When Jose Maciel’s pigs got loose and broke down an old brick wall on his farm — telltale pieces of forgotten history were literally laying at his feet. The handmade bricks were clearly stamped with a swastika and Maciel would later learn his farmland — despite its location in a remote part of Brazil — was once home to a grim chapter of Nazi history.
In addition to the stamped bricks, Maciel found “… preserved in a metal cylinder … documents and photos showing cattle branded with swastikas and a Nazi flag flying.”
Maciel’s Cruzeiro do Sul farm had once been owned by the Rocha Mirandas family, affluent Brazilian industrialists. Beginning in 1933, the Cruzeiro do Sul farm used slave labor — in the form of 10-year old orphan boys — to work the land. Three members of the Mirandas clan were involved with Acao Integralista Brasileira — a fascist organization with direct Nazi ties. The dark, but fascinating account, uncovered by professor Sidney Filho, is detailed by the BBC’s Gibby Zoel in The Brazilian ranch where Nazis kept slaves.
“I found a story of 50 boys aged around 10 years old who had been taken from an orphanage in Rio,” says Filho. “They were taken in three waves. The first group of 10 in 1933.” Osvaldo Miranda was given guardianship of the boys and put them to work with each boy identified not by their given name — but by an assigned number.
Aloysia da Silva, 90, was No. 23. From the Daily Mail: “Cattle and horses had more of a family tree than I,” he said. “I was a slave and a boy without a name … The great landowners saw ideal workers in us parentless boys … we were put to backbreaking toil and paid with coins that could be spent only on the farm. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I got my first shoes. I was tortured, made to kneel on hard grains of corn for hours on end, beaten. Two large dogs guarded our barracks.”
Da Silva remembers Osvaldo Miranda very well. From the BBC: "He sent his driver, who put us in a corner … Osvaldo was pointing with a cane — 'Put that one over there, this one here' — and from 20 boys, he took 10. He promised the world — that we would play football, go horse riding. But there wasn't any of this. The 10 of us were given hoes to clear the weeds and clean up the farm. I was tricked."
The boys were worked hard, beaten for trivial offenses, and despite living in isolation on the opposite side of the world, forced to offer an obligatory stream of Hitler salutes. Orphans worked the Cruzeiro do Sul farm until Brazilian authorities stepped in during the mid-1940s.
There wasn’t anything unusual about the confluence of forced labor and Nazi identity, but the location of Cruzerio do Sul, roughly 6,000 miles from Germany, makes it unique. However, even before World War ll, the Nazis cast a long eye toward expansion in South America. In 1935, the SS sent a three-man expedition (The Guyana Project) into the Amazon that scouted for potential agriculture and settlement land.
And after WW ll, South America became home for several thousand Nazi war criminals. Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death” doctor, eluded an international manhunt for decades and was never captured, dying in Brazil at age 67. Walther Rauff, an SS colonel instrumental in the development of mobile gas vans, was directly involved in the deaths of 100,000 Jews, yet escaped to Chile after the war and died a free man in 1984. Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, found a hiding place in Argentina until he was captured in 1960 by Israeli Mossad agents and executed after a trial in Jerusalem.
It’s been roughly 80 years since the Nazis’ grandiose schemes began unfolding in South America; not that long ago considering survivors like Aloysia da Silva are still living: “I want compensation. I want an apology. But above all, I want to find out who my mother was and put some flowers on her grave.”
For more, see The Brazilian ranch where Nazis kept slaves