Cemetery of Polish emigrants in Pátio Velho
The phenomenon of Polish emigration to Brazil is noteworthy mainly due to its scale. To peasants going abroad in huge numbers it seemed like a chance for a better life. They believed in the stories about the land waiting for them there and the great prospects, and they did not think about the adversities they would have to face. However, the several weeks’ journey and the new, often unfavorable living conditions and climate meant that many of them died already in the early stages of adaptation. One of the greatest tragedies in the history of Polish emigration occurred in 1911, when a typhoid fever epidemic decimated a Polish colony in the south of Paraná.
The cemetery of Polish emigrants
Pátio Velho, which was designed as one of the centers of Polish settlement in Brazil, still features the cemetery where the victims of the typhoid epidemic of 1911 are buried. The graves are simple, without tombstones, mostly marked only with plain wooden crosses which are now weathered and covered with moss and lichen. The road to the cemetery leads through a gate near which there is a wooden chapel from 1912 with an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa and a symbolic inscription in Polish and Portuguese: "They left Poland, their native homeland, they came to Brazil, the promised land, they went through pain and suffering... they are buried in this cemetery".
Cemetery in Pátio Velho (fot. PAI)
In 1986, during the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Polish immigrants in Brazil, a commemorative cross was erected in the cemetery. On its pedestal there is a plaque with a legend in Portuguese: "75 years of Polish immigration. 1911-1986. Death has been swallowed up by victory. Where, Oh death, is your victory? (1 Cor. 15:55). To the memory of the martyrdom of the first Polish colonists on this soil. Gratitude of the descendants".
Memories of emigrants
An important source of information on the fate of Polish immigrants in Brazil is a publication from the late 1930s The Diaries of Emigrants. South America, containing emigrants’ autobiographies obtained though a public competition.
This is how the beginnings of the settlement in Santana are described by one of the emigrants - Tadeusz Hryncz:
“Just like very few people have come back from Siberia, there are very few survivors from those bands of emigrants who were so eager to go to the Mountains of Hope. Even the strongest men perished in such great numbers that a freshly built sawmill couldn't keep up with the cutting of coffin boards, and the healthier men had to summon every ounce of strength to carry their compatriots to the cemetery. The lamentation of widows and orphans was heard every day in the dark and gloomy forest, which seemed to relish the suffering of those people abandoned by everything and everyone, people for whom there was only one guardian, consoler and escape - God.”
The highest intensity of emigration to Brazil from the Polish lands (called the Brazilian fever) took place in the last decade of the 19th century (link: https://polonika.pl/polonik-tygodnia/pomnik-siewcy-w-kurytybie). The Polish peasants who took part in it risked everything, sold their property and left their homes just to cross the border, get to Bremen or Hamburg and board a ship sailing to America. The authorities and social organizations tried to prevent a rapid population outflow. A whole series of expeditions were undertaken to investigate the conditions of the journey and the situation that awaited people across the ocean. In 1890 such an expedition was carried out by Adolf Dygasiński on behalf of the Warsaw newspaper "Kurier Warszawski", and in 1891 the envoy of the Catholic community was Fr. Zygmunt Chełmicki. Brazil was visited by representatives of the Galician National Sejm, Józef Siemiradzki and the Greek-Catholic priest Józef Wolański. Their reports depict the horror of the situation on the spot. The Brazilian authorities were completely unprepared for receiving large numbers of immigrants. The land had not been divided so there were not enough plots to be allotted, and the makeshift buildings where the newcomers were to wait for the allocation of land were badly equipped and overcrowded. The unsanitary conditions in these dwellings were the cause of spreading epidemic diseases. On top of all that, when the immigrants finally did receive the land, instead of the promised ready-made fields they got plots of the forest, which they had to clear on their own.
Poles in Cruz Machado
The colonization of the Cruz Machado region (a municipality in the south of the state of Paraná) began at the end of 1910. The federal government ordered to establish a colony there, and the first Polish immigrants arrived in July 1911. It is estimated that the colony was joined by more than 850 Polish families, which amounts to almost 5500 people.
Polish colonists building a road in Brazil (fot. NAC)
They were mostly farmers from the regions of Siedlce, Lublin, Chełm and Białystok. The colonization was very badly organized, and although the number of the immigrants who actually arrived turned out to be much lower than the number which had been planned, the infrastructure was not sufficient even for them. They waited for the allocation of the plots promised by the Brazilian government in overcrowded wooden sheds, where the living conditions were extremely difficult.
Due to the poor sanitary situation, an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out in the colony, causing many deaths. Only after months of waiting were the survivors granted the promised plots of land. They were scattered across the vast expanses of the forest in Paraná, far away from other centers of civilization, so they had practically no possibility of assimilation with the local population. At present the fifth generation of Polish settlers live in Cruz Machado. It is estimated that about 65% of the region's inhabitants are of Polish descent.