From The German Doctor Hollywood blockbuster we learnt that Argentina was a popular destination for Nazis escaping from justice. But few know that already in the second half of the 19th century, South America was an immigration hot spot for Europeans. When learning about Blumenau Oktoberfest in Brazil or a German-Austrian community living many years in forced isolation in Peru, we were very much surprised. In this post you’ll read what we found out about the influence of the European descendent in South America.
Population of South America: European immigration
The population of South America is very colourful. The biggest groups arrived from Italy, Germany (even before the 2nd world war), Poland but interestingly, a lot of other, smaller communities were formed by Brits, Irish, French, Belgians, Dutch, Russians, Ukrainians and even Hungarians!
One reason for this phenomenon is that after the Latin American independence wars the young countries were left with vast, unpopulated territories that needed furnishing. Leaving these areas sparsely inhabited had posed the danger of being occupied by a neighbour (which happened in Bolivia during the pacific war with Chile). The other reason is that “whitening” the population seemed to be desirable by the governments in order to catch up with development to a European level.
So the Latin American countries implemented policies favouring European settlers, such as giving land. Argentina and Brazil were especially successful with their objective: they received 6.4 and 5.5 million of European immigrants respectively.
Bariloche, the city the Nazis escaped to
Bariloche main square looks like having been transported from a Bavarian town with its wooden houses and cuckoo clock style town hall. At Easter time the population gathers at this square to eat the giant, 8.5 m Easter egg, made locally. (This egg is the Guinness record holder of handmade chocolate eggs!)
Talking to locals in this beautiful, Lake District town of Argentina, they tell us that Nazi war criminals found refuge here and many of the town’s German descendants are children and grandchildren of Nazis. After many years of silence, more and more details (such as houses of Nazi fugitives) come to light about this period of the history.
Bariloche is not the only Argentine town with significant amount of descendants of German-speakers. Read more stories from the Telegraph in English.
Read more: Bariloche and the Lake District of Argentina
German-Austrian community in Peru surviving isolation after avalanche catastrophe
Oxapampa and Pozuzo mountain towns are perfect tourist destinations for Peruvians who can’t travel to Europe, but still want to experience European culture. These little towns are located 10 hrs bus drive from Lima and were founded by Austrian and German settlers in the end of the 19th century. They travelled to Peru from poverty in their country and the Peruvian government promised them financial help for settling in the lush, forest area.
However, upon arriving the promised help was nowhere, still the group decided to settle and create a village. Shortly after that, another catastrophe took place: an avalanche cut the village off from the rest of the country and the community lived in isolation for decades. Luckily they had crops and were self-sufficient enough to be able to survive.
Visitors to these places feel like they just arrived to a small town somewhere in Germany. All the houses were built in the Alpine style, restaurants cook sauerkraut and wurst, and at festivities locals are dressed in Bavarian-style costume and dance German folklore dances.
European marks on Curitiba
The population of South America is a big pot, that we noticed several times. People in Curitiba, Brazil, possessing an Italian passport is not a rare thing at all. In fact, in the south of Brazil the majority of the population has European origins, and this does not only mean they are descendants of Portuguese and Spanish conquerors.
Curitiba’s population is a real rainbow regarding origins: German settlers arrived in the 1830’s; Italians, Poles and Ukrainians in the second half of the 19th century. Curitiba has the biggest Slavic (Polish and Ukrainian) community in Brazil, and probably in the whole of South America. There are several local landmarks that carry the marks of European architecture – such as Bosque Alemão (‘German woods’) with references to the German culture, or the Pope’s woods which is a memorial to Polish immigrants, and many buildings in downtown.
Curitiba is dubbed “the most European city in Brazil”, which doesn’t only refer to the variety of its origins. The city life is quite orderly in a European sense: there are dedicated bus lanes on the road, wide enough pavements to encourage walking in downtown, many parks to chill at.
Read more: Curitiba, the most European city in Brazil
(Part of) the population of South America at a German party: Oktoberfest in Blumenau
There’s a little town in the south of Brazil, in the relative vicinity of Florianopolis, which name doesn’t sound Portuguese at all. Blumenau was founded by a German doctor (called Hermann Blumenau) in the middle of the 19th century.
Nowadays the town is famous for its German-style Oktoberfest, which is the only Oktoberfest in Brazil and the second biggest in the world! At that time of the year the streets fill up with beer-drinking, pretzel-eating, folk-dancing crowd of locals and travellers.
This doesn’t look strange at all in front of the setting brought by Bavarian-style buildings – provided we forget for a moment that we are in tropical Brazil. The festival welcomes 600,000 visitors every year, so if you really miss some jodeling (or just some European experience, or just getting pissed on cheap beer) during a long travel in Brazil, make sure to add Blumenau to your travel itinerary for October.
Read also: The beaches of Florianópolis