MIGUEL BOYAYAN“They pretend to be Roman Catholics, with their crosses and saints, but it’s pure hypocrisy. The advance of these people frightens me and I am angry at the authorities” indifference to them, not only in Brazil but in the Americas,” wrote an ordinary citizen to Deops, the State Department of Political and Social Order, warning them of presence of Jews in the country. A detail: the year of this accusation was 1947, two years after the end of World War II and the defeat of Nazism and of Brazil’s New State. Even so, helping Jewish refugees was seen as a “crime against the nation.” At the same time, and throughout the war, courageous individuals such as the Brazilian ambassador in Paris, Luiz Martins Souza Dantas, or the assistant at the Brazilian Embassy in Berlin, Aracy Carvalho (later Mr. Guimarães Rosa), disobeying orders from the Vargas regime, issued hundreds of visas so that Jews could come to Brazil and escape the Holocaust.
This is a little known fact, especially given the strong concern about racism against blacks or Indians, and Brazilian anti-Semitism is only gradually coming to light. One of those responsible for this is historian Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro, from USP, author of Preconceito racial no Brasil Colônia: cristãos-novos [Racial Prejudice in Colonial Brazil: new Christians] (Brasiliense, 1982); O anti-semitismo na era Vargas: 1930- 1945 [Anti-Semitism in the Vargas era: 1930- 1945] (Brasiliense, 1988, 2nd edition, 1995); O racismo na história do Brasil: mito e realidade [Racism in Brazilian history: myth and reality] (Ática, 1994); O olhar europeu: o negro na iconografia brasileira do século XIX [The European view: blacks in Brazilian iconography in the 19th century] (co-authored with Boris Kossoy, Edusp, 1994). Now, she is the organizer of a newly released study, O anti-semitismo nas Américas [Anti-Semitism in the Americas] (Edusp, 744 pages, R$ 98), while also coordinating the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism in Brazil Virtual Archive project, with the aid of FAPESP and based at the Laboratory of Studies into Ethnicity, Racism and Discrimination (Leer-USP), of which she is director. Thousands of documents will be digitized and made available on this database, which will record the statements of concentration camp survivors. Below, excerpts from the interview.
Was Brazil a racist country, or is it still one?
Brazil has always been and continues to be a racist country, despite the “denials” of some segments of Brazilian society that insist on portraying the country as a “racial paradise.” Precisely because we live with this camouflaged racism (and I see anti-Semitism as a form of racism) we must be aware of this subterfuge. Misinformation, political interests, alliances of convenience, distorted historical research and the media, they have all contributed to strengthening a common understanding, making it difficult to be critical and to have respect for differences. The fact that we don’t see any physical and public aggression against blacks, Jews or gypsies in our daily lives doesn’t mean that there’s no racism in Brazil, which can vary from the subtlest feeling of mistrust and scorn to the most violent act of physical hostility. The existence in São Paulo of a Racial Crimes Police station and the fact that Brazilian law condemns and repudiates the practice of racism and that we increasingly see quotas for blacks being adopted in our universities show that our reality, though expressing the phenomenon of racial intergration, isn’t all that cordial. We have the diagnosis but haven’t yet arrived at a suitable, specific solution.
How can we analyze the development of anti-Semitism over the course of Brazilian history, especially when compared with Jew-hating in developed countries, where the feeling is generally more “openly” stated? Does our racial “hypocrisy” also repeat itself regarding anti-Semitism?
I believe that anti-Semitism must be analyzed from three angles: interaction/conflict between Jews and non-Jews; as a psychological and cultural phenomenon of modern times; and in different phases, whose characteristics often overlap. This approach is valid for any country, provided we take into account their specific historical peculiarities. The form and degree of the demonstration of anti-Semitism vary according to the views of the world inherited from a remote past and the persistence of political myths that interfere in such demonstrations. It is at times of acute crisis that anti-Semitism surfaces, whether through a created line of discourse or explicitly, as happens in some developed countries. In my most recent books and research I’ve tried to show that anti-Semitism is a multifaceted phenomenon par excellence that can distort reality and metamorphose like a chameleon. Lies and ambiguity are common components of the racist discourse, which transform hatred into norms that all must comply with. It is in this camouflage that I see hypocrisy, an attitude that is typical of racists in general; and hypocrisy has always been a great ally of lies.
