Skip to main content

The Immigration and Integration of Polish Jews in Brazil, 1924-1934*

  • Jeffrey Lesser (a1)

The end of World War I marked the beginning of a new era in European migration to Brazil. The immigrants that had poured into the “país do futuro” (country of the future) now came at only a trickle and the number of entries fell by over fifty percent between 1913 and 1914 and by another sixty percent the year after. In 1918 fewer than 20,000 immigrants entered Brazil, a low that would not again be approached until 1936. Even so, between 1918 and 1919 the number of arrivals to Brazil's ports almost doubled, and in 1920 almost doubled again, reaching 69,000.

Post-war immigrants to Brazil differed in many ways from the pre-war group, both in national origin and in their views of success and opportunity. Although Portuguese, Italians, Spanish, and German immigrants continued to predominate, between 1924 and 1934 East European immigration to Brazil increased almost ten times to more than 93,000, representing about 8.5 percent of the total. Most of the East Europeans who migrated to Brazil in the quarter century after World War I were those fleeing the upheavals created by the establishment of the state of Poland. At the same time quotas and other forms of restriction in the U.S., Argentina, and Canada increasingly led potential migrants to look towards Brazil. The frequently destitute East Europeans rarely enjoyed the support of their often powerless governments, a factor that made such immigrants attractive to Brazil's large landowners. In 1927, a contract between the Polish Government and Brazil's Secretary of Agriculture for the transportation of 2,000 Polish families was partially based on the belief that the mixing of “docile” East Europeans with more “volatile” Southern Europeans would “go a long way to obviate any labor trouble that might otherwise occur.” Whatever positive attributes the East Europeans might have presented to Brazilian elites in terms of “dividing and conquering,” the Lithuanian government complained that the condition of its 20,000 immigrants was “so pitiable … that (we) might be forced to repatriate them.”

Hide All

I would like to thank Marc Forster for his comments on an early version of this article. Later comments from The Americas readers were invaluable in making the piece publishable.

Hide All

1 Ferreira Levy, Maria Stella, “O Papel da Migração Internacional na Evolução da População Brasileira (1872 a 1972).” Revista de Saúde Pública, supplement, 8 (1974), 4990.

2 Revista de Imigração e Colonização [hereafter RIC] 1:3 (October, 1940), 641–642. This does not include Russian immigration which, as a result of the Russian Revolution, was restricted by the Soviet government. Between 1914 and 1923 Eastern European immigration to Brazil was less than two percent of the total.

3 Extract of report of HM Consul, São Paulo, to British Foreign Office, February, 1927. FO 371/ 11196 A2074/2074/6, p. 181. British Public Records Office-London [hereafter PRO-L].

4 Sir T. Vaughan (British Consul, Kovno, Lithuania) to Sir Austen Chamberlain, 29 December 1927. FO 371/13270 W70/70/59, p. 183. PRO-L.

5 Smolana, Krzysztof, “Sobre a gênese do estereótipo do Polonês na América Latina (caso brasileiro)Estudios Latinoamericanos (Warsaw) 5 (1979), 6978 ; Kula, Marcin, “Algumas observações sobre a emigração polonesa para o Brasil.” Estudios Latinoamericanos (Warsaw) 3 (1976), 171178. The linkage of Poles with pimping and prostitution in Brazil was one common stereotype but this may well have flowed from bigoted ideas about Polish Jews, not Polish Catholics. See Lesser, Jeffrey, Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), chapter 1.

6 Count Jazienski’s plans were never realized. Perdigão Malheiro, Agostinho Marques, A Escravidão no Brasil: Ensaio Historico-Juridico-Social: Parte 3-Africanos. (Rio de Janeiro: Typ. Nacional, 1867), p. 182.

7 de Carvalho, Francisco Augusto, O Brazil, Colonização e Emigração-Esboço Historico baseado no estudo dos systemas e vantagens que offerecem of Estados Unidos 2nd Ed. (Porto: Imprensa Portugueza, p. 1876), 192.

8 Letter of Brazilian Minister Plenipotentiary Alcebiades Peçanha to Brazilian Foreign Minister Felix Pacheco, 16 Abril 1924. 02-Reparticões Consulares Brasileiras. Warsaw-Ofícios-1921-1924-232/3/15. Arquivo Histórico Itamarati-Rio de Janeiro, [hereafter AHI-R].

9 Report of a meeting between officials of the State of São Paulo and Polish Department of Emigration by Brazilian Minister Plenipotenciary Alcebiades Peçanha to Brazilian Foreign Minister Mangabeira, 6 May 1927. 02-Repartições Consulares Brasileiras. Warsaw-Ofícios-1927-1928-232/3/17. AHI-R.

