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The first three chapters establish the historical context for understanding what happened to the Germans in Brazil during the period of the war in Europe and its immediate aftermath, 1914 to 1920. The large pattern of German settlement in Brazil, offered in Chapter I, is followed by a study of German ethnic institutions--churches, schools, societies--and the German-language press to reveal literacy levels, religious and linguistic characteristics, and the measure of assimilation (or lack thereof) into Brazilian society. Ethnic group relations, perceptions, and images, along with attendant concerns and fears, are analyzed next to show how and why the Brazilian majority (or, more properly, the governing elite) acquired a distorted image of the Germans.
The long period of Brazilian neutrality in the European war from 1914 to 1917 is treated in the next section, beginning with Chapter 4. It was a time of incubation of ethnic tensions as the Portuguese-language press became a vehicle for anti-German atrocity propaganda and as the German-language press countered with propagandistic efforts of its own. The German ethnic community was rejuvenated with a new sense of self-esteem as the verbal conflict caused German-Brazilian institutions to surge with vitality. The climax of this trend, treated in Chapter 5, came in April, 1917, as the Brazilian government broke off diplomatic relations with Germany in response to its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. German districts in several Brazilian cities were thereupon visited by riotous mobs. Homes were ransacked, commercial structures put to the torch, and German-language printing presses were destroyed. This wave of anti-Germanism, which came at a time when Brazil was technically still neutral, was much more destructive than anything experienced by Germans in the United States. The events of the summer of 1917 leading to the declaration of war are treated briefly in Chapter 6.
The war itself and its aftermath are treated in the final section, beginning with Chapter 7, which describes a second round of destructive anti-German riots and the efforts of the Brazilian government to cope with the problem of the German ethnic minority, many members of which were enemy aliens. This is followed by an analysis of the German Brazilians' response to the wartime repression that they were forced to endure, and the final chapter includes a series of comparisons with the experiences of Germans in the United States.