What are the peculiarities of Brazilian anti-Semitism and where do its roots lie? How has it developed from colonial anti-Semitism, based on the Catholicism of the Inquisition, to a more “modern” model of segregation?
To understand these peculiarities of Brazilian anti-Semitism, I believe it’s important to emphasize that it isn’t always necessary to have segregation in order to characterize a phenomenon as anti-Semitic. Lying, exaggeration, generalization and distortion of historical facts are always found when the intention is to foster hatred of Jews; hence the multiple concepts used to characterize anti-Semitism as Christian, economic, popular, scientific, political, etc. When State endorsed, anti-Semitism becomes a political tool and is even able to provide support for an extermination plan using scientific methods, as happened in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, a unique fact in the history of mankind. In Brazil, political anti-Semitism was a matter of policy in the corridors of the Vargas (1937-1945) and of the Dutra (1946-1950) administrations, which regarded Jews as an “undesirable race,” unfit to be part of the Brazilian population. In order to understand the Brazilian case we must look for the roots of this phenomenon in the Iberian Peninsula of the 14th century, a theme I’m discussing in my book Preconceito racial em Portugal e Brasil Colônia [Racial Prejudice in Portugal and colonial Brazil]. It was to abort the development of the New Christian bourgeoisie that in 1449 the Toledo Sentence – Statute was drawn up, the cornerstone of the development of the Arian myth, an expression of modernity. Supported by men of letters and the Roman Catholic church, the concept of the purity of blood became institutionalized and was responsible for the distinction between “infected races” and “races with clean blood.” It was based on this belief that the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions arrested or burned thousands of New Christians, alleging that these descendants of Jews were pernicious because of the “blood that flows in their veins.” Between 1500 and 1774, therefore during the colonial period, this traditional, theology-based anti-Semitism persisted in Brazil. Until 1808 we see a retraction of this anti-Semitic discourse, upheld by the Portuguese absolutist State and the Inquisition, which culminated in a dilution of the myth of blood purity. I believe that the 1808-1860 period was a time when anti-Semitism went into hibernation, to re-appear between 1860 and 1916 in its “modern” form, with the aid of theoretical European works that introduce social Darwinism, evolutionism, Aryanism and eugenics into Brazil. These principles would be revisited in the 30’s and 40’s under the influence of the Nazi-fascist ideals. We can say that from 1937 to 1948, modern anti-Semitic thought took root in Brazil and was adopted as an instrument of power by the State. This period coincides precisely with the Vargas and Dutra administrations introducing secret circulars.
In her book Anti-semitismo nas Américas [Anti-Semitism in the Americas], researcher Pilar Rahola blames the media and universities for what she calls the “new anti-Semitism.” How can we understand this blame?
The anti-Semitism that Pilar Rahola refers to must be interpreted as a new form of intolerance that is spreading through countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. It is different from Nazi anti-Semitism, which advocated exterminating impure races based on the principles of modern science. Today, we hear talk of Germany for Germans, rather than what used to be said in the 30’s and 40’s, Germany for the Arians, who symbolized the pure race. The notion of France being only for the French and of Spain being devoid of Africans, and so on, is spreading. Iran is proposing a Palestine “free of Jews,” a threat that borders on political and cultural genocide. In short, they advocate making the region exclusive for a single group that does not respect differences, whether ethnic, religious or political. To some extent the old Roman concept of the barbarian is being revived: “Those who do not belong to the Empire and who therefore are not entitled to enjoy its comforts and benefits’ are invaders.”
MIGUEL BOYAYANHow is this new anti-Semitism organized and how does it differ from the traditional kind?
