Category Archives: Paraguay

Origins of the Guarani–Spanish Alliance

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1580-1584:

Unique local circumstances made Paraguay an extreme example of the more general process that accompanied the colonization of Spanish America. The Guarani Indians needed the Spaniards as allies in their struggle to defend themselves against hostile neighbouring tribes. For their part, the Spaniards, moving inland from the newly founded port of Buenos Aires a thousand miles away, were too few in number to establish themselves without Guarani help. An alliance based on mutual necessity was sealed by the gift of Guarani women as wives, mistresses and servants. The continuing isolation of the settlement, and the almost total absence of Spanish women, led to the rapid creation of a unique mestizo society. Mestizo sons succeeded their fathers as encomenderos, and races and cultures mingled to a degree unparalleled elsewhere on the continent.’

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Mengele’s Nueva Alemania in Paraguay

In Drexel University’s online publication, The Smart Set, Graeme Wood portrays Joseph Mengele’s Germany in exile in Paraguay. Here’s a taste of it.

Eugene, a Belgian computer programmer, has retired to a cottage in southern Paraguay, and the pride of his golden years is his view. From his stone patio, he sees forested hills, the fringes of yerba mate plantations, and, in the distance, the crumbling ruins of a Jesuit settlement two centuries old. “Like a picture,” he says, and I nod to agree, even though my mind is not on the beautiful vista, but on the dark figure who once shared it.

The Nazi doctor Josef Mengele cheated justice for decades by hiding out in South America, sometimes in these very hills. Had he stayed in Germany he would almost certainly have died by the noose. Jews and Gypsies at Auschwitz called him “the Angel of Death”: He killed men and women for the dubious medical value of dissecting them, and for pleasure. He injected dyes into children’s eyes to see if he could change their color. When he ran out of Jews, he sent memos asking for more, and he got them.

Here in southern Paraguay, he found a life not of fear and seclusion but of relaxation and, like Eugene, retirement. After the war, an organization called die Spinne operated a shadowy network of safe houses and travel agents around South America, a sort of Hosteling International for Nazis on the lam. In Argentina and Brazil, they buried Mengele’s tracks well. But in 1960 and then again from 1963 to 1964, he lived openly in a lovely German town on the outskirts of Encarnacion, and even took a Paraguayan passport as “José Mengele.”

This community, called Hohenau, gave Mengele a life in some ways superior to the one he left behind in his native Swabia. Today, rich from the profits of cultivating yerba mate tea (consumed at a rate of gallons a day by all Paraguayans), Hohenau looks like northern California, with sunny drags and boutiques upscale enough to take plastic. The climate is hot but not miserable, and well-suited to exiles from northern European winters. Old Germans remember the doctor kindly, and a friend of Eugene’s says Mengele frequently hitched scooter rides into town, to see a dentist about a recurrent toothache.

The property next to Eugene’s, a lovely and secluded holiday resort, hosted Mengele at least twice. Nowadays it bears no sign of its former guest, except perhaps in its proudly Teutonic name: Hotel Tyrol. The hotel still hints at a European past. Unlike most buildings in this stiflingly hot land, its roof slants sharply, as if to shake off the Tyrolean snow that never falls. Narrow passageways among its rooms feel like those of an old German monastery, repurposed as a spa.

via Megan McArdle

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The End of the Golden Age of Exploration

[Theodore] Roosevelt lived during the last days of the golden age of exploration, a time when men and women of science roamed the world, uncovering its geographical secrets at a breathtaking pace and giving rise to bitter international competitions. The year he was born, the earnest young explorer John Hanning Speke, traveling with the famed Orientalist Richard Burton, discovered the source of the White Nile. In 1909, the year that Roosevelt left the White House, Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Henson won the race to reach the North Pole … Just two years later, in late December 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole. Robert Scott, a renowned explorer and British hero, made it to the pole a month later, only to find the Norwegian colors flapping in the polar wind where he had planned to plant the British flag. Shocked and dispirited, Scott and his men froze to death on their long, bitter journey back to their ship. Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men, in a legendary attempt to cross Antarctica, narrowly escaped the same fate two years later, the same year that Roosevelt would set off down the River of Doubt.

To [Henry Fairfield] Osborn, Roosevelt’s decision to descend this river seemed insane if not suicidal, and he ordered [Frank] Chapman to tell the former president that the American Museum of Natural History expected him to adhere to his original plan. However, when Chapman’s letter, with all the weight of the museum behind it, reached Brazil, it had less effect than a leaf falling in the rain forest. Having found the challenge he had been yearning for, Roosevelt was beyond the reach of Osborn’s persuasion. In a letter to Chapman, Roosevelt wrote, “Tell Osborn I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and if it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so.”

SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 61-62

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The Mennonites of Filadelfia, Paraguay

Last week, reader Scott Rogers sent me links to interesting accounts of the Mennonite diaspora in Paraguay.

Mennonite settlers came to Paraguay from Germany, Canada, Russia and other countries for a number of reasons: religious freedom, the chance to practice their beliefs without hindrance, the quest for land. Although German immigrants had settled in Paraguay before the turn of the 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1920’s and 30s that many, many more arrived.

Many of the immigrants from Russia were fleeing from the ravages of the Bolshevik Revolution and the later Stalin repressions. They traveled to Germany and to other countries, and eventually joined the emigration to Paraguay.

Paraguay welcomed the emigrants….

The Mennonites had the reputation of being excellent farmers, hard-workers, and disciplined in their habits. In addition, the rumor of oil deposits in the Chaco, and Bolivia’s encroachment on that area, which resulted in the 1932 War of the Chaco, made it a political necessity to populate the region with Paraguayan citizens. (At the end of the war, Bolivia had lost much of its territory back to Paraguay, but both countries suffered loss of life and credibility.)

In return for religious freedom, exemption from military service, the right to speak German in schools and elsewhere, the right to administer their own educational, medical, social organizations and financial institutions, the Mennonites agreed to colonize an area thought to be inhospitable and unproductive due to the lack of water. The 1921 law passed by the Paraguayan congress in effect allowed the Mennonites to create a state within the state of Boqueron.

Three main waves of immigration arrived:

  • a Canadian group from Manitoba founded the the Menno colony in 1926-1927
  • a group from the Ukraine and the area of the Amour river came via China and created the Fernheim colony in 1930
  • a group of Russian refugees founded the Neuland colony in 1947

Conditions were difficult for the few thousand arrivals. An outbreak of typhoid killed many of the first colonists. The colonists persisted, finding water,creating small cooperative agricultural communities, cattle ranches and dairy farms. Several of these banded together and formed Filadelfia in 1932. Filadelfia became an organizational, commercial and financial center. The German-language magazine Mennoblatt founded in the early days continues today and a museum in Filadelfia displays artifacts of the Mennonite travels and early struggles. The area supplies the rest of the country with meat and dairy products.

My wife’s paternal line were Germans from the Ukraine who emigrated to lands around Menno, South Dakota, beginning in the 1880s. If not actual Mennonites, they were certainly pietists.

Read more about Paraguay’s Mennonites here.

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