Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ADSS 6 The Brazilian Visa Episode Part 1

Brazilian Visas Project 1939-1941

German Catholic refugee agencies had been working since 1933 to help Catholics of “non-Aryan” descent to leave the country. In 1935 the German Catholic bishops made the Raphaelsverein (St Raphael’s Work) the official agency responsible for assisting katholische Nichtarier (Non-Aryan Catholic - using the official government terminology). Based in Hamburg, the Raphaelsverein had been established in 1871 as an agency to help German Catholics emigrants. Its energetic general secretary was Pallotine priest, Max Grösser (1887-1940). With very limited resources at his disposal, Grösser and the Raphaelsverein helped 967 Non-Aryan Catholics leave Germany between April 1937 and March 1938.

One major reason for the relatively low figures was the German government’s deliberate policy of impoverishing Jews. Every effort was made to strip Jews of all assets, including the money spent to fund their emigration from Germany, an “atonement tax” levied per person after the November 1938 pogrom, and the 25% “flight tax” imposed on remaining assets. Jews were only permitted to take RM 10 in cash with them as they left the country.

The total population of Christians (Catholic and Protestant) of Jewish descent was estimated at about 138,500. Using population proportions of one third Catholic to two thirds Protestant to Germany in 1938 (ie before the anchluss with Austria) the number of Catholics of Jewish descent was around 46,000. That number jumped to close to 180,000 after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938.

Catholic agencies, and that included the Vatican, simply did not have the resources to sponsor mass migration of Jews out of the Greater German Reich. Help would have to come from governments. After the Evian Conference in July 1938 it was clear that attempts to help Jews leave Europe were diminishing rapidly.

This sets the scene for arguably, one of the most ambitious projects attempted during the war, and the one that came so close to concrete action. It is also one of the most vivid examples of the activity of the Vatican using all its resources to help Jews escape German persecution. At every stage the pope was actively involved.

It is essential to remember that official German policy towards the Jews until the early summer of 1941 was migration and / or expulsion from the German sphere of influence. The change in policy to extermination sometime around July 1941 marks the end of all migration schemes and also marks the end of the Brazilian visa plan.

What follows is my reconstruction of the visa episode using the material in ADSS volumes 6 and 8. The chronology covers the most important part of the visa episode, from March to December 1939.

The reader can find a summary of the affair in the introductory essay at the beginning of Volume 6, pages 15-21. (The essay is in French.)



Docs 8-9: 31.03.1939.

Cardinal Michael Faulhaber (1869-1952), Archbishop of Munich wrote to Pius XII asking for the pope’s help in obtaining immigration visas to Brazil. This was based on conversations Faulhaber and Wilhelm Berning (1877-1955), bishop of Osnabrück had with bishops from Argentina and Brazil while they were in Rome for the pope’s coronation earlier that month. Faulhaber writes that the Munich office of the Raphaelsverein has been in contact with Helio Lobo (1883-1960), a Brazilian diplomat in Switzerland who had authority to issue up to 3000 Brazilian visas for German and Austrian Catholic priests and religious refugees. However, Lobo was open to using the visas for Jewish refugees who would work as agricultural labourers. Berning’s letter of the same day supported Faulhaber’s request.

Doc 11: 05.04.1939

Cardinal Luigi Maglione (1877-1944), Secretary of State, wrote to Archbishop Benedetto Aloisi Masella (1879-1970), nuncio to Brazil asking him to convey the wish of the pope that President Getulio Vargas (1882-1954) would grant the 3,000 visas. (This was done on 14.04.1939 and appears as Annexe I on page 100 after Document 35. The date in ADSS is recorded as 1936 – an error.)

Doc 28: 05.06.1939

Pallotine priest Max Grösser (1887-1940), Secretary General of Raphaelsverein wrote to Pius XII asking for his help in assisting Catholics of Jewish descent to immigrate to Brazil.

Doc 30: 06.06.1939

Maglione to Masella. The pope asked for news on the request for the 3,000 visas.

