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 early 20th Century Southern Brazilian farmers.  They offer fascinating portrayals of Jewish immigrant life. The post includes visuals, links to more information and a list of references. We also  include 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 southern Brazil.  These farming communities in the state of Rio Grande do Sul never became successful, but their inhabitants did.

And they wrote memoirs and novels based on their experiences.


The earliest of these works, On a Clear April Morning by Marcos Iolovitch, is now finally  available in English. On a Clear April Morning, originally published in Portuguese in 1940,  is a lyrical and riveting coming of age story.

It is  set among early twentieth-century settlers brought to this almost unknown Jewish farming experiment in an isolated corner of Brazil. Drama, joy, disasters, romance, and humor fill this autobiographical novel.

We watch the young hero travel from farms where the crops won’t grow to towns where this Yiddish-speaking youth falls in love, befriends sons of German immigrants, studies philosophy with the Jesuits, and becomes an important member of Brazil’s literary world.

This first English edition includes elucidating historical notes on the origin of Jewish farming communities in the U.S., Canada and South America by the translator, Merrie Blocker, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer.

Check out the preface and first chapter here.

Memoirs of a Jewish Girlhood in Southern Brazil

The only other of these works available in English is Memories of a Jewish Girlhood in Southern Brazil by Martha Pargendler Faermann.  It was  originally published in Portuguese in 1990.  Outside of Brazil this English version is only available in a few libraries.


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

and this wikipedia entry

And for a more in-depth discussion of Filipson and O COLONO JUDEU-AÇU, the next book on our list, check out this dissertation by James Hussar, Chair, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at California State University at Fullerton, Cycling through the Pampas.

Smaller o colono bookO colono judeu-açu – Romance da Colônia Quatro Irmãos, by Adão Voloch

Adão Voloch was born in the Filipson colony in 1914. He moved to the Quatro Irmãos 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.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. He worked  as a carpenter, salesman and handyman. But Communist ideology was his great love, and he became a member of the party.


In the late 1940s Voloch was elected vice-councilman in Rio.  But, during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) he was imprisoned several times. Then his fortunes improved. At the end of his life (he died in 1991),  “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 Palace   Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.” 2

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 the first in a trilogy by Voloch based on his own, as well as his father’s, life. This first volume covers the years 1925-31.

Though based on the lives of real people, O colono judeu-açu is a fictionalized cycle of tales  depicitng  life in the second Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) colony in Brazil, Quatro Irmãos. It is modeled on the life of Voloch’s father, Nathan. Voloch’s protagonist, Natálio, who is in search of a “way of life consistent with his Communist principles…”  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.”3

Um Gaucho a Pe

The second in the series is Um Gaucho a Pe (A Gaucho on Foot) covering the years 1931-1947. It is centered on Arturo ( based on Adão Voloch himself) from the time he left Quatro Irmãos 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) by Jacques Schweidson

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.

Three times a week, his stores, A Modelar ( To Model) sponsored a very popular radio program Sequencias A Modelar ( The A Modelar Combination). It 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 Florianopolis’  center is named for him.4


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.


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 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

  1. Igel,Regina “Voloch, Adão,” Jewish Writers of Latin America: A Dictionary. Ed. Darrell B. Lockhart (NewYork: Garland) 1997, pp. 571-74. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Hussar, James. Cyclying Through the Pampas. Dissertation: Univeristy of Notre Dame. 2008. page 8. []
  4. Cunha, M. R., & Haussen, D. F. (2003). Rádio brasileiro: Episódios e personagens. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS.pp. 111-113 []

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