Brazilian scholar tells of Jewish soldiers in WWII

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Israel Blajberg, left, an expert in Brazilian Jewish military history, confers with Michael Rugel, content coordinator of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Photo by Jared Feldschreiber
Israel Blajberg, left, an expert in Brazilian Jewish military history, confers with Michael Rugel, content coordinator of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.
Photo by Jared Feldschreiber

Little is widely known about the role of Brazil’s Jews in their country’s military during World War II, a visiting expert on them said during a private tour of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History last week.

Israel Blajberg, president of the Brazilian Academy of Terrestrial Military History, has been working to make the Jewish contribution to Brazil’s military better known.


“I decided to spend two weeks here in D.C. learning about the Jewish military in the U.S. I never make tourist trips, as I am also here to write for the Jewish press in Brazil,” the 71-year-old Blajberg told staff members at the museum during his tour.

A retired electronics engineer, Blajberg writes for Jewish publications in Rio de Janeiro, and writes books on Brazilian Jewry.

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Blajberg’s most recent book, “Soldiers Came from Far,” yet to be translated from Portuguese, is about the 42 Brazilian Jews who served in their country’s military during World War II, specifically in Italy. Some of the men were awarded medals for exceptional bravery.

“It was not until 2005 when a memorial in their honor recognized them,” Blajberg said.


His knowledge made an impression on Michael Rugel, the museum’s programs and content coordinator.
“We usually like to tell the stories of Jews in the American military, so to have visitors who can tell these stories of Jews around the world telling their military stories really puts what we do in context,” said Rugel. “Particularly of stories from Brazil and Latin America that are less known, and to shine a light of what we do for the American military — it’s good to hear these stories.”

The tour took place a few days before Blajberg’s talk at the Brazilian Embassy about Jewish contributions to Brazil’s military.

Blajberg, who is considered an expert on the military history of Brazil’s Jews, said that the few World War II veterans remaining in Brazil “are not treated very well. Brazil does not have a warlike culture.” Because of this, he felt compelled to tell their stories, as a historian and journalist.

“My father always told me, ‘You were born in the victory month,’ ” said Blajberg, born just weeks after the Allies declared victory.

Rugel said he values Blajberg’s historical contribution, noting that “he probably knows them all by name, and what they did. We would love to tell each individual story.” n

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