Hayle Gadelha, PhD fellow, King's Brazil Institute
Cultural Attaché, Brazilian Embassy London
In Italy, I discovered an unknown Brazil - a country which sent more than 25,000 men across the Atlantic Ocean to fight against Nazi-Fascism. During the days spent in the hills of Monte Castello, I was able to acquaint myself with part of my own history from a privileged perspective, assisted by the multiple viewpoints provided by my companions from the King’s College, from markedly different nationalities. In particular, I had the chance to meet, feel and experience places and people that comprised one of the most remarkable yet virtually unheard-of episodes in the history of Brazilian international relations.
The fast-growing and modernizing Brazil of the 1940s, under an authoritarian regime, was the only South-American country to deploy troops to fight for freedom and democracy in Europe. In part due to this contradiction, which would prove to be unsustainable, as President Vargas would be ousted a few months after the end of the war, the memory of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force fell into oblivion and its history is unfamiliar to most people, even in Brazil.
As a PhD student at Brazil Institute, it was intriguing and fascinating to unearth such a multifaceted exploit. It was impressive to find out how unique was the Brazilian contribution on the war front, which, beyond the (surprisingly to many) very successful military action, extended to the affection nurtured in war times. Brazil is the only Allied country remembered in that region for the solidarity and humanity of its soldiers. As a Brazilian diplomat, I was astonished by the extremely favourable image enjoyed by Brazil in that part of the world, due to the positive way it took part in such a grievous moment of Italians’ lives. The special relationship established in the war could and should be preserved and cultivated; and the first step is to learn and spread the word about that forgotten aspect of Brazilian history.
Finally, as a Brazilian, I could enjoy the fondness seeded by the Brazilian troops and spend a great time with new and old friends from KCL in an exquisite place. And I returned convinced, as was the writer Rubem Braga, who worked as a war correspondent in that part of Italy, that the Brazilian soldiers’ greatest victory was “the resonance of affection and nostalgia that, embedded in the walls of those isolated houses across the mountains and in the heart of those good and simple Italians, this single word is capable of bringing to light: brasiliano”.