This post contains a short history of the Brazilian Jewish farming communities supported by Baron Hirch’s legacy and some references. You can read about eye witness descriptions of these communities here.
Baron Hirsch established the Jewish Colonization Agency (JCA) in 1891 “to assist and promote the emigration of Jews from any part of Europe or Asia… and to form and establish colonies in various parts of North and South America ….”. And during the Baron’s lifetime the Agency supported farming communities for Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Argentina, the United States, and Canada.
But after the Baron’s death in 1896, the new directors of the JCA decided to establish additional communities in the extreme South of Brazil. They were located near the city of Santa Maria in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. The first Brazilian colony, Philippson, opened in 1904, and the second, Quatro Irmãos, in 1912. Three other colonies were later formed.
For those willing to emigrate to these colonies the JCA offered to ” cover travel expenses and provide each settler with 25-30 hectares [60-75 acres] of land, a house, agricultural implements, two teams of oxen, two cows, one horse and an allowance that varied in accordance with the size of the family, payable once it had become self-sufficient.” 1
But even so, these Brazilian communities were not successful. Perhaps it was because the new directors of the JCA had commercial as well as philanthropic interests in mind. Many of the JCA Board members were involved in railroad construction in Brazil. And the Brazilian government paid the new railroad companies for each immigrant it settled near the new railroad lines.
Also, the JCA Board saw the commercialization of timber as one of the colonies’ principal goals. 2 The railroad lines were being built through vast forests of pines and cedars that could supply substantial profits, as lumber was in high demand in nearby Argentina. 3 In fact, the colonists were forbidden to deforest their plots without JCA approval.
So, within five years of the first colony’s founding. the majority of the settlers in Philippson had left for nearby towns and cities,4 and within three years of Quatro Irmão’s founding, only one-third of the settlers remained.5
And, within twenty years, almost all of the few thousand immigrants who came to settle in these Brazilian communities had moved to urban areas. But even though the communities themselves were not successful, the immigrants were. Today their descendants are top professionals and business people.
For additional information, see
The official history of the Jewish Colonization Agency, An Outstretched Arm. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924011030396/cu31924011030396_djvu.txt
Jewish Colonization in Rio Grande Do Sul, 1904-1925, by the foremost U.S. authority on these communities, Jeff Lesser, of Emory University. This book was published in 1991 and is out of print. But it is available at the Library of Congress, the NY Public Library and many university libraries. Check on worldcat.org. to see where it is available near you entering your zip code or town.
We can also offer a long list of resources in Portuguese. Just send a request through the reply form below.
- Falbel, Nachman. “Jewish agricultural settlement in Brazil,” Jewish History (2007) 21, p. 329.
- GRITTI, Isabel Rosa (1997). Imigração judaica no Rio Grande do Sul: a Jewish Colonization Association e a colonização de Quatro Irmãos, Porto Alegre: Martins Livreiro-Editor, pp. 47 & 63.
- CUNHA, Ernesto A. Lassance (1908). Rio Grande do Sul, Contribução para o estudo de suas condições economicas. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional, p. 11.
- LESSER, Jeff. “Pawns of the Powerful, Jewish Immigration to Brazil 1904-1945.” PhD diss., New York University, 1989. P. 47.
- LESSER, Jeffrey (1996). “Colonial Survival and Foreign Relations in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil: The Jewish Colonization Association Colony of Quatro Irmãos, 1904-1925,” in The Jewish Diaspora in Latin America, edited by David Shenin and Lois Barr. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 145-148.