Brazil vs Germany Propaganda – WWII

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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The fact that Brazil sent military units to fight the Germans in WWII is not popularly known. Like The United States in WWI, Brazil attempted to remain neutral, but German submarine actions eventually forced the nation to take action. Although Brazil remained technically neutral, increasing cooperation with the Allies led the Brazilian government to announce on 28 January 1942, its decision to sever diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan, and Italy. As a direct result, from the end of January to July 1942, German U-boats sank 13 Brazilian merchant vessels. In all, 21 German and 2 Italian submarines caused the sinking of 36 Brazilian merchant ships involving 1,691 drownings and 1,079 other casualties. The loss of these unarmed ships was the main reason that led the Brazilian government to declare war against the Axis.

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Insignia of the Brazilian Army Expeditionary Force

The Brazilian Expeditionary Force or BEF (Portuguese: Força Expedicionária Brasileira; or FEB) was an expeditionary force of about 25,700 men and women arranged by the army and air force to fight alongside the Allied forces in the Mediterranean Theatre of World War II. Brazil was the only independent South American country to send ground troops to fight in the Second World War.

The Brazilian insignia of a smoking snake has a strange back-story. Brazilian soldiers had landed in Europe untrained and without weapons. They waited so long to be trained and fitted for combat that they invented a slogan, “It’s more likely for a snake to smoke a pipe, than for the FEB go to the front and fight.” When they were finally approved for combat they wore a patch reflecting that sentiment… and retained it for the life of the division.

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Brother at Arms – America and Brazil

A total of 25,335 Brazilian troops came under the command of the U.S. Fifth Army. They fought in battles at Castelnuovo, Monte Castello and Montese in the Apennines south of Bologna. The Brazilians were extremely popular with Italian civilians. They were all Roman Catholics…Their languages had some common areas…and the Brazilian soldiers were extremely kind to the Italians.

This air-land force fought in Italy from September 1944 to May 1945, while the Brazilian Navy as well as the air force also acted in the Atlantic Ocean from the middle of 1942 until the end of war. During the eight months of the Italian campaign, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force managed to take 20,573 Axis prisoners, consisting of two generals, 892 officers, and 19,679 other ranks. Brazil lost 948 of its own men killed in action across all three services during the Italian campaign.

The Smallest PSYOP Campaign Ever – Two leaflets

I want to thank Gustavo Capelli Prado de Almeida (Gupka), a young Brazilian researcher and translator who convinced me to write this short article and who was a tremendous help in every aspect of the project. I could not have done it without his help.

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Here are the German Soldiers…

Because the Brazilians were sent to Italy without uniforms or weapons, the Americans wanted to give them minor jobs behind the lines where they would not be in danger. As the need for manpower grew and the BEF was uniformed and trained, they gradually found themselves taking part in major battles with the German. As a result, the Germans actually prepared and dropped an all-text leaflet on the Brazilians. There was a surrender message on the back of the leaflet and a safe conduct pass. The message on the front is:

To the First, Sixth and Eleventh Regiments of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force

Comrades!

Here are the German soldiers, communicating with the Brazilian soldiers.

Why and for whom are you fighting here in Italy?

It is because the Americans - that aren't loved by anyone in this world - want to convince you that it is to defend Brazilian interests.

Why did you leave your country, full of radiant sun, to fight here in the fog, in the mud and in the filth, waiting for a terrible winter, with its snowstorms and the never ending avalanches?

This is worth the 95 dollars payment received every month?

A body mutilated by gunshots or a grave in Italy should be better paid! There is nothing more than that here for you, because we German soldiers are defending tenaciously and ferociously every meter of land.

You all must have suffered greatly in Abetaia [Italian city]. How many mothers and wives must now suffer in Brazil?

Those who may one day return to their homes won't be able to console themselves.

The back of the leaflet says in part:

Soldiers from your Lines are now with us

They aren't in this mess they were in some hours ago when they were fighting by your side.

Now a smile appears in their faces, because they are moving to a camp, safe and quiet, to await the end of the war.

They noticed here that we are not inconsiderate to any country or race, and that every prisoner of war has the same correct treatment. Good food and living conditions - everything that they deserve according to international treaties.

Think of this: The most important thing in a war is the opportunity to return to your home.