10 Independently gathered statistics from both Jewish relief agencies (which kept both out-migration figures from Europe and in-migration figures to Brazil) and the Brazilian government agree on the high percentage of Jews among Polish entries. Jewish Colonization Association, Séance du Conseil d’administration [hereafter SCA], 1925–1933, Archives of the Jewish Colonization Association-London [hereafter JCA-L]. “Discriminação por Nacionalidade dos Imigrantes Entrando no Brasil no Período 1924–1933 e 1934–1939,” RIC 1:3 (July 1940), 633–638.

11 See, for example, Stawinski, Alberto Victor, Primórdios da Imigração Polonesa no Rio Grande do Sul (1875–1975), (Porto Alegre: Escola Superior de Teologia São Lourenço, 1976) or Gar-dolinski, Edmundo, Escolas da Colonização Polonesa no Rio Grande do Sul, (Porto Alegre: Escola Superior de Teologia São Lourenço, 1976) as well as the aforementioned articles by Smolana and Kula.

12 Report of the Jewish Colonization Association’s Marcos Pereira to ICA (Paris), 3 August 1923. SCA (6 October 1923) IV, p. 220. JCA-L

13 Letter of Marcos Pereira (Erebango) to ICA (Paris), 22 November 1921. SCA (4 March 1922) I. p. 81. Lesser, JCA-L. Jeffrey, Jewish Colonization in Rio Grande do Sul, 1904–1925. (São Paulo: Centro de Estudos de Demografia Histórica de América Latina, Universidade de São Paulo 1991).

14 Baily, Samuel L., “Chain Migration of Italians to Argentina: case studies of the Agnonesi and Sirolesi.” Studi Emigrazione 19 (March, 1982), 7391. MacDonald, John S. and MacDonald, Leatrice D., “Chain Migration, Ethnic Neighborhood Formation and Social Networks,” Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 13 (1964), 8295.

15 Ruppin, Arthur, “The Jewish Population of the World,” in Central Yiddish Culture Organization, The Jewish People: Past and Present, (New York: Jewish Encyclopedic Handbooks, 1946), p. 349.

16 On South African Jewry, see Cohen, Stephen, “Historical Background,” in South African Jewry: A Contemporary Survey, Arkin, Marcus ed., (Capetown: Oxford University Press, 1984).

17 “Summary of Jewish Immigration to Canada, 1901–1939,” American Jewish Yearbook 5701, vol. 42. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1940). Table 25, p. 624.

18 Wolf, Lucien, “Report to the Directors of the Jewish Colonization Association (London, 2 Sept. 1923). SCA, 15 Dec. 1923, III, p. 181. JCA-L.

19 Lestschinsky, Jacob, “Jewish Migrations, 1840–1956,” The Jews: Their History, Culture and Religion. Vol. 2. ed. Finkelstein, Louis; 153696. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 1554.

20 Lestschinsky, , “Jewish Migrations,” p. 1218.

21 “Les Juifs dans I’Histoire du Brésil,” Rapport d’activité pendant la période 1933–43, Hebrew Immigrant Aid and Sheltering Society-Brazil [hereafter HIAS-Br], Folder 1. Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York [hereafter YIVO-NY].

22 Lestschinsky, “Jewish Migrations, 1840–1956” and Levy, , “O Papel da Migração,” p. 72.

23 Register of EZRA (Jewish Immigrant Aid Society of Sao Paulo) recording immigrants entering port of Santos, Brazil, 1928–1932. Complete information for these years is available on numbers of men, women, and children, country of birth, civil status, age, occupation, and initial destination in Brazil. Arquivo Histórico Judaico Brasileiro, São Paulo [hereafter AHJB-SP].

24 Report of Marcos Pereira (São Paulo) to ICA (Paris), 20 July 1923. SCA 6 October 1923, IV. p. 212. JCA-L.

25 Cameron, C.R., “Immigration into São Paulo, Parts II and III.” Report no. 357, 14 April 1931, p. 41. 832.55/78. National Archives and Record Center, Washington [hereafter NARC-W]. Poles made up 55 percent of all Eastern European immigrants while Polish Jews represented 64 percent of all Eastern European Jews entering Brazil. RIC 1:4 (October, 1940), 633–4.

26 Boletim da Directoria de Terras, Colonização e Imigração [hereafter DTCI] I (October, 1937), Table A-11, p. 64. forty percent of the immigrants from Rumania were not Catholic as well as twenty percent of those from Lithuania. Other immigrant groups, such as Spanish and Portuguese, were to provide over 99.9 percent Catholic immigrants.

27 Less than forty percent of the Polish immigrants to Brazil between 1908 and 1936 were listed as farmers. DTCI I (October, 1937), Table A–17, p. 74. The groups with the lowest number of farmers were both from the Middle-East, the Turks, at 11 percent, and the Syrians at 28 percent. At the high end, ninety-nine percent of Japanese and 87 percent of Yugoslavs were listed as farmers.