This racism differs from the kind that drove colonial slavery and Nazism. The argument used is no longer to preserve a pure or superior race. Everybody’s right to being different is advocated, but discriminatorily: each one in their place, each people in their own country. Based on ethnic and political foundations, it is argued that some groups lack rights over that territory or are guilty of the death and misery of the “others,” as in the current Middle East conflict, where this new anti-Semitism (disguised as anti-Zionism) becomes an argument for terrorism. At times like these anti-Semitism emerges as a reaction and solution for political instability, for hegemonic interests in the region, and for the demographic explosion. Just as in the old times of the Inquisition or the Nazis, it is the duty of a few people to keep alive the image of Israel as the “political enemy,” by presenting it as an invader and usurper. Behind it all is the arms trade, bribes and other profitable elements that arise during wars. Peace isn’t always of interest! The fact is that some western nations and others from the Middle East have revived the image of the Jews as eternal wanderers with no right to a land of their own, a concept interpreted in the light of anti-democratic regimes with political connotations. Therefore this and other lies multiply through the media and education, as they strengthen the power of images (both mental and visual) and of words to interfere with reality. It is within this context that, like Rahola, I often see the media express the limited conditions of some. We can talk about “negotiated images,” distorted by ignorance, or by economic and political interests, that imply a judgment bias. As for universities, we cannot ignore the posture of certain intellectuals in academia who are unable to separate anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism. I recall that in the past, German intellectuals were the first to support Hitler and that important research institutes praised the expulsion of Jews from their positions, thereby putting science at the service of the Third Reich.
The Brazilian government was the great promoter of anti-Semitism in Brazil. Are we to believe that Brazilian anti-Semitism is more a product of the State than a genuine feeling disseminated by Brazilians?
We can say that the Roman Catholic church and the Brazilian State were really the promoters of anti-Semitism, which went beyond the boundaries of literary pamphlets and Catholic doctrine from 1917 to 1932 and affected the technical knowledge of Brazil’s bureaucrats. At this time, the Republic’s authorities, concerned with Jewish colonization projects and with the rising number of Jewish, Russian, Czech and Polish immigrants interested in entering the country, put in place a restrictive, albeit unsystematic, anti-Semitic policy. After 1937 this anti-Semitism was endorsed by the Brazilian political and diplomatic elite that did not become collaborative or remiss vis-à-vis Nazi extermination. But unfortunately this was not a “genuine state product.” The bitterness of this intolerance also arose in the conservative and nationalist thinking of the Roman Catholic right, which via its writings and sermons fueled hatred of the Brazilian Jewish community. There are countless Brazilian Roman Catholic intellectuals and integralists who produced a lot of anti-Semitic literature of French, German or Portuguese influence. Over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has preached anti-Semitism, using its own teachings plus literature that instigates mistrust and scorn for Jews. As for the population, there are striking letters accusing Jews who fled Nazism and settled in Brazil. Not even the Brazilian Jewish community has the proper dimensions of the extent to which it suffered discrimination, watched and excluded by the authorities of Deops/SP and Brazilian diplomacy. Many are still dazzled by the myth of Brazilian cordiality and hospitality, which in turn keeps alive the myth of racial democracy. In short, at the level of collective imagination, popular Christian anti-Semitism has never ceased to manifest itself in Brazil.