Doc 33: 20.06.1939

Maglione to Masella. President Vargas has granted the 3,000 visas as an act of personal homage to the pope.

Doc 34: 23.06.1939

Maglione to Faulhaber. Maglione informs Faulhaber of the granting of the visas.

Doc 35: 28.06.1939

Masella to Maglione. Masella sends the conditions under which the visas will be granted. Brazil will leave it to the discretion of the Holy See to determine who gets a visa – Germans or other nationalities. (Annexe I is Masella’s request in the name of the pope; Annexe II is the Brazilian response on 24.06.1939 confirming the grant of the visas.)

Conditions for the granting of the visa [sourced from several documents in ADSS]:

a) Applicants must deposit a minimum of 20 Contos di Reis with the Bank of Brazil; (the equivalent of RM 39,000 / 273,000 Italian lire / $US 15,600) A sum that was impossible for most Jewish refugees.

(In 2011 = $US 250,000)

b) Applicants must be Catholics of Jewish descent;

c) Applicants must travel as a family unit (minimum three persons), ie single people will not be issued a visa;

d) Applicants were expected to work in agriculture and farming.

Doc 37: 11.07.1939

Maglione to Masella. Maglione instructs Masella to thank Vargas.

Doc 39: 13.07.1939

The Procurator General of the Pallotines, Fr Franz Xaver Hecht (1885-1953) wrote to Angelo Dell’Acqua (1903-1972) in the Secretariat of State suggesting that it would avoid confusion if the Raphaelsverein was declared the only agency for the distribution of the Brazilian visas. (This request was repeated in a letter from Hecht to Maglione [Doc 41] on 17.07.1939).

Doc 40: 16.07.1939

Maglione to Masella. Maglione asks for the conditions for the granting of the visas.

Doc 42: 20.07.1939.

Berning to Maglione. Responding to the details sent in Document 35, Berning says the financial conditions for the granting of the visas are too heavy. The Holy See should ask for a relaxation of the financial restrictions. The bishop also points out that most of the potential immigrants have no experience as agricultural workers. Berning also suggests Protestant non-Aryans be considered for the Brazilian visas.

Doc 44: 22.07.1939

Masella to Maglione. The visas are directed primarily at non-Aryan German Catholics.

Doc 46: 29.07.1939

Maglione to Masella: Masella asked to approach the Brazilian government and request an ease of restrictions on the visa conditions. Document 47 (31.07.1939) is Masella’s acknowledgement and indication of attempting to seek an ease of visa conditions.

Doc 53: 30.08.1939

Maglione to Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo (1873-1946), Nuncio to Germany: Maglione passes on information about the visas and attempts to have conditions eased.

Germany invaded Poland on 01.09.1939

Doc 57: 02.09.1939

Orsenigo to Maglione: The nuncio sends two letters: the first from Grösser asking the Holy See to intervene with the Brazilian government for the easing of visa conditions; the second proposed Jewish immigration to Argentina.

Doc 61: 11.09.1939

Orsenigo to Maglione: Discussed immigration of non-Aryan Catholic families to Brazil.

Doc 70: 19.09.1939

Maglione to Masella: Maglione repeats his earlier request [Doc 46] that Masella press the Brazilian government to ease visa conditions.

Doc 95: 21.10.1939

Maglione to Masella: Third request – as per docs 47 and 70. Growing urgency.

Doc 96: 24.10.1939

Archbishop Valerio Valeri (1883-1963), Nuncio to France to Domenico Tardini (1888-1961), Secretariat of State: Is there a possibility of using some of the Brazilian visas for Non-Aryan Catholic refugees in France? Document 97 is Maglione’s response.

 Doc 106: 13.11.1939

Masella to Maglione: Brazilian government asks for a tax payment of 20,000 Italian lire per potential immigrant.

Doc 111: 22.11.1939

Secretariat of State to the Brazilian Embassy to the Holy See: Formal request for a mitigation of the conditions attached to the visas.

Doc 120: 14.12.1939

Secretariat of State to the Brazilian Embassy to the Holy See: Formal request to use the 3,000 visas.

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