Swastikas in pools, Holocaust deniers in schools: Brazil’s Nazis

On their way back from resolving a hostage situation after an attempted bank robbery in the early hours of December 2, 2014, police officers from the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina spotted something that caught their attention while flying over the small town of Pomerode. In the backyard of a local mansion, they noticed a swimming pool decorated with a large swastika. Taken aback, the co-pilot took a picture of the odd piece of landscaping with his phone, photographs which went viral around the country.

But, for part of the 30,000 inhabitants of Pomerode, “the most German city in Brazil,” this was not news.

Many, in fact, didn’t see a problem in the swimming pool decoration, despite advocating for Nazism being a crime in Brazilian law. The owner of the swimming pool was a well-known figure in the region, history professor and Holocaust denier Wandercy Pugliesi, who was notorious for exalting Brazil’s military dictatorship and praising the legacy of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany. And in November, Mr. Pugliesi will be running for city council.

Surprisingly, Mr. Pugliesi’s bid for council is not the only link between Nazism and Santa Catarina politics making the news this week.

Parachuted in as interim state governor while incumbent Carlos Moisés faces an impeachment process, Daniela Reinehr met the press for the first time in her new role this week. While expecting some perfunctory lowball questions, potentially about Mr. Moisés, the stand-in governor was taken aback by a question about her father.

In your introduction, you thanked your family. Your father, while working as a history teacher, preached Holocaust denial in classrooms, using books from a publisher that was convicted for telling lies about World War II. Now that you are the governor of Santa Catarina, we would like to know your view, whether you share these neo-Nazi denialist views on the Holocaust?

The governor’s father is Altair Reinehr, a history teacher who has published a series of articles defending the Nazi regime in Germany. In one such example, Mr. Reinehr published a photo of himself standing outside the inn where Adolf Hitler was born, in the Austrian town of Braunau am Inn. He also gave testimony for the defense of Siegfried Ellwanger Castan, owner of publishing house Revisão, known for publishing antisemitic works and books denying the existence of the Holocaust. Brazil’s Supreme Court convicted Mr. Castan of racism in 2000.

I really cannot answer, be judged, or convicted for what this person or the other thinks,” she said. “As a daughter, it is up to me to maintain a harmonious family relationship, regardless of differences in thought.

After huge criticism and pressure from Jewish community associations, Ms. Reinehr confirmed in a statement on Thursday that she was, in fact, Nazism as well as any regime, system, conduct, or declaration that goes against individual human rights.

The Nazi Pool Guy

Former students of Wandercy Pugliesi — the swastika pool-owning history professor and city council candidate — praised him for being an honest and  teacher, who  students think. In 2002, during the graduation ceremony of one of Mr. Pugliesi’s high school classes, pupils were pictured honoring  their teacher by giving him a Nazi salute.

At his home, Mr. Pugliesi is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia, which he showed off to the entire country during an episode of TV Globo’s Sunday night magazine show Fantástico, back in 1994. The following year, he made it onto the front page of major southern newspaper Zero Hora, pictured holding a framed photograph of Hitler, standing in front of a bookshelf containing Holocaust-denying history books. In the article, which discussed Nazism on the internet, Mr. Pugliesi says that he named his son Adolf.

A judge ordered the seizure of Mr. Pugliesi’s collection of Nazi nick-nacks, but the case was thrown out in court. Condoning only became a crime in Brazil after 1997.

Even so, after photographs of his swastika pool went viral, Mr. Pugliesi went unpunished. The then-chief of police in Pomerode saw no illegality in the use of the Nazi symbol and no inquiries were opened. Mr. Pugliesi continued teaching in the nearby city of Blumenau, with the support of the school administration and students.

A political party for Nazis

Indeed, the state of Santa Catarina has a long history of Nazi sympathizers. In the late 1920s, a group of German immigrants set up the very first branch of the National Socialist German Workers Party outside the  which was officially recognized by Nazi party heads in Munich.

Led by Otto Schinkel, a World War I veteran, the Nazi party gained a wealth of members in Brazil’s South, by way of advertisement in local German language newspapers. However, as it was strictly a German political party based in Brazil, Santa Catarina’s Nazis never disputed an election in the country. In fact, its members were told not to get involved in domestic politics, instead putting their full focus on Germany.

Soon after, the Nazi Party opened its Brazilian headquarters in Blumenau, along with its own news outlet Mitteilungsblatt which regularly published antisemitic Nazi propaganda. Party branches began popping up all over Santa Catarina, anywhere there was a community of German immigrants.

Indeed, there were suggestions that the South of Brazil was part of Hitler&#8217;s <em>Lebensraum</em> expansion, along with Argentina and Uruguay. During the Third Reich, there were over 1 million Germans and their descendants living in Brazil — the vast majority in the southern states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul.

Members of the Brazilian Nazi Party were in constant contact with leaders in Germany and Hitler&#8217;s emissaries, who frequently visited Santa Catarina, where German-run industries provided broad employment opportunities for the local community.

Indeed, the German colonial presence in cities such as Blumenau remains strong until this day, largely seen in the architecture in historic town centers. Oktoberfest — not Carnival — is the biggest festival date on the Santa Catarina calendar.

The Brazilian Nazi Party was short-lived, however, as the country cracked down on German organizations and businesses after belatedly entering World War II on the Allies side.

But, as the examples of Wandercy Pugliesi and Daniela Reinehr prove, Nazi sympathy in the country’s South lives on.

The post Swastikas in pools, Holocaust deniers in schools: Brazil’s Nazis appeared first on The Brazilian Report.

DC Sister Cities - Podcast

World