The Lula administration has always been mistrusted by the Jewish community because of his sympathy for the Palestinian movement. How do you analyze current relations between Brazil and Israel”
The Jewish community is right to be mistrustful because the Lula administration has behaved in dubious ways regarding the Middle East especially when the issue concerns Israel and the Arab countries, including Iran. But to understand the current administration’s dichotomous position we must take into account Brazil’s historic position vis-à-vis the State of Israel. Since the start of the Cold War a constant climate of tension has marked the Brazilian government’s posture, committed on the one hand to its anti-Semitic tradition and on the other to the democratic ideals that the United States advocates. It was obvious that the administration of President Eurico Dutra (Vargas’ successor) did not look kindly upon the directions of the newly-created State of Israel, seen as an applicant for a “Communist satellite.” The creation of kibbutzim, modeled on socialist practices, bothered it in the same way that it found the USSR’s prompt recognition of Israel peculiar in 1948. To these facts we can add the help in arms provided by Czechoslovakia, an Israeli ally against the Arabs who were dissatisfied with the partition of Palestine. This context drove Brazil to postpone its official recognition of the State of Israel until February 7, 1949, and the establishment of diplomatic delegations until 1952. In May 1949, during the General Meeting of the United Nations, Brazil abstained from voting on Resolution 273, conditioning its vote to the “strict implementation by Israel of the resolutions concerning the internationalization of Jerusalem and the issue of Arab refugees.” Brazil, a Roman Catholic country by tradition, was not interested in opposing the Vatican, which was favorable to the internationalization of Jerusalem, just as it did not want to upset Arab countries, with whom our trade relations increased throughout the 60’s and 70’s. In 1975, faced with the world oil crisis, it took a radical stance: in the UN Meeting it voted in favor of Resolution 3379, which qualified Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination.
Anti-Semitism says a lot about how a nation sees foreigners, the “others.” Given this context how do you assess Brazil?
For centuries the Brazilian State maintained a xenophobic posture against certain groups of foreigners, who because of their “race” or political ideals were considered “undesirable” to become part of Brazil’s population, such as the Jews, blacks, gypsies and Japanese, who at different points in time during our Republican history faced a race-biased restrictive immigration policy, based on eugenic theories that preached the homogenization of the population, idealized as being white and Roman Catholic. Extensive anti-Japanese and anti-Semitic literature was produced by Brazilian intellectuals from 1917 to 1950, a record of the persistently intolerant mentality of our political and intellectual elite. This documentation is now being listed by the LEER researchers. This will give rise to a historical and biographical dictionary of racist works and authors from Brazil.
Oswaldo Aranha, a Brazilian, played an active part in the creation of the State of Israel. What were the true motives behind this Brazilian support in the UN?
Here Oswaldo Aranha has some merit: as a staunch “Americanophile” he guaranteed that during World War II Brazil “would not move to the other side,” since most people in the Vargas administration, as well as Vargas himself, did not hide their sympathies for Third Reich’s policy and its anti-Semitic ideas. As Brazil’s ambassador to Washington (1934-1937), chancellor of Itamaraty [Brazilian Foreign Office] (1938-1944), Brazil’s representative at the UN (1947), and a businessman with Gastal S.A. (from 1946), Aranha was a faithful ally of the United States. This stance perhaps explains the fact that while Minister of Foreign Affairs he kept secret the anti-Semitic circulars that were common from 1937 to 1948. He made no effort to eliminate or denounce them, nor did he favor the humanitarian actions of those who did not comply with these anti-Semitic rules, as it was during his term in office that an administrative process removed,” for the good of public service, ambassador Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas, whom Yad Vashem now recognizes as one of the just men. Both Vargas and Dutra preferred to invest in the idyllic image of Palestine as the “Promised Land” rather than welcome Jews to Brazil. For the Brazilian government, the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine went beyond the mere notion of a solution to the Jewish question. The benefits were many: besides expressing Brazil’s endorsement of American humanitarian initiatives, it was also a solution for the flow of “undesirable Jews,” (re)directed to their new Jewish home, the future State of Israel.
miguel boyayanDo you feel that global anti-Semitism has increased recently? To what do you ascribe this? At the same time there has been a rising fascination with Nazism, Hitler and its symbols. How do you see this within the context of growing anti-Semitism?
Over these last few decades the world has been shaken by new waves of anti-Semitism, widely propagated on internet sites, at the service of neo-Nazi groups that also have representatives here in Brazil. The Nazi intolerance has been redimensioned by contemporary groups, parties and organizations from the extreme right and ultra-right, placing in danger our still fragile democratic triumphs, that are still in the process of being affirmed. As supporters of a nationalist and racist discourse based on the cult of violence, authoritarianism, opposition to democracy and racial pluralism, they must be seen as a real and very close danger for all of us.