28 Lestschinsky, Jacob, “The Industrial and Social Structure of the Jewish Population of Interbellum Poland,” in YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 11 (1957), Table 2, 248.

29 In 1926 the JCA listed 16 percent of the immigrants to Brazil as farmers. “Report for the Year 1926” SCA 2 July 1927 I, p. 147. JCA-L.

30 DTCI I (October, 1937), Table A–11, p. 64.

31 DTCI I (October, 1937), Table A–4, p. 54.

32 Between 1908 and 1936 about 56 percent of foreigners entering Santos left after some time. Of Poles, however, only 43 percent departed, of Rumanians 29 percent, and of Lithuanians 16 percent. DTCI I, (October, 1937), Table A-4, p. 54.

33 Until 1936 the religion of immigrants was simply categorized as Catholic or non-Catholic.

34 EZRA did not keep statistics on the sex of children under the age of 15 and, because it often used only a first initial for children, it is impossible to determine their sex by name.

35 DTCI I (October, 1937), Table A–12, p. 67.

36 Widows made up 71 of the 1,025 adult women registered by EZRA. For overall information on civil status see DTCI I (October, 1937), Table A–12, p. 67.

37 Decree 4,247, 6 January 1921. Brazil. Ministério da Justiça e Negócios Interiores, Estrangeiros: Legislação-De 1808–1939 (Rio de Janeiro: Serviço de Documentação, 1950), pp. 152–153. [hereafter Estrangeiros].

38 Decree 16,761. 31 December 1924. Estrangeiros, 154–155.

39 Raffalovich to ICA (Paris) 18 December 1923. SCA (8 March 1924) III. 241. JCA–L.

40 Raffalovich (Rio de Janeiro) to ICA (Paris) 11 July 1924. SCA (11 October 1924) IV, 1. JCA-L.

41 Raffalovich (Rio de Janeiro) to ICA (Paris) 11 July 1924. SCA (11 October 1924) IV, 4. JCA-L.

42 “Annual report 1924” SCA (17 October 1925), II, 45. JCA-L. Raffalovich, , “Report for the Year 1926.” SCA 2 July 1927, 1, 130. JCA-L.

43 Report of Marcos Pereira (Rio de Janeiro) to ICA (Paris), 23 June 1921, SCA (21 September 1921 ) IV, pp. 161–173. JCA-L.

44 Lesser, Jewish Colonization; Elkin, Judith Laikin, Jews of the Latin American Republics (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980), p. 91.

45 “Rapport de L’administration centrale au Conseil d’Administration” of the Jewish Colonization Association [hereafter RACCA], 1922, p. 150. AHJB-SP.

46 “Notes dur les questions inscrites a l’ordre du jour,” SCA (13 May 1922) I, pp. 25–26. Raffalovich, JCA-L. Isaiah, Brazilye-a tsukunftsland far idisher emigratsye [Yiddish-Brazil-The Land of the Future for the Jewish Emigrant] (Berlin: HIAS-ICA-EMIGDIRECT, 1928).

47 Raffalovich, Isaiah, “The Condition of Jewry and Judaism in South America,” in Central Conference of American Rabbi’s Yearbook XI (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbi’s, 1930), pp. 56.

48 Lesser, , Jewish Colonization, p. 34.

49 Report of Pereira (Rio de Janeiro) to ICA (Paris), 23 June 1921, SCA (21 September 1921) IV, p. 161. JCA-L.

50 Wolf, Lucien, “Report to the Directors of the Jewish Colonization Association”, (London) 2 September 1923. In SCA (15 December 1923) 3, p. 162. JCA-L. Ehzreh un Sanitorieh Ehzreh: 25 Yohriker Yubileitsz Oysgohbeh 1916–1941 [EZRA and Sanitorium EZRA: 25th Year Anniversary Publication, 1916-1941]. (São Paulo: EZRA, 1941).

51 Members of these institutions frequently clashed with German Jews who arrived in Brazil in the mid-1930s. See Lesser, Jeffrey, “Continuity and Change Within an Immigrant Community: The Jews of São Paulo, 1924–1945.” Luso-Brazilian Review 25:2 (Winter, 1988), 4558.

52 Lesser, Jeffrey, “Pawns of the Powerful: Jewish Immigration to Brazil, 1904–1945.” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, Department of History, 1989)

53 Report of Pereira (Rio de Janeiro) to ICA (Paris), 23 June 1921. SCA (21 September 1921) IV, p. 162. JCA-L.

54 Report of Pereira (Rio de Janeiro) to ICA (Paris), 23 June 1921. SCA (21 September 1921) IV, p. 162. JCA-L.

55 Largman, Esther Regina and Levine, Robert M., “Jews in the Tropics: Bahian Jews in the Early Twentieth Century,” The Americas 18 (October, 1986): 159170, 161.