As a prisoner, the probability of surviving is much higher! Believe these words, think about the subject and continue to pay attention.

In the box at the bottom of the page there is a safe conduct pass written in Italian, German and Portuguese. It says in part:

The carrier of this passierschein (German for safe conduct pass) has ceased fighting and must be removed from the front as soon possible

The German leaflet image is not clear and it is impossible to see the code number on the back. That code would tell us everything about the maker of the leaflet and when it was disseminated. I think I can see the letters “AI” and that indicates that the maker was the German Propaganda-Abschnitts-Offizier Italien (Propaganda Section Officer – Italy) organization. This unit printed the “AI” leaflets for use in Italy and was under the direct supervision of the SS-Standarte Kurt Eggers. Early in the war the German military was responsible for propaganda, but after the attempt on Hitler's life, that responsibility was given to the more dedicated SS.

The Battle of Monte Castello (also called Operation Encore) was an engagement which took place from 25 November 1944 to 21 February 1945 during the Italian campaign. It was fought between the Allied forces advancing into northern Italy and dug-in German defenders. The battle marked the Brazilian Expeditionary Force's entry into the land war in Europe. The battle was fought southwest of Bologna near Abetaia. Since the leaflet above mentions Abetaia it must have been printed after February 1945.

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Why do you German Soldiers Continue to fight?

The Brazilians actually prepared an all-text leaflet answering the Germans. The leaflet is in German of course; we illustrate an official Brazilian Army Portuguese translation of the leaflet. The text is:

Why do you German Soldiers Continue to fight?

That is a question that is hard to answer - in fact; there is no reasonable answer for it.

You keep fighting, even knowing that Germany is losing the war.

You keep fighting, but you know that every day of war results in more destruction for your country, new dangers and suffering for your families.

You keep fighting, even when it is clear that the only people interested in the prolongation of the war are the leaders of the Nazi Party who want to - at any price - delay the consequences that the National Socialist defeat will bring to them.

Remember that your dear ones want you back alive!

Remember that there is only one way back to your homes - it is by surrendering to the Allies!

According to the Geneva Convention that is recognized in Brazil, you will have the following privileges as allied prisoners:

1- You will be moved immediately from the battle zone.
2- You will receive the same food as the Allied soldiers.
3- When sick, you will receive medical aid in the same hospitals as our soldiers.
4- When the war is over, you will be sent home as quickly as possible.

This ends the propaganda war between the Brazilians and the Germans. Just two leaflets. However, the major powers were not quite through, so we find one additional leaflet prepared by the British 8th Army.

The British join the Propaganda Fight

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Why are we Brazilian soldiers fighting against the Germans?

The British prepared a leaflet to the Germans coded T/59, perhaps influenced by the Brazilian leaflet above. That code (T/) signifies 8th Army in North Africa and Italy, 1943 to 1945. 210,000 copies of T/59 were printed in mid-January 1945 by Psychological Warfare Branch Unit #14. 47,500 leaflets were distributed by 5th Army artillery on 19 January 1945. Another 23,750 leaflets were fired by 5th Army artillery on 1 March 45. The all-text leaflet says:

Why are we Brazilians soldiers fighting against the Germans?

That is a question easy to answer. Brazil joined the world coalition of free nations against Nazi Germany for two simple reasons:

First, our country was provoked by German pirate-submarines who sunk our defenseless ships near the Brazilian coast in spite of our diplomatic protests. Brazil was strictly neutral.

Second, because the Brazilian people want to live in a free world, where a free man can work in peace, not in a world dominated by National Socialism. The so called “new order” of Hitler is not limited only to Europe: it is a world-wide scheme, a universal menace. The network of political intrigue that the Nazis are trying to spread in the Latin-American republics, including our country made it very clear that Brazil was being directly affected and threatened by the National Socialist challenge.

We Brazilian soldiers are in Europe fighting against the imperialist aggression of Nazi Germany, trying to maintain our way of life, and, for a future of progress and liberty, just as all the other united nations are.

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National War Front – Leaflet No. 3

The British National War Front also prepared a leaflet for use in India to encourage that nation to support the war and tell them of the entrance of Brazil into the war on the Allied side. That leaflet tells of the enormous resources of the new ally. The leaflet points out that Brazil is bigger than the United States and twice as big as India with 40 million people. It has a 50,000 man Army and a Navy that includes two battleships, three cruisers and 10 destroyers.

