INTERVIEW. Fr. Dr. Zdzisław Malczewski: The contribution of Poles to the development of Brazil was enormous

The first traces of Polishness in Brazil date back to the 17th century, but settlement began only in the 19th century. These people went there and actually only got a piece of jungle, much more difficult to clear than our European forests. It was completely incomparable to what they experienced in Poland and the experience was certainly incredibly difficult, but it worked and the Poles were successful. Was it noticed in Brazil then and did it have any impact on their image?

Fr. Dr. Zdzisław Malczewski (SChr): I would complement it a bit. Before Polish settlement, Polish engineers arrived and made a great contribution to the development of railways. If you look at the map of the state of São Paulo, one of the cities is called Brodowski, in honor of the engineer who ran the railway line from one of the cities to Santos, to the port. Moreover, doctors also appeared. There is a certain error, because it is said that the settlement began in 1869. Yes – in Parana. I already have two tracks. When I return to Porto Alegre, I will want to go to the state archives to find the books that recorded travelers passing through the Emperor’s ports. King John VI when, after Napoleon’s attack on Portugal, he fled to his colony in present-day Brazil. He first settled in today’s state of Bahia (the town of Salvador). He found it too hot there, so he moved to Rio de Janeiro. When it was hot in Rio, he went to the mountains, to Petropolis, where the palace was built – it is cooler there in summer. I have two tracks. King John VI ordered that travelers passing through ports be recorded. If a policeman spells his Polish name wrong, I look at the names of his wife and children. If the names are Polish, I am sure that he was an emigrant from Poland. I have found in documents discovered in Brazil that in 1824, a large number of Polish emigrants arrived with a group of Prussians and settled in the state of Rio Grande del Sul, where today’s city of San Leopoldo is located. A group of soldiers arrived right behind them. Why? The emperor did not believe in the loyalty of soldiers of Portuguese origin, so he sent his emissary to Europe to invite young men to join the Brazilian imperial army. A group with one lieutenant or sergeant arrived and fought in the so-called the ragged revolution, i.e. the revolution of the state of Rio Grande del Sul, which rebelled against the Empire due to high taxes. This war lasted 10 years. This state was recognized even by the smallest country, Uruguay, but unfortunately the revolutionaries were defeated and Rio Grande del Sul was re-incorporated into the imperial republic. The Polish community in Brazil is also older than it is claimed.

So where do these discrepancies come from?

I understand the intellectuals from Curitiba who, in the 1970s, started publishing the Annals of the Brazilian-Polish Community and relied on local documents. But if you look at it more broadly, it’s a bit different. For example, Fr. Jan Pitoń, when he became the rector of the Polish Catholic mission, traveled around Brazil, visited museums, visited parishes, dug into parish and state archives and found there – for example in Bahia – the settlers had been there much earlier than in the south, but they could not withstand the heat. So they moved to Rio Grande del Sul.

The same when Father Posadzy arrived – sent by the Primate of Poland, Cardinal August Hlond, the founder of the Christ’s Fellowship, went to Brazil and also to neighboring countries (Uruguay, Paraguay) to see the situation of Polish settlers. At the end of 1929, he went to the newest Polish colony, to Orzeł Biały. In the interwar period, the Polish state was scared by the demographic surplus, so it could not buy land directly from the state, although they were so tempted to have a colony – to separate Parana from the Brazilian federation. There’s even a map. Prof. Ruy Wachowicz was the first Brazilian intellectual of Polish origin who wrote about the history of Polish settlement in Parana in Portuguese. In the annuals they published for several years, they wrote about Parana, then stopped because they ran out of money, but it is worth digging into other states, because father Posadzy, after staying among emigrants freshly arrived from Poland to Orzeł Biały, visited the so-called old colonies in the state of Espírito Santo. I followed in his footsteps, also in cemeteries, looking for Polish names and surnames. I found Olga, I found Wanda – these are traces from years ago. 40-70. 19th century.

I say to our Brazilian friends who study the history of our settlement: look also in Polish sources. If you don’t know Polish, your access to sources published in Portuguese in Brazil is limited. Please forgive me, I don’t want to be malicious, but sometimes these master’s theses that I look through, several PhD theses on Polish emigration, are like this: the introduction is very developed, there are many sociological quotations from Americans, Germans, English, then the core is very small, the ending is very extensive, and what I want is for this core to show our history and our contribution to the development of Brazil in a very rich way. A versatile contribution, not only agricultural.

You mentioned the agricultural contribution. He is also not widely known, not only among Poles in Poland, but also among Brazilians themselves…

Prof. Ruy Wachowicz is famous and was famous at the University of Warsaw. They even tried to invite him to give lectures one day because he spoke Polish – his father was a teacher in one of the Polish schools in the state of Rio Grande del Sul – but he didn’t make it because he suddenly died of heart palpitations.