56 Pereira (on board the Flandria) to ICA (Paris), 3 August 1923. SCA (6 October 1923) IV, p. 227, JCA-L 57.

57 On Jewish education see: Falbel, Nachman, Estudos sobre a comunidade judaica no Brasil (São Paulo: Federação Israelita de São Paulo, 1984), pp. 118130 and Rattner, Henrique, Tradição e Mudança: A Comunidade Judaica em São Paulo (São Paulo: Atica, 1977), esp. pp. 6169.

58 RACCA 1930, p. 61. AHJB-SP.

59 On the Jewish press in Brazil see: Raizman, Isaac Z., A Fertl Yorhundert Idische Presse in Brazil [A Quarter of a Century of Jewish Press in Brazil] (Safed: Museum le-Omanut ha-Dfus, 1968); Margulies, Sergio Robert, “História da Imprensa Judaica no Brasil” in American Jewish Archives-Cincinnatti, Small Collection; Falbel, , Estudos, 155160.

60 Dos Idische Vochenblatt [The Jewish Weekly] (Rio de Janeiro), n. 15, p. 9. Microfilm in newspaper holdings of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Library, Cincinnati, Ohio, [hereafter HUC/JIR-C].

61 Lestschinsky, , “The Industrial and Social,” Table 1, p. 246.

62 According to the the Polish census of 1921 the most “popular” industrial professions among Jewish men were tailoring and shoemaking. Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1971), vol. 13, p. 740.

63 Pereira (on board the “Flandria”) to ICA (Paris). 3 August 1923. SCA (6 October 1923) IV, p. 229. JCA-L.

64 Register of Sociedade Benificente Israelita EZRA (São Paulo). “Jewish Immigrants Entering Port of Santos, 1928–1932.” AHJB-SP.

65 Pereira (on board the “Flandria”) to ICA (Paris). 3 August 1923. SCA (6 October 1923) IV, p. 229. JCA-L.

66 On the earliest peddlers in Brazil see: José Alipio Goulart, O Máscate no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Conquista, 1967), esp. 65–189.

67 Lesser, Jeffrey, “From Pedlars to Proprietors: Lebanese, Syrian and Jewish Immigrants in Brazil.” In The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration, Hourani, Albert and Shehadi, Nadim, eds. (London and New York: LB. Tauris and St. Martins Press, 1992), pp. 393410.

68 Idische Folkszeitung [Jewish Gazette] (Rio de Janeiro). 1 August 1941, p. 2, HUC/JIR-C.

69 Raffalovich, , “Report of Tour in North of Brazil,” SCA (5 September 1931), 2, p. 87, JCA-L.

70 Pereira (São Paulo) to ICA (Paris), 20 July 1923. SCA (6 October 1923), IV, p.214, JCA-L.

71 “Minutes of an Interview with Mr. Jacob Schneider, President of the Zionist Organization in Brazil, London, 2nd November 1924,” ZU/2350, p. 1. Central Zionist Archives-Jerusalem.

72 Raffalovich to ICA (Paris), 11 July 1924. SCA 11 October 1924 IV, p. 94. JCA-L.

73 Raffalovich to ICA (Paris), 11 July 1924. SCA 11, October 1924 IV, p. 94. JCA-L. Unfortunately neither Brazil’s National Archives nor National Library have an extant copy of this issue of O Brasil.

74 Raffalovich to ICA (Paris), 11 July 1924. SCA 11, October 1924 IV, 132. JCA-L.

75 Annual Report 1927. SCA 15 October 1928, I, 271. JCA-L.

76 Raffalovich, , Brazilye-a tsukunfisland, 1.

77 In 1927 a central agency for Jewish migration, HICEM, was formed by the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the Hebrew Immigrant Aid and Sheltering Society (HIAS), and the Berlin United Committee for Jewish Migration (Emigdirect). The three groups also maintained their own projects.

78 Raffalovich (Rio) to ICA (Paris), 30 April 1929, no. 110. SCA (6 July 1929) I, p. 188. JCA-L.

79 Jewish Colonization Association; Bureau de Rio de Janeiro affilie a la HIAS-JCA-EMIGDIRECT, “Report for the year 1932.” SCA (16 March 1933), p. 247. JCA-L.

* I would like to thank Marc Forster for his comments on an early version of this article. Later comments from The Americas readers were invaluable in making the piece publishable.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Americas
  • ISSN: 0003-1615
  • EISSN: 1533-6247
  • URL: /core/journals/americas
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed