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Overview

Brazil admitted 96,000 Jewish immigrants between 1918 and 1933 but only 12,000 between 1933 and 1941 as a result of more stringent policies under the populist rule of Getulio Vargas.  According to Brazil’s Virtual Archives on Holocaust and anti-Semitism Institute, the Brazilian government had a secret policy that forbade the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from granting visas to Jews between 1937 and 1950, and Brazil denied approximately 16,000 visas to European Jews attempting to escape the Nazi regime.  Despite these instructions, the Brazilian ambassador to France, Ambassador Luis Martins de Souza Dantas, granted immigration visas to French Jews, saving hundreds of lives.  Yad Vashem includes him on its list of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

Following World War II, Brazil saw an influx of both displaced Jewish refugees and former Nazi officials.  German prosecutors who examined secret files from Brazil and Chile discovered that as many as 9,000 Nazi officers and collaborators from other countries escaped from Europe and found sanctuary in South American countries, including between 1,500 and 2,000 in Brazil.

Local sources estimate that Brazil has the 10th largest Jewish population in the world.  Currently around 50,000 Jews, about half of Brazil’s Jewish population, live in Sao Paulo.  Rio de Janeiro is home to the country’s second-largest Jewish community, with a population of nearly 29,000.  There is a significant Jewish population of about 9,000 located in Porto Alegre.  Northeast Brazil has several smaller, historic Jewish communities in the cities of Belem do Para, Manaus, and Recife.

Brazil endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010.  Sources in the federal government, the Israeli Mission to Brazil, civil society organizations, and Jewish community representatives were unaware of any existing laws codifying the return of Holocaust-era property to victims.  The Uniao Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem Estar Social (UNIBES) is a nonprofit organization that has operated in Sao Paulo for more than 95 years.  UNIBES representatives said that they had heard of survivors based in Brazil pursuing claims abroad, but that this had usually been done privately without advocacy or assistance from the government.  UNIBES representatives said that assistance from Brazil was primarily of a consular nature, provided to survivors pursuing claims while in Europe.  The Department is not aware of any pending cases involving U.S. citizens.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

There are no reports of immovable property confiscated from Jews or other targeted groups during World War II by the Brazilian government.  After the war, Brazil was a member of the “Allied and Associated Powers” involved in the 1947 Treaty of Peace with Italy, which addressed the return of property in Italy to members of the United Nations (Article 78).  Brazil later entered into a lump sum settlement with Italy in 1958 relating to compensation for damage sustained by Brazilian citizens in Italy during World War II.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property

In 1973, Brazil signed the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970).  The Convention was incorporated into domestic law through decree 72.312, on May 31, 1973.  In 1998, Brazil signed the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.  In 1999, Brazil incorporated into its domestic law the 1995 Convention by the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) on Stolen or Illicit Exported Cultural Properties, complementing the legal apparatus from the UNESCO 1970 Convention.

The Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) has been leading the effort to create a permanent commission on combating the illicit trafficking of cultural properties.  The institutions involved in this effort include the National Historic and Artistic Institute (IPHAN), the Brazilian Institute of Museums (IBRAM), the National Library, the Federal Police, the Revenue Services, the National Archives, the Ministry of External Relations (MRE), and the National Agency of Mining.  As of May 2018, the group had held five meetings.  The MEC, through a project with UNESCO in Brazil, is developing a study to subsidize the elaboration of a national policy to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural properties.

Since 1998, the Ministry of Education and Culture has maintained through IPHAN the Database on Wanted Cultural Properties (BCP) to register property that has been stolen or that is missing.  Once a cultural good enters BCP, IPHAN contacts the federal police, Interpol, and the national prosecutor’s office.  IPHAN is also responsible for the National Registry of Traders of Antiques and Works of Art.  That registry, created in 2007, was originally aimed at identifying goods with the potential for preservation; it now largely focuses on the prevention of money laundering and disseminating information about thefts.

The MEC also maintains a different online, public database to register missing properties from Brazilian museums, public and private alike, resulting from theft, robbery, or any other kind of disappearance.  The Registry of Disappeared Museum Properties was created in 2010.  Its goal is to make it possible to track, locate, and retrieve these properties.

Government, civil society, and Israeli embassy sources said there were likely individuals in Brazil with claims to movable property that was seized by the Nazis during WWII, but they did not provide specific cases.  Neither sources in civil society nor sources in the government had reports regarding Judaica and Jewish cultural property in Brazil being stolen or bought.

Access to Archival Documents

The University of Sao Paulo’s Laboratory of Studies on Ethnicity, Racism, and Discrimination maintains the Virtual Archives on Holocaust and anti-Semitism, a virtual archive of Holocaust materials available to the public online.  The archive’s researchers are dedicated to transcribing the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, refugees, and exiles of Nazi fascism recorded on video/audio and digitizing and identifying diplomatic documents from MRE, including photographs and passports donated by interviewees.  The archive launched in 2006 with funds from the Sao Paulo State Research Support Foundation in partnership with Yad Vashem in Israel.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

Brazilian officials often participate in International Holocaust Remembrance Day activities on January 27.  In 2017, former President Michel Temer attended an event in Sao Paulo organized by the Sao Paulo Israeli Congregation, the Israeli Confederation of Brazil, and the Israeli Federation of Sao Paulo.  In 2019, newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro was recovering from stab wounds sustained during the presidential election campaign but issued a video from his hospital.

There are several Jewish organizations in Brazil that focus on education, remembrance, research, and memorial site construction and preservation.  The synagogue in Recife organizes events throughout the year to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

Brazilian NGOs maintain three Holocaust memorials in Sao Paulo, Curitiba, and Rio de Janeiro.  Federação Israelita do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FIERJ) is a collection of schools, clubs, nursing homes, and hospitals that represent the Jewish community in the state of Rio de Janeiro.  In April 2020, they plan to celebrate the opening of a new Holocaust memorial that will include a museum.  They are raising funds for the memorial with the help of the Jewish community in Rio de Janeiro.  The Sociedade Israelita Brasileira de Cultura e Beneficencia (SIBRA) is planning to build a Jewish German Memorial and is seeking support to develop educational programs about this issue.  In Sao Paulo, Jewish authorities maintain three Jewish cemeteries in Embu das Artes, Vila Mariana, and Butanta.  Ten Yad (“Give a Hand”) holds an annual charity show at Anhembi in Sao Paulo.  In August 2019, the organization invited Holocaust survivor Saul Dreier, a 94-year-old musician who founded the Holocaust Survivor Band, to perform.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

UNIBES is the primary provider of eldercare and health care services and claims payments to Holocaust survivors in Brazil.  It estimates that as many as 500 Holocaust survivors remain in Brazil, although the organization aids only 220 confirmed survivors, who primarily live in Sao Paulo (169) and Rio de Janeiro (37).

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), which negotiates with the German government for payments to Holocaust victims around the world, makes direct payments to survivors in Brazil.  In 2017, it facilitated the transfer of more than $2 million to fund social assistance programs in the country.  UNIBES is the primary entity working with the Claims Conference to provide a range of social services to Holocaust survivors, including assistance for food, medication, medical care, and housing.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Brazil
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