In turn, prof. Czesław Bieżanko brought soybeans from China. He was a lecturer at the University of Pelotas, in Rio Grande del Sul, and learned that there was a large Polish colony in Guarani das Missões, located about 600 km from Pelotas. He went there and tried to convince Polish settlers to try sowing soybeans. Our farmer, or in the old language – peasant, did not believe it. But then Professor Czesław Bieżanko asked the local parish priest to convince our settlers and farmers. That’s why I ask my Polish friends: “Do you know who contributed to the great development of Brazil?”. One ship sails from the port of Santos to Poland every week. What is he carrying? Soy, and this is the contribution of Polish settlers from Guarani das Missões, thanks of course to Prof. Czesław Bieżanko, who convinced them with the help of a priest, Fr. Vincent, working in the local community.

In general, priests in Brazil played a very important role. Not only were they the protectors of the settlers, but it was also thanks to them that Polish culture survived.

Professor Maria Paradowska from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań, whom I often visited when I came on holiday, writes in one of her books that Polish clergy, who, when Tsarina Catherine dissolved orders and religious congregations, forced former monks to become diocesan monks, could not come to terms with it and, learning that there was a large number of settlers in Brazil, they chose emigration and went to Brazil. These were people who not only carried out pastoral work, they founded parish schools and parish libraries. There were so-called traveling libraries – when they reached one colony, after some time they were sent to the next Polish colony, where people read books to each other. They weren’t such ignorant people, as people say, “the ignorant ones left”. No. These were people who thought about the future. When the children were born, they knew that they were already Brazilian citizens, so they were taught in Polish schools, of course, at the very beginning in Polish, and then in Polish until noon, and in Portuguese in the afternoon. In the city of São Mateus do Sul (170 km south of Curitiba) I met a mulatto who said: “Father, I graduated from the Polish high school in Mallet”. We had four Polish junior high schools. Anyone who graduated from high school in Mallet, Curitiba, Porto Alegre had the right to teach at school from the first to the fourth grade, or to work as an accountant in an accounting office. Priests took care of the settlers, acted as doctors, advisors, and wrote letters to those who did not learn to write in Polish in Poland. The priest also had various activities. One hundred kilometers south of Curitiba is the city of Palmeira. A Polish priest lived there and took care of a group of Polish colonies. Driving by car, as the provincial of our congregation at that time, I was curious how many kilometers he traveled on the back of a horse to reach beyond Mallet – 250 km. He didn’t have GPS, he didn’t even have a map. How did he get there? How did he know where our colonists were? I really admire these priests.

One of them had some insects on his way and he couldn’t get rid of it. He couldn’t sleep because they were biting him. They lived in very poor conditions. In every church that Poles built, there was always a room near the sacristy where the priest could sleep and be at the Poles’ disposal the next day. Polish emigrants often fought over the priest because they had been waiting for his arrival for ten years. When they found out that he was in another colony, they wanted to steal him and move him to their colony. He not only lifted their spirits and met their spiritual needs, but also was their leader.

A great event for Poles in Brazil was the election of the Holy Father John Paul II. It also helped break many stereotypes that had developed around the Polish community during the communist period.

Yes. Let me put it this way – this is my perspective as a Pole, but also as an emigrant – when there was communism in Poland, there was a military regime in Brazil. So it was impossible to have contact because this local Brazilian of Polish origin was suspected of communism. When I was waiting for a Brazilian visa at the end of 1978, our parishioner who worked at the Brazilian consulate in Gdynia visited our parish in Stargard near Szczecin. Today this consulate no longer exists. He told me this: “You will have to wait six months for a Brazilian visa because the Brazilian services will be checking you to see if you are a communist”. Indeed, half a year passed – I received a Brazilian visa and I could go. Poles at that time were also afraid to have contact with Poland because they would be suspected of supporting communists.

When it comes to stereotypes, it is not just a matter of our Polonians. This is an Italian issue. This is a German issue. This is a matter for others. These are the so-called the natives, i.e. hybrids of a Portuguese and a Negro, or a Portuguese and an Indian – they looked at the European newcomers a little differently because they took their place. It was not, as they used to say nicely in schools, “the discovery of South America”. It was an ordinary invasion, banditry of the Portuguese, the Spanish, who occupied South America, or later the Irish, the English, who occupied North America. That’s why the history there talks about an invasion, an occupation.

Once, I celebrated a multi-ethnic Mass in the city of Ijui, where I worked for five years. After 21 years I returned to this parish and during Mass I asked a black man: “Did the Portuguese apologize to you for slavery?” Three million free people were stolen from Mozambique and Angola, and turned into slaves, where at the market in Rio de Janeiro or in other ports they were sold to large landowners who treated them like animals for work.

