On a small island on a tributary of the River Jary in Brazil stands a nine-foot high wooden cross with a very odd decoration: a swastika.
Even stranger is that on the cross it reads “Joseph Greiner died here on 2.1.1936,” which was three years before World War II officially started in 1939 (a year before the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, sometimes considered the start of the war) and over a decade before Nazis began making their way to Brazil in hopes of hiding out in the South American country. So, what was a Nazi doing in Brazil halfway around the world in 1936? According to the inscription on the cross, it was “a death from fever in the service of German Research Work.”
Known as the “Guayana Project,” it was a mission of exploration and a testament to just how grand the Nazis imagined their empire would be. As the report brought back to the Third Reich explained, “the two largest scantly populated, but rich in resources, areas on earth are in Siberia and South America. They alone offer spacious immigration and settlement possibilities for the Nordic peoples… For the more advanced white race, it offers outstanding possibilities for exploitation.”
In 1935, under the cover of collecting biological specimens, Schulz Kampfhenkel (the expedition leader), Joseph Greiner and another Nazi soldier, as well as many hired locals—described in a letter to the Third Reich as not being able to be “measured in civilized terms as we known them in Germany”—explored the region bordering French Guyana and sent back details about how the Nazi’s might infiltrate and begin colonizing the country for themselves. It was suggested that the country’s already existing Germans, roughly a million at the time, might become the start of what would be the great South American Third Reich Empire.
Of course, this did not happen. Greiner died of malaria while on the expedition, and Kampfhenkel brought his report to the Reich. In the end, it wasn’t malaria, or the jungle, that put a stop to the plans to expand into Brazil but bureaucracy, and a lack of interest. ‘Given time, the plan may be submitted again” wrote Heinrich Himmler who was in charge of approving the plans.
Today all that remains of this monomaniacal plan is the graves of the Nazis who perished in pursuit of it, known to locals as the “Nazi Graveyard.”
Know Before You Go
Latitude 0 deg 38' 56" SLongitude 52 deg 30' 26" W