The Germans Strike Back

The Germans struck back with two anti-American leaflets to the Brazilians, implying that American help came with a steep price, either your raw materials or your life. The images are not good, but the intent of the propaganda is clear to see.

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Brazilians!

The first leaflet depicts American President Franklin D. Roosevelt as an Eagle with American insignia on both wings. He swoops down on Brazil and his talons are out to steal rubber, minerals, coffee and petroleum. The leaflet was dropped by the Germans over Brazilian lines in 1945. The back of the leaflet is all text:

Brazilians!

Your wonderful land is the richest in the world.
Why can't you extract your own oil?
Because the Americans don't want you to!
Why can’t you sell your own coffee?
Because the Americans don't want you to!
Why does Brazil produce so little rubber?
Because the Americans don't want you to!
Why aren’t you exploring for and mining minerals anymore?
Because the Americans don't want you to!
The Americans want to take over Brazil, to allow their capitalists to exploit your wealth.
Because of this, you Brazilian soldiers were sent from Brazil to die in Europe and never come home.

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While in Brazil

The second German leaflet depicts an American soldier raising an American flag while standing on the Brazilian flag, below him a dead Brazilian The text on the front is:

While in Brazil

In Italy

The back is all in text:

Brazilians!

Did you ever question why the Americans pay you so well?
It is to control you.
Why would they control you?
It is too remove the best soldiers from Brazil
Why would they want to remove your best soldiers from Brazil?
That way you won't be able to defend your country from inside.
Who menaces the Brazilian border?
The enemy is already inside Brazil!
Who is the real enemy of Brazil?
It is the American imperialist who wants to turn Brazil into a colony!

It is interesting that the Germans ask why the Americans pay the Brazilian soldiers so well. The fact is that the arrangement that was made between the United States and Brazil required the United States to train, dress, arm, feed and pay the salary of the Brazilian military forces. I also understand that the first word on the front is misspelled; it should be “inquanto,” not “imquanto.”

Derreck T. Calkins adds in A Military Force on a Political Mission: The Brazilian Expeditionary Force in World War II:

During the winter of 1944-45, a German leaflet that circulated amongst the FEB depicted a Brazilian soldier with an amputated leg. On the front side the wounded soldier said, “Listen; Jose let me tell you something.” On the reverse side, the wounded soldier continued: "Listen: What I got was my discharge and a pair of crutches. Now I am part of the army of war invalids, which continuously increases. I am good for nothing. I can no longer perform my job in railways. Maybe I can get a permit to sell roasted peanuts. The business does not yield much, but with the small pension we receive, we cannot support a family."

Calkins mentions seeing other leaflets in Brazilian archives but gives no descriptions or explanations. The titles are: Regiment of the Expeditionary Force, My God, Listen to your Earth Songs, Hear there, Because German soldiers continue the struggle?, Rivers of Blood, and Soldiers of your ranks. Looking through my collection of the Psywar Society’s journal The Falling Leaf, I found another item that mentions Brazil.

One entry says that a miniature 4-page illustrated British leaflet on very thin paper was found entitled “Brazil at War.” I also note that a short 9-minute American propaganda film called Brazil at War was produced in 1943 with the help of the United States Office of War Information. It is possible that the leaflet advertised the movie.

Brazilians that Fought for Hitler

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The Brazilian Soldiers of Hitler

We should also mention that there were a many Brazilians with German roots that fought for Germany in WWII. This came to light in Prof. Dennison de Oliveira’s book: The Brazilian Soldiers of Hitler. The book indicates that hundreds of soldiers of German descent, born in Brazil, fought for Hitler's Germany. The Brazilian Nazi Party was the largest in the world outside Germany. Some of these individuals returned to Germany to study or work, often with their families. With the outbreak of war they found themselves unable to return to Brazil. When they reached draft age they were summoned by the German armed forces and engaged in combat in World War II. There is at least one confirmed case of a resident German origin family in Brazil who had a son that fought in the Brazilian army and another in the German army.

This ends out brief look at Brazil's propaganda war with Germany. It is meant only to give the reader an idea of what went on between Brazil and Nazi Germany during World War II. Readers with comments are encouraged to write to the author at Sgmbert@hotmail.com.

       © 29 July 2015