A samba school, Viradouro, tried to use the Holocaust theme in its Carnival parade, but was prohibited from doing so. What are your views on this” Was this censure? Isn’t it important to take this theme to people?
I disagree with the proposals of the Viradouro samba school and cannot see the prohibition as censure. The samba school could have thought of other ways of publicizing the Holocaust, considering also that it doesn’t fit in with the frolicking of Carnival parades. Why not finance positive action, like promoting courses on the subject for young samba school members or financing para-didactical books about the Holocaust and racism, to be distributed to schools on the underprivileged outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, for example?
In another reference, you advocate dealing with the subject of the Holocaust in the classroom. How is this important and how can it be done without mixing up ideologies”
I believe in education as a way of creating a better world and a fairer and more pluralistic society. Therefore, education is one of the fronts in the struggle against ignorance, a stage in the (mis)arguments that lead to the spread of racial hatred. Since 2004 we have been trying to introduce the history of the Holocaust in classrooms by holding interdisciplinary days in partnership with the Brazilian chapter of B’nai B’rith, the Jewish Studies Program of Uerj (the State University of Rio de Janeiro) and the municipal departments of Education in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and this time adding Curitiba. Through the “Educating for Democracy and Citizenship” program, we try to make directors, teachers and students’ parents aware of the emerging need to incorporate the debate about racism and anti-Semitism as themes that go across the National Curricular Parameters. We have suggested content and teaching material to help them design their work plans and an educational practice aligned with schools’ commitment to building citizenship. It is the purpose of such days to choose the dignity of human beings and equality of rights as principles that must guide school education. In short, we consider it important to transform the school not only into an arena for reproducing knowledge but also for social transformation.
Many Jewish intellectuals and scientists came (or tried to come) to Brazil during the time of Nazism. What was the ensuing contribution of Jewish thinking to Brazilian culture and science? To what extent did we lose out because of the veiled anti-Semitism of the Vargas government, which kept more Jewish thinkers from coming here?
Hundreds of Jews fleeing from Nazism managed to get visas for Brazil, thereby getting around the rules dictated by the Secret Circulars upheld by Itamaraty from 1937 to 1948. Many entered with tourist visas, business visas and even with false birth certificates, as Catholics. Here it is worth pointing out some names whose production added to Brazilian culture: Alice Brill, Axl Leskoschek, Claúdia Andujar, Erick Brill, Ernesto de Fiori, Eva Lieblich, Fayga Ostrower, Frans Krajcberg, Franz Josef Weismann, Georg Rado, Gerda Bretani, Samson Flexor, Walter Lewy, Nydia Lícia Pincherle Cardoso, Curt Schulze, Fredi Kleemann, Hans Günter Flieg, Peter Scheier, Anatol Rosenfeld, Otto Maria Carpeaux, Hebert Caro, Stefan Zweig, Paulo Rónai, Paul Frischauer, Fritz Pinkuss, Mathilde Maier, and Paula Ludwig, among others. Hundreds of others had their requests to enter Brazil turned down because they were of the “Semitic race” and as such undesirable. We lose out every time anti-Semitism is used as an instrument of power.
What is the reason for forming a Brazilian Holocaust archive now, since for many it occurred such a long time ago and in places that are so very far away from us?
Since August 2007, with FAPESP funds, we have been carrying out a project for creating a virtual archive on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The idea is to make available on-line almost ten thousand diplomatic documents that express the stance of the Brazilian government vis-à-vis the Holocaust and the Jews fleeing from Nazi-fascism (1933-1948). We also intend to record the names and the paths of those who found Brazil a welcoming land, recording the names of the concentration camp survivors and of the refugees who settled in Brazil. The reconstitution of the routes used to flee, the anti-Semitic and genocide actions of the Nazis and of the collaborating countries, and the survivors’ memoirs can help us fight ignorance in addition to warning us of the frailty of democracies, which, going against the tide of history, often come up against the systematic violation of human rights. Information can be sent to email@example.com – an on-line arena dedicated to the history and memory of the Holocaust from documents and witnesses in Brazil.