Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ADSS 6 The Brazilian Visa Episode Part 2

The Brazilian Visas Project (continued)

From this point on there were no developments beyond further obstacles created by the spread of the war after the German invasion of Western Europe in April 1940. Nuncios in Belgium, Holland, France and neutral Switzerland asked for an allocation of visas for Non-Aryan Catholics in their countries. The Brazilian government stalled on issuing the visas despite ever-increasing and urgent requests from the Vatican. There was even an exchange of memos over a rumour that false baptismal certificates were issued for Jews – the Vatican hotly denied the rumours. (Docs 209, 212, 305, 321). Although there were occasions when Maglione was able to write that approval for some visas had been given, such as in Holland in June 1940 (Doc 240), there is no evidence that the visas were issued or used. By mid-1940 the chances of leaving German-occupied Europe were growing ever slimmer (eg Doc 251, 252, 254).

Documents on the continuing process to obtain the visas: 128, 129, 145, 147, 155, 158, 161, 163, 170, 184, 191, 199, 202, 208, 219, 255, 263.

The end of the visa project.

In August 1940 Masella wrote to Maglione to signal a break through in the visa process. The Brazilian government had agreed to relax the financial requirements for the visas, reducing the required 20 contos to 20,000 Italian lire. Those without the money could still enter the country if they had a guarantee of work. Brazil would permit the Holy See to allow a maximum of 50 people without money to enter the country a month so as not to risk increasing unemployment. (Doc 275)

However this news had not been received by the Brazilian embassy in Berlin and the process stalled again. (Doc 277). Nonetheless the Vatican continued to hope that the visas would be issued. (Documents 280, 285, 297, 299, 304, 308, 313, 316, 320, 322, 323, 327, 328, 329). However, it was becoming clear that short of a major reversal of Brazilian government policy it would be highly unlikely that any visas would be issued, much less any Non-Aryan Catholics leave German-occupied Europe.

On 13 September 1940, Maglione explained to William Godfrey (1889-1963), the Apostolic Delegate to the United Kingdom, that the visa program has been suspended for the time being. (Doc 309)

Six weeks later, on 29 October 1940, Maglione wrote to the French nuncio, Valeri with new information on the visa situation. The distribution of the visas was still meant to proceed. However, the Brazilian government had changed the 1933 baptism date to 1934. There was also criticism that some of the Jews who had arrived in Brazil before 1939 had been a source of problems and not regarded as reliable Catholics. This would suggest that some of the arrivals were more Jewish than Catholic. Maglione’s final comment is very telling: “Of course, it must be sincere Catholics, who deserve to be helped.” By year’s end no progress had been made.

There is little in ADSS Volume 8 (1941-1942) except to record the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Theodore Innitzer’s plea to the pope in late January. Innitzer (1875-1955) pleaded for the 60,000 Viennese Jews who faced deportation. (Docs 14, 15) He explicitly mentioned the Brazilian visas. All came to naught after the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Gestapo closed the offices of the Raphaelsverein three weeks before the German armies invaded Russia in June 1941.

Nuncio Masella wrote to Maglione on 21 November 1941 announcing the Brazilian government’s decision to suspend, “with great regret”, the visa program. (Doc 205).

From the documentary evidence in ADSS it is clear that the Vatican did undertake the Brazilian visa program in good faith and with the hope that some Catholics of Jewish descent would be able to immigrate to South America. The nuncios, staff of the Raphaelsverein and many other “ordinary” Catholics worked hard to meet the demands of the Brazilian government to help Jews get out of Germany and Europe.  In this episode the problem lay with the Brazilian government and its very strange and inconsistent immigration policy.  It seems to me that Brazil's initial offer of the visas may have been made in good faith and as an act of respect to Pius XII, but it appears to have quickly become a source of embarrassment to Rio.  The end result was a "death by a thousand cuts" through deliberate stalling, bureaucratic bungling and muddling.  The saddest and cruelest aspect was the lost opportunity to save lives.  And in a final twist of irony, it was the Brazilian ambassador to the Holy See, Pinto Accioly, who led the 1942 push to have Pius XII condemn the German mass murder of the Jews.

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