except the southern cone countries (Argentina and Chile), either broke relations with the Axis countries or declared war. Of these by far the most important was Brazil. This country is half of South America and has an immense Atlantic coast. Brazil allowed the United States to set up airbases along the northeastern coast. Recife was especially important. These bases and installations along with British Ascension Island help close off the Atlantic Narrows, making it difficult for German U-boats to operate in the South Atlantic. Brazilian Navy patrols joined the British and Americans. Thus Brazil played an important role in the campaign against the U-boats in the South Atlantic. Brazil also helped set up air connections with Allied forces in Africa. The loss of Malay and the Dutch West Indies to the Japanese (1942) created shortages of rubber, a critical war material. The United States launched a synthetic rubber industry, but Brazil became a key source of natural rubber for the Allies. The Brazilian Army participated in the Italian campaign. It was also the Latin American country to porovide combat troops to fight the NAZIs.
Brazil like the other South American countries proclaimed its neurtality at the outbreak of World War II (September 1939).
South American economomies were primarily base on exporting commodities and thus were affected by the War. The British naval blockade disrupted trade with Germany, but demand increased in Allied countries. Thus the question for Brazil became the ability of the Allies to defeat the German U-boat campaign.
Strangely there sems to have been very little attention given to NAZI racial policies and what this porteneded for a multi-racial country like Brazil. Afactor here was that Brazil was dominated by individuals of Portuguese or other European ancestry.
There were Fascist movements in Brazil. The most important was the Ação Integralista Brasileira (AIB) -- the Integralists. Integralism was a European political and cultural movement appearing in the 19th century. This was before European Fascism which grew out of the Socialist movement after Wortkd War I. here was however, some overlap between the two movemnents. It was mostly influential in Catholic circles. The cetral idea is that there should be a fully integrated national order, cetered on patrimonial (inherited) political, cultural, religious and economic national traditions. Some forms of integralism focus more on etnicity and other on religion. And above all was the achievement of nationaal unity--an idea at the heart of Fascist movements. This usually meant a focus on a country's core ethnic group. This was possibler in Europe, but more difficvult in Brazil with its mix of ethnicities. The Brazilian integralist movement was influenced by the European Portuguese integralist tradition. AIB was led by Plínio Salgado. It is believed to be the largest political party founded in Brazil. At its peak it attracted over a million voters. Salgado preached a revival of spirituality as the core of Brazilian nationalism as the basis for a shared identity among Brazilians. Salgado denounced materialism, liberalism, and especially Marxism. He was was violently opposed to the Brazilian Communist Party and competed with the Communists for support among the working class. AIB has Fascist trappingss and was especially among the German-Brazilians and Italian-Brazilians whichb total about 1 million people. It was, however, a very short lived movement. It lasted less than 6 years as a legal political party. At first Salgado supported the trigh-wing policies of President Vargas, but thenb tried ti seize power (1938). President Vargas then supressed AIB.
The United States even before entering World War II was concerned about NAZI influence in South America. Thre were about 1.5 million ethnic Germans in south America, about two-thirds lived in Brazil. They were not well assimilated and more sympathetic to the NAZIs than the more assimilated ethnic-Germans in the United States. Germans controlled the commercial airlines in Brazil. There was also an important German military mission .
Getülio Dornelles Vargas rose as govenor Rio Grande dp Sul (1928). After losingh a presidentialelection, he seized power and established a crypto-Fascist dictaorship (1930). He then ruled Brazil for two decades. He gained virtual absolite power in Brazil through control of the military and popularity. He was not as venal as many Latin American dictaors and was a strong Brazilian nationalist. [Poppino, p. 363.] He proclaimed the Estado Novo (New State) sounding much like Mussolini's Corporate State (1937). This ended any semblence of constitutional government. [Kadt, p. 47.] The press was censord and secret police gained enormous reach. Vargas proceeded to govern Brazil for 7 years with no political parties, congrss, or elections.
Vargas dedcided to develop a close relationship with the United states as World war II developed. It is not entirely clear why. Given that Vargas was aictator with many Fascist trappings woukld seem to make him a better fit for the Axis. Perhaps Vargs understood that while Fascism sounded good to him that in a Fascist contrilled world he would no longer be in control. One source suggests tha British intelligence planted a fake letter from the Italian Trahs-Atlantic air Servuces (LATI) suggestingv that Italian inteligence was engineered a coup to overthrow Vargas. The letter referred to the 'fat man' (Vargas) and 'green gentlemen' (revolutiany Integralists trying to overhrow Vargas). Vargas was reportedly furious when he saw the letter and canceled LATI's landing rights as well as ordered arrests. Commandante Vicenzo Coppola, LATI's regional director, was caught heading for the Argenine border with a million dollars in currency. [Stevenson, pp. 267-68.] That was the end of Vargas' flirtation with Fascism.
