It sometimes seems that there is no end to the rabbit hole of Nazi schemes and machinations, covering a wide range of the bizarre. Yet, there are some schemes that are relatively little-known and which have fallen through the cracks of history to become largely forgotten in modern times. Certainly one of these is that time the Nazis set out to venture into the Amazon jungle and set up colonies for their “master race” in a perfectly ludicrous plot that seems to have jumped straight out of a movie.
Perhaps to the surprise of many reading this, the Nazis extended their reach far beyond Europe, and one of the weirder places they showed up was all the way across the planet in Brazil. The exodus of Nazi war criminals escaping to South America in the aftermath of the war is well-known, but perhaps lesser known is that the Nazi infection of Brazil had actually begun long before World War II had even broke out, when the National Socialist German Workers’ Party began a campaign of propaganda in the country beginning as early as the 1920s, just as thousands of Germans were immigrating to Brazil.
Of course not all of this influx of immigrants followed the Nazi ideology, but there were certainly Nazi infiltrators amongst them, who did little to interfere with elections in the country or engage in any political antics, yet still went about spreading their tentacles and seeding an envisioned Nazi stronghold in South America. Even though the Nazi Party only comprised 5% of the total German population in the country, it was enough to pose a threat, was the largest population of Nazis outside of Germany, and they went about their insidious plans in the shadows trying to seduce more immigrants to join their cause.
Most of the Nazi presence in Brazil was concentrated in the cities of São Paulo, Santa Catarina, and Rio de Janeiro, but in all they were spread out over 17 Brazilian states, and they had access to a German population that had surged to over 1 million people by the 1930s, so although only German born citizens were allowed to join the party, there were plenty potential new members to be had. The Third Reich envisioned the seeding of an new Nazi empire in South America, seeing the area as perfect for their purposes, and with one report reading that Brazil offered “spacious immigration and settlement possibilities for the Nordic peoples… For the more advanced white race, it offers outstanding possibilities for exploitation.”
It was not only the major cities in which the Third Reich operated, and they were very interested in scouting the land far and wide for places to sink their talons into. In 1935 the Nazis launched a scheme to conquer the Amazon Basin under the code name “The Guayana Project.” It started under the ruse of being a research expedition along the border of French Guiana and Brazil, led by a zoologist and documentary filmmaker by the name of Otto Schulz-Kampfhenkel, who also happened to be a Nazi and full member of the SS. Joining him were expedition foreman Joseph Greiner and another Nazi soldier, and it was all ostensibly for the purpose of collecting animal specimens and studying the native tribes, focused mostly along a tributary of the Amazon River called the Jari River. However, this is the Nazis we are talking about here, so of course they were more interested in staking out areas for the colonial expansion of the Third Reich, as well as a possible launching point from which to usurp French and British colonies in the region and who knows what else.
As they penetrated deep into the uncharted jungles of the Amazon interior, it quickly became apparent that the Germans were wholly unprepared for the task. Besides being plagued by disease and the inhospitable jungle conditions, they also got constantly lost, bailed out over and over by the native tribes of the region, which were described as “not measured in civilized terms as we known them in Germany.” As they trudged about through this hostile wilderness, Schulz-Kampfhenkel contracted a horrific bout of diphtheria, Greiner died of a mysterious fever, and the sea plane they had been using to jump from place to place crashed when it hit some debris in the water. The whole doomed project was subsequently scrapped, but the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, because of course he was involved, expressed hope for continuing efforts, saying, “Given time, the plan may be submitted again.”
In later years Schulz-Kampfhenkel would become a leading expert in aerial photo-reconnaissance interpretation throughout World War II, before being arrested as a POW by the Americans and eventually dying in 1989 in Germany. The Nazi Party in Brazil, which began dying a slow death in Brazil after being made illegal by the Brazilian government in 1938, mostly evaporated in the country, the only Nazis to be found here the various war criminals who would flee prosecution by going into hiding here.
The once highly classified, top-secret Project Guyana is now only remembered through a film the expedition made of their journey, as well as a curious site upon a river island in the Jari River. Here out in the middle of remote, nearly impenetrable jungle stands a towering, 9-foot tall wooden grave marker for the fallen Joseph Greiner, covered in swastikas and bearing an inscription that reads, “Joseph Greiner died here on 2.1.1936, a death from fever in the service of German Research Work.” It is a curious sight to see, this final resting place of a Nazi out here in the jungle thousands of miles and a world away from his homeland in Germany, surrounded by nothing but a sea of trees and the broken shards of a doomed project.
The natives of the area call this place simply the “Nazi Graveyard,” and it has oddly managed to defiantly remain standing after all of these years, a lasting testament to the Nazi legacy in this backwater area of the world far from the battlefields of Europe. The expedition and the tale of the Nazi Graveyard has been covered in great detail by author Jens Gluessing, who is the once who discovered the grave, in his book The Guayana-Projekt. A German Adventure on the Amazon. It is all a curious little corner of history, and a more obscure footnote to the Nazis that many have never heard of. That they were present in South America for so long and had such grand designs on this remote area are curious and not a little unsettling, and may have been forgotten forever if it weren’t for that grave marker sitting in the middle of that jungle, a relic of another time stuck in the present like an insect in amber, offering a peek into this insane Nazi scheme from another age.