Southern Brazilian Jewish Farmers Tell Their Stories

Israelitas no Rio Grande do Sul

This post gives a description of the novels and memoirs left to us by Brazilian Jewish Colonization Association colonists. They offer fascinating portrayals of Jewish immigrant life. The post includes visuals, links to more information and a list of references, including how to find both the original and secondary works  in libraries worldwide.

Beginning in 1904 the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), originally founded by Baron Hirsch, settled thousands of immigrants in farming communities in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. The farming communities never became successful but their inhabitants did.

Memoirs of a Jewish Girlhood in Southern Brazil

And they wrote memoirs and novels based on their experiences. Up until now most have only been available in Portuguese and Spanish although there does exist an English translation of Memories of a Jewish Girlhood in Southern Brazil by Martha Pargendler Faermann originally published in Portuguese in 1990. Unfortunately, outside of Brazil this English version is only available in a few libraries.

But the English translation of the earliest of these works, On a Clear April Morning, (1940) by Marcos Iolovitch should be published in the United States in the near future.

The other works include in order of publication

Filipson bookFilipson, by Frida Alexandr., (Sao Paulo: Fulgor) 1967, 237 pp.

Filipson is a series of short stories describing life in the JCA’s first colony, Philippson, named for the JCA’s vice-president. Covering the period from 1906-1925, it was written in 1967 in Sao Paulo where the author had lived for many years.

Filipson describes the hardships of life in the colony, the lack of support from the JCA and the special difficulties of being female colonists. Boys could take trips to the cities, but girls needed to be accompanied. The only hope for these girls was to be chosen by a man who would take them to live in a city. And several of the stories focus on the maintenance of traditional Jewish practices in this isolated area. In fact we learn that Jews in the nearby cities, who lived more assimilated lives, considered the colonies to be where real Judaism still survived.

For more on Frida Alexandr and Filipson read this article by the Coordinator of Portuguese Language Studies at the University of Maryland, Regina Igel
https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/alexandr-frida

and this wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frida_Alexandr

And for a more in-depth discussion of Filipson and the next book on our list


Smaller o colono bookO colono judeu-açu – Romance da Colônia Quatro Irmãos
 ( The Great Jewish Colonist – a Romance of the Quatro Irmãos  Colony) by Adão Voloch (Sao Paulo: Editora Novo Rumbos) 1985, 168pp. ,

check out this dissertation by James Hussar, Chair, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at California State University at Fullerton, Cycling through the Pampas.   https://curate.nd.edu/downloads/h128nc60586

Adão Voloch was born in the Filipson colony in 1914. He moved to the Quatro Irmaos colony when he was ten years old. His father, who emigrated from Bessarabia, was very concerned with socio-economic justice and Adão followed in his footsteps.

Adão was quite a colorful character as described by Prof. Igel. 1

With little formal education, having to leave school to work on the farm, he made his way first to Porto Alegre and then to Campos, a city in the state of Rio de Janeiro, working as a carpenter, salesman and handyman, But Communist ideology was his great love, and he became a member of the party.

Hotel_Copacabana_palace

Hotel Copacabana where Voloch sold trinkets to tourists

In the late 1940s Voloch was elected vice-councilman. But, during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) he was imprisoned several times. Then his fortunes improved and at the end of his life (he died in 1991), Prof Igel tells us “he owned, along with his second wife, a medium-sized store that carried items for tourists, especially precious stones, located in the back of the Copacabana Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.”

As Prof. Hussar tells us, O colono judeu-açu – Romance da Colônia Quatro Irmãos (The Great Jewish Colonist {Açu means great in the native Tupi language}) – a Romance of the Quatro Irmãos Colony), is a fictionalized tale of life in the second Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) colony in Brazil, Quatro Irmaos. Based on the life of his father, Nathan, Voloch’s protagonist, Natálio, who is in search of a “way of life consistent with his Communist principles… [and] wanders from [the JCA’s] Argentine Basalvilbaso colony to Filipson and, finally, Quatro Irmãos. The cycle’s eighteen stories document not only Natálio’s failure as a farmer, but also the struggle of Jewish immigrants who attempt to negotiate religious, ethnic, and national identity.”

Um Gaucho a PeO colono judeu-açu is the first in a triology by Voloch based on his own, as well as his father’s, life. This first volume covers the years 1925-31.

The second in the series is Um Gaucho a Pe (A Gaucho on Foot) covering the years 1931-1947 and is centered on Arturo ( based on Adao Voloch himself) from the time he left Quatro Irmaos at age 17 until he dies as a political prisoner.

The third, Os Horizontes do Sol ( The Horizons of the Sun) begins in the late 19th Century and ends in the 1950s. Based on Voloch’s own family’s travels it traces a Jewish family as it emigrates to London, then Argentina, then Santiago de Chile and finally southern Brazil. The book focuses a great deal on the effects of the diaspora on Jewish life and the experiences of assimilation in new lands.

Judeus de Bombachas e chimarrao book.jpgJudeus de Bombachas e Chimarrão ( Jews of the Gaucho Pants and Mate Tea)

Also in 1985 another former Filipson colonist published his memoirs – Jacques Schweidson who was actually the brother of Frida Alexandr, author of the memoir Filipson. Schweidson wrote his memoir Judeus de Bombachas e Chimarrão to satisfy the curiosity of his granddaughter.

Schweidson’s book describes the extreme hardships of the colonists who found living conditions much worse than the ones they had left behind in Eastern Europe. The author also criticizes the policies of the Jewish Colonization Association, which weren’t quite helpful.

Schweidson spent most of his adult life in Florianopolis, a city in the state of Santa Catarina , about 375 miles northeast of Filipson. Florianopolis is the gateway to some of Brazil’s loveliest beaches and here Schweidson opened a chain of dry good stores. Then,   in the 1950s he developed one of the city’s most important neighborhoods, Jardim Atlantico.

Schweidson was a well-known and admired citizen.2

Three times a week, his stores, A Modelar ( To Model) sponsored a very popular radio program Sequencias A Modelar ( The A Modelar Combination) that was broadcast from an auditorium full of housewives, retired people and students with comic skits, music and other types of entertainment. Schweidson wrote many of the commercials himself. A Plaza in the town’s center is named for him.

ADDITIONAL WORKS BY IMMIGRANTS:

Other literary works describing the JCA colonies include

Israelitas no Rio Grande do Sul ( Israelites in Rio Grande do Sul) by Eva Nicolaiewsky, (Porto Alegre: Editora Garaliya) 1975.

Memorias de Phillipson by Guilherme Soibelman (São Paulo: Canopus) 1984.

Resgatando a memoria da primeira immigracão judaica para o Brasil, Colonia Phillipson, 1904  (Rescuing the memory of the first Jewish immigration to Brazil, the Phillipson Colony, 1904), by Arão Verba. (Brazil: Editora Evangraf) 1997.

FINDING THESE BOOKS

Most of the books by immigrants  can be purchased online inexpensively by Brazilian residents via  estantevirtual o mercardolivre.   Sometimes used copies appear for sale on amazon.com but they are usually expensive. The original books, and the secondary sources cited below, can also be found in libraries throughout the United States and other countries. To find a library for a particular book go to   worldcat.org


  1. Igel,Regina “Voloch, Adão,” Jewish Writers of Latin America: A Dictionary. Ed. Darrell B. Lockhart (NewYork: Garland) 1997, pp. 571-74. 
  2. Cunha, M. R., & Haussen, D. F. (2003). Rádio brasileiro: Episódios e personagens. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS.pp. 111-113 

Leave a Reply