Novelist Srephan Zweig, Austrian Jewish reugee from the NAZIs, described Brazil as 'the country of the future'. [Zweig] More skeptical Brazilans added the phrase, '... and always will be.' It was during the authoritarian dictatorial leadership pf President Getulio Vargas and his evolving relationship with the United States. Vargs like many other Latin American leaders durung the 1930s were impressed with Fascism. Vargas named his regime, 'the New State', reflecting the influence of Salazar's Fascist oriented Portuguese regime and Mussolini's corprate state. There were contacts with the Germans who provided military weaponry. This changed as America moved to confront the Axis. We are not entirely sure why Vargas changed his mind. It may have been simply the power of the Uited States and the economic enducements it offered. One author describes him as a 'master manipulator'. [Lochery] Vargas is a rare dictator who evolved into a democrat and has admirrwrs in both thr right and left. Populists in Brazil began calling him 'Getulio'. Perhaps Brazilian readers will have some insights here. But change is orientatiin Vargas did. Vargas broke with the Axis and eventually not only declared war, but sent an expeditionary force to Italy. . And as pat of that change, the economic transformation if Brazil begn. Vargas had dismissed his country's economy as 'an economy of desserts' (coffee, sugar, fruit, and nuts). Under Vargas, Brazil begn the emergence of its undustrial economy and the dominant diplomatic, economic, and military force in South America. Vargas used the wartime American need for Atlantic bases and strategic raw materials to not only moderize the Brazilian military, but to provide technology and capital that led to the Volta Redonda steel complex that would a critical step and base for the country's emerging industrial sector.
Nrazil was not a democracy un the 1940s, but public opinion can not be titally discounted. The Brazilian people perhaps because of the ideals of the Allies increasingly began to understand that they lived in a dictatorship like the NAZIs in Europe that they were fighting against. Demands for reforms arose. Vargas did make some limited reforms Soon the people of Brazil were calling for a democracy. Vargas offered to make several changes, but it was too late. The Army concerned about growing demands for reforms dposed Vargas at the end of the War (October 29, 1945). What does not seem to have been an issue either during the War or after was NAZI racial poicy and what a NAZI victory would have meant to Brazil's large multi-ethnic population. Most Brazilianssaw the NAZIs as anti-Senetic and because Brazil had only amall Jewish population that this had no importance for Brazil.
Latin American countries were not directly involved in World War II until the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor (December 7, 1941). Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, each of the Latin American countries, except the southern cone countries (Argentina and Chile), either broke relations with the Axis countries or declared war.
Of all the Latin Ametican countries, by far the most important was Brazil. This country is half of South America and has an emense Atlantic coast.
The Battke of the Atlantic was one of the most important campaigns of the Wr. Wu=ithout victiry here, there could have been no Western front. And here Brazil played n important role. Brazil allowed the United States to set up air bases along the northeastern coast. Recife was especially important. These bases and instalations along with British Ascension Island help close off the Atlantic Narrows, making it difficult for German U-boats to operate in the South Atlantic. Brazilian bases and the Ascension provided air cober throughout the Atlantic Nrrows and U-boats could not operared where the Allies were able to extend air cover. Brazilian Navy patrols joined the British and Americans. Thus Brazil played an important role in the campaign against the U-boats in the South Atlantic. The key battle of course was the North tlantgic convoy routes betweem Amer
Brazil also helped set up air connections with Allied forces in Africa.
The loss of Malay and the Dutch West Indies to the Japanese (1942) created shortages of rubber, a critical war material. The United States launched an sythetic rubber industry, but Brazil became a key source of natural rubber for the Allies. Brazil had once led the world in rubber production. It was the first major economic use of the Amazonian Basin.
The Brazilian industry was overwealmed by the more efficent British Malay production. With the Japbese onquest (January 1942) every bit of production was needed to support the Allied war effort. Unfortunately it took time to get the productiomn griwing again.
Brazil forged an alliance with the United States. The architect was Foreign Minister Oswaldo Aranha. He advised President Vargas on war issues. President Vargas and President Roosevelt met secretly at Natal (January 28, 1943 was on his way to the Casablanca Conference with Prime-minister Chutchill. Aranha advised President Vargas that the traditional policy of "supporting the United States in the world in exchange for its support in South America" should be continued "until the victory of American arms in the war and until the victory and consolidation of American ideals in the peace." Aranha correctly assessed that the United States would lead the world after the War and it would be a grave error for Brazil not to be at its side. Both nations were "cosmic and universal," with continental and global futures. Both countries were thinking in strategic terms. President Vargas seems to have been oblivious what a NAZI vicory would have meant to Brazil with its large population of African ancestry. Aranha felt that Brazil should adhere to the Atlantic Charter and the United Nations Declaration, and it should join the United Nations study committees, and seek a place in the Allied supreme military councils.