How do Brazilians remember John Paul II?

Brazilians loved him because when John Paul II first arrived in 1980, he addressed them in Portuguese and always, in every state where he was, he was well prepared and knew how to use characteristic words. Each state has different names for its inhabitants. He tried to identify with the local people. He drank yerba mate. But let’s keep in mind that the Brazilian episcopate did not take into account the meeting between John Paul II and the Brazilian Polish community. When a delegation from the episcopal conference went to the Vatican and a map of Brazil was spread before John Paul II showing how they had planned the pilgrimage, the pope asked them: “Where is Curitiba?” “Here”. “Then I want to visit her.” “But Holy Father, it is not in the plans.” “But I want to go there”. “Why?”. I have great respect for retired Bishop Pedro Fedalto, who was the Ordinary of Curitiba under John Paul II. Letters have already been sent to the Vatican and to John Paul II in Polish, Portuguese and French, saying that the Polish community wants to meet John Paul II and, on the other hand, he also wanted to meet, even though the bishops did not want to. The group preparing the meeting of John Paul II with the Polish community included Archbishop Marcinkus and one of the army colonels. The Polish church named after Saint Stanisław Bishop and Martyr is shown. Archbishop Marcinkus says: “This is too small a place.” Someone suggested: “Maybe at the Couto Pereira stadium?”. When Marcinkus – the Holy Father’s right hand and his defender – saw him, he hugged the late Father Benedict, the then rector of the Polish mission. “This is where we will hold the meeting with the Polish community. There are 70,000 seats”. The local archbishop says: “But you are dividing my archdiocese!” and demanded that some of the admission tickets to the meeting of the Holy Father with the Polish community be made available to the archdiocese. I asked Fr. Benedykt, because he was my resident, to write it all down, because at the moment I am describing what he told me.

The meeting of John Paul II with the Brazilian Polish community was wonderful. Why? He knew these difficult conditions and that is why he spoke about the cross, about suffering. What haven’t Poles gone through? These heroes who fled Poland because they were looking for freedom. Many of our farmers at that time left Poland under the partitions because they did not want to be enlisted in the Russian, Prussian or Austrian armies. They preferred to be free. Prof. Marcin Kula said at one of the conferences: “You have to admire these people. They were simple. And now they choose the unknown”. They were promised that bread grows on trees and that honey and milk flow in the river, but they found a bush and now they had to burn and cut down the trees. Of course, at the beginning the emperor gave them one cow, an axe, a chopping saw, and food, but sometimes the director of the so-called colonization, he cheated them and gave them less. They also had to work several days a week clearing rocky roads.

Poles make a great contribution to the development of agriculture. After all, who invented the first horse-drawn carriages in Parana? Our settlers. It was called the “Polish wagon”. But they also had carriages in which they went to church, took their daughter to her wedding, etc.

The priest is preparing a Biographical Dictionary of Poles living in Brazil. How advanced is this work?

I have already published the first volume at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Warsaw – it is a pity that this center was closed down. I want to prepare the second volume. I have been publishing the academic journal “Projekcje. Journal of studies of Polish diaspora in Brazil” for 23 years. I have started a book about the Polish settlement in Orzeł Biały. In the interwar period, there was a demographic surplus, so the Polish state, through its people, created two non-governmental organizations: the Colonization Society, which received 50,000 from the state of Espirito Santo. hectares and 1,800 families were supposed to be settled there within eight years, but the outbreak of World War II prevented further colonization, development and the shipment of immigrants, who could pay for the land here in Poland or there, after their arrival, after a year, when they had already started produce coffee or other agricultural products. Then they could pay off the land they had purchased – 20 hectares of land – in installments. And the Colonial-Maritime League was established, which also in the interwar period bought the areas in Parana towards Paraguay. Polish colonies were also established there.

What is the current situation of Polish emigrants in Brazil?

Emigrants as such are individuals. In many cases, these are mixed marriages. I fell in love with the Polonuses in Orzeł Biały – it is 850 km from Rio de Janeiro in the state of Espirito Santo. They learned how to grow coffee. Potatoes don’t grow there. One of the Brazilian priests told them: “We eat rice”, because they can plant rice there dry or wet, i.e. in a swamp. He says: “We eat potatoes when there is a big holiday”, because they have to be brought from another state, for example from Parana, where when it is a good summer, our settlers can harvest potatoes three times a year. I met Polonus, who, apart from being a coffee grower, also buys coffee – he has large silos where he stores the coffee of our producers, and when the price goes up, they take the coffee and sell it. He sells tons of coffee a week and wants to sell it to Poland. It would be specially packaged with the inscription “Coffee produced by descendants of Polish settlers in Orzeł Biały”.

Interview by Anna Wiejak

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