BERLIN — As Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers' Party rose to power in Berlin during the 1930s, the economic woes of the doomed Weimar Republic forced tens of thousands of workers to migrate abroad. Some of them ended up in Brazil, where the National Socialists soon established their own branch, which became the biggest outside Germany.
But a century on, some of Brazil’s memories of the Nazis' horrifying legacy appear to have faded. This month, Germany’s embassy in Brazil was forced to remind people that Nazis were indeed right-wing — and not left-wing, as some Brazilian commentators have claimed.
The Brazilian backlash came after the embassy posted a video on Twitter, in which it sought to explain Berlin’s approach to remembering the Holocaust. “The Germans don’t hide their past. Learn how to teach history in Germany,” the embassy’s caption read. The video, however, came in the midst of a deeply divided presidential campaign.
After one commentator appeared to question whether the Holocaust had ever happened, the embassy felt obliged to clarify: “The Holocaust is a historical fact, with evidence and witnesses that can be found in many places in Europe.”
The original video itself drew a direct link between Germany’s contemporary far right and concerns that some of its ideology is based on right-wing extremist Nazi thoughts from the World War II era. Some Brazilian far-right supporters then appeared to regard the embassy’s association of Nazis with the right wing as slanderous.
“‘Right-wing Extremists’? The Hitler Party was called party of Socialist Workers,” wrote one commentator, responding on Facebook.
“I feel like you want to influence the election,” another Brazilian argued, writing that the diplomats had provided no evidence that “Nazism is right-wing.”
While Hitler’s party carried the word “socialist” in its name, only a few of the policies pursued by him were left-wing or indeed socialist. Political scientists today assume the Nazis mainly added the word to gain the support of working-class voters who had previously supported left-wing parties.
But in Brazil, the far right has attempted to blur such lines in recent years, and the German Embassy’s video was published only a day before the main right-wing presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, survived a stabbing attack during a campaign rally on Sept. 6. The upcoming elections in early October could become the most contentious in recent Brazilian history; Bolsonaro is the current front-runner even though he is deeply unpopular among parts of the polarized electorate.
His critics at times have referred to him as a Nazi or a far-right firebrand — a characterization his supporters reject. But Bolsonaro has been recorded making racist remarks, slandering a left-leaning congresswoman and attacking LGBT communities.
After inadvertently becoming involved in that domestic dispute, the German Embassy this week opted for a safer subject: It posted a video of Germany’s first amphibious bus.