President Roosevelt at the Natal talks (January 1943) promoted the idea of Brazil committing combat troops to the War. He told President Vargas that he wanted him with him at the peace table. The resulting Força Expedicionária Brasileira (Brazilian Expeditionary Force--FEB) totaled about 25,700 men and women prepared by the Army and Air Force to fight with Allied forces in the Mediterranean Theatre. Tge decesion to comit cimbat troops abroad was a major departure in Brazilian military history. The FEB was the first Brazilian force commited overseas and participated in war outside South America. Brazil was the only South American country to actually commit troops during World War II. This air-land force fought in the Italian campaign (September 1944 to May 1945). The FEB made a valuable contribution in Italy. The Allies (American, British, and Canadaians) wanted to concentrate their available forces in northern Europe for the D-Day landings, liberation of Fran-ce, and drive into the Reich. The FEB while a small force performed well. Brazilian participation today is a littleknown footnote of World War II. The FEB began to arrive in Italy just after the Allies reached Rome (July 1944). The Brazilian units received some training and more importantly American equipment and arms to replace tgheir obsolete equipment. The FEB fought with the U.S. commnd, joining General Crittenberger's U.S. IV Corps (November 1944). The Brazilians joined what was a truly an international effort in Italy. The American forces included ethnic U.S. units, both the segregated African-American 92nd Infantry Division and the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment. British force was an Empire and European anti-NAZI effort, including Africans from various colonies, Canadians, Czechs, Greeks, Gurkhas, Indians, Italian partisans, Jews from Palestine, New Zealanders, Poles, Rhodesians, South Africans. The Free French were also involved, including Algerians, Moroccans, and Senegalese. The FEB was involved at Massarosa, Camaiore, Mount Prano, Monte Acuto, San Quirico, Gallicano, Barga, Monte Castello, La Serra, Castelnuovo di Vergato, Soprassasso, Montese, Paravento, Zocca, Marano sul Panaro, Collecchio and Fornovo di Taro. The FEB took some 20,600 Axis prisoners, incluing two generalss. The FEB suffered nearly 950 men killed. It was the country's first major foray in international affairs. The country is essentilly half of South America and began to play an increasingly important role in regional politucs.
Most Brazilians know that the NAZIs were anti-Semetic, far fewer know the full extent of the NAZI race dementia or that mixed-race Germans with African ancestry were ordered sterilized by NAZI racial hygene courts. The people affected were primarily German children fathered by French colonial troops tht were used to occupy the Rhineland after World War I. The Germans called them the 'Rhineland bastards' and coinsidered the French use of colonial troops a disgusting afront to the German nation--even before the rise of the NAZIs. NAZI propganda ptominently displaced racist cartoons and derisive images of Africans. Had the NAZIs won the War, Brazl's large African and mulatto population would have fared very poorly in the New World Order. German genocide in Southwest Africa before World war I would have been repeated on a much larger scale. Presisly what the NAZIs would have done is unclear, because they were primarily focused on Europe. They had not begun planning for other regions. The horror that Generalplan Ost envisioned for Eastern Europe, however, suggests that Latin America would have experienced an unimagenably terrible racial purge which would have been especially severe because of the large population with African ancestry in Brazil and the Caribbean. Similar racist attutudes toward Native americans would have affected many other Larin American countries. There is virtually no recognition just how the largely Anglo-American war effort in the West saved Brazil and other Latin american countris from national disaster. Brazil played a role in the Allied vicyory. Most of Latin America not only did not play an important role, but are mostly unaware how America and Britain save thm from a horrendous NAZI future.
Kadt, Emanuel De, "Brazil," in Claudio Véliz, ed.Latin America and the Caribbean: A Handbook (New York: Praeger, 1968).
Lochery, Neill, Brazil: The Fortunes of War--World war II and the Making if Modern War (2014).
Poppino, Rollie E., "Vargas, Getülio Dornelles," Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture Vol. 5 (New York: C. Scribners Sons; London: Simon & Shauster: Prentic Hall International, 1996).
Stevenson, William. A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York, 1976), 486p.
Zweig, Stephan. Land of the Future (1941). Zweig was an Austrian Jewish refugee who was a very popular novelist and commentator on society during the 1920s and 30s. Disparing of the rise of the NAZIs and their military successes, he and his wife committed suiside in Brazil (1942).
Navigate the CIH World War II Sectiomn:
[Return to Main World War II country page ]
[Return to Main Brazilian history page ]
[Return to Main Wkrld War II Latin American page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]