60-Years Entre Rios, Brazil

Danube Swabian Community in Entre Rios, Brazil
Rosina T. Schmidt
Presented at the Danube Swabian 2013 Mt. Angel, Oregon ,Conference

Towards the end of WWII and up to 1950 -as we know- there was a forced expulsion of about 15 Million ethnic Germans, regardless of which ethnicity or citizenship, from various European states or territories that were under the Nazi government influence. Many managed to escape into the areas that would became post War Germany and post War Austria.

Both Germany and especially the little Austria were overflowing with refugees, but Austria was not able to support them. There was a big pressure in Austria for those refugees to be relocated.

A small but fortunate group of 500 Danube Swabian refugee families, exactly 2466 persons, were transported in 7 ships to the steppe of Entre Rios area in Brazil with the help of a Swiss charity “Schweizer Europahilfe” Swiss Aid), who donated 9 Million Swiss Francs, and by the invitation and help of the Brazilian government, as well as the Brazilian State of Parana.

The Brazilian government hoped that the Danube Swabians with their know-how would implement a large scale of wheat production to help with the Brazilian food shortage in those times. The Swiss Dominican nuns, who run the first schools and the hospital in the 5 towns that were eventually built, escorted them. The first settlers arrived in Brazil on 8th of June 1951.

Those 7 ships sailed as follows:
1. Transport on 22nd of May 1951 from Genua to Santos with the ship „Provence“, and arrived on the of. June 1951 with 222 people;
2. Transport on 31st of Aug. 1951 frim Le Havre with the ship „Lavoisier“, bringing 96 people;
3. Transport on 21st of Sep. 1951 from Genua with the ship „Provence“, arrvied in Entre Rios on 8th of Oktc 1951, with 531 people on board;
4. Transport on 9th of Nov. 1951 from Genua with the ship „Provence“, ariving in Brasilien: on the 23rd of Nov. 1951, with 500 people on board;
5. Transport on 28th of Dec. 1951 from Genua with the ship „Provence“, arriving in Santos on 11th of Jan. 1952, arriving in Entre Rios on 15. Jan. 1952, with 462 people;
6. Transport on 12th of Jan. 1952 from Genua with the ship „Conte Biancomano“ with 233 people on board;
7. Transport on 15th of Feb. 1952 from Genua with the ship „Provence“ with 413 people on board;
Further 3 transports:
– Schip „Castel-Verde“ from Neapel, arrival in Santos on 18. Okt. 1953, with 26 people;
– Schip „Provence“ from Neapel, arrival in Santos 24. Aug. 1954, with 23 people;
– Schip „Lavosier“ from Hamburg, arrival in Santos end of Nov. 1954, with 4 people on board, as per Pater Wendelin Gruber’s data.

What was so unique with those settlements was that those 500 families requested and received the permission from the Brazilian government to keep their language and practice their Danube Swabian culture and ways. They do so to this very day.

One of those 500 families was the Family Lickel of Hrastovac, Slavonia, the very village where my grandfather Schmidt was born. The family consisted of old grandmother, parents and 5 children.

The area was not prepared for cultivation. They had to start from scratch, just like their ancestors did who arrived in former Danube Swabian areas 3 centuries earlier.

The five villages that were eventually established, Vitoria, Jordaozinho, Cachoeira, Socorro, Samambaia were built on the same Habsburg plan as all the villages in Banat, Slavonia, Baranya and Syrmia that were built centuries before: wide and straight streets, large homesteads with spaces for a large garden, orchard and vineyard, spaces for barns and other necessary buildings.

In the schools the instruction is in Portuguese, the language of Brazil. German is taught as well.

In the beginning the 24,226 acres steppe was collectively cultivated and in 1953 it was divided into 323 farms of about 75 acres each, which were divided by drawing lots, with additional 8 acres for each son and 4 acres for each daughter. A house of either 72 or 42 square meters, depending on family size was built with collective help. The loan for house and land had to be repaid in 10 years.

Our Entre Rios’ Danube Swabians formed a Cooperative, now known as “Agraria Cooperative” and collectively erected the buildings, built the streets, schools and the church as well as a hospital and a pharmacy right from the start.

The first Roman Catholic Church was erected in 1953. Prior to the church building the Holy Masses were held under the blue sky.

In the beginning each farmer had just one or two horses, so it was a difficult undertaking to husband the 75 acres of farmland they now had. Now, says one farmer, each farm has its own harvester that does all the work. Thanks to the favorable climate there are two harvests yearly. More acreage has been purchased in the meantime.

Right from the start the settlers insisted and received permission as mentioned before to practice their Danube Swabian culture, language and lifestyle. Entre Rios is the youngest Brazilian ethnic German community and for decades now the most successful county in all of Brazil thanks to the hard work and organizational ability of its citizen.

90% of those settlers were of Roman Catholic faith and 10% were Lutherans. The Lutherans built their church in the Cachoeira village (which translates into waterfall) on the banks of the Paraguacy River.

During the 1960’s quite a few of those settlers returned to Germany or Austria but more than 2,000 of the settlers and their descendants still make their home in Entre Rios and still speak schwobisch.

One of the first priests in Entre Rios communities was Pater Wendelin Gruber, who was born in 1914 in Filipowa, Batschka.

Pater Wendelin Gruber, kept a diary of what he saw and experienced in the Tito’s Gakowa death camp while he was prisoner there, but the diary was discovered and he was sentenced to 14 years in prison with hard labour for daring to write such an incriminating document. He was released after 10 years on behalf of Konrad Adenauer, the German Bundeskanzler at that time, and was deported to Germany. Pater Gruber rewrote his experiences from memory. The book was published and later translated into English by Frank Schmidt of Toronto, under the title In the Claws of the Red Dragon.

Pater Gruber was sent by the Holly Father to Brazil to shepherd the newly established Danube Swabian flock in Entre Rios.

Pater Wendelin Gruber’s Brasilian immigration document – contriubted by Brigitte Wolf

When Pater Gruber and some of those Entre Rios’ Danube Swabians were still prisoners in Gakowa’s starvation camp, they made a collective promise that if they would survive, they would build a church as thanks.  In 1957 they fulfilled their vows and erected a church naming her Holly Mary in Samambaia, the fifth of the Danube Swabian villages. Each family donated 300 kg (ca. 600 lbs) of rice for the church building costs.

In 1964 Pater Gruber organized the first pilgrimage to “Mary, the Mother of Perpetual Help”church in Soccoro, one of the 5 villages. From all the villages the settlers joined the procession with white clad young girls carrying the church banners and Mary statues. It’s the Danube Swabian tradition to say ‘thanks’ for their present good life.

Pater Gruber died on 14th of August 2002 in the Jesuit monastery in Zagreb, Croatia, where he was ordained as Jesuit 60 years earlier.

Today, this Danube Swabian community is still very vibrant just as their ancestral hometowns in Europe used to be. And you are still greeted in ‘swowish’ on the streets, just as back home. The local radio station broadcasts daily in the German language. The Kirchweihfest of course is still being celebrated as per the Danube Swabian tradition with Trachten-procession, rosemary and brass band music.

They have a great folkloric dance ensemble performing not only in local theaters, but also all over Brazil and even in Europe. Last year the ensemble toured Germany and Austria to teach the Germans and Austrians all about the Danube Swabian Gemütlichkeit!

While Entre Rios is not the only large community of German immigrants in Brazil, nowhere else in the world is to be found such a vibrant ethnic German community, not even in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and especially nowhere is the Danube Swabian way of life still practiced as in Brazil’s Entre Rios.