Brazil’s army pays tribute to a Nazi … or did they?

. Jul 02, 2019
Brazil's army pays tribute to a Nazi … or did they?

On Monday evening, the Brazilian Army caused outrage when it paid tribute to Eduard Ernst Thilo Otto Maximilian von Westernhagen, a German Army major who fought for the Nazi forces in World War II and was assassinated in Rio de Janeiro, in 1968.

The salute seemed stranger than fiction. It is not a good look for an army which led a brutal dictatorship in Brazil between 1964 and 1985—but has since stressed its commitment to democracy—to then publicly honor a Nazi. But there are doubts over whether this was actually the case.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Major Eduard Ernst Thilo Otto Maximilian von Westernhagen was killed in 1968 by a left-wing paramilitary group in Rio de Janeiro. Reportedly, the gunmen mistook Maj. von Westernhagen for Gary Prado, a member of the Bolivian army who was believed to have been involved in capturing Che Guevara the previous year. Messrs. Von Westernhagen and Prado attended the same exchange course at the Brazilian Army Command and General Staff School (ECEME) and, reportedly, looked alike.</span></p> <p><img loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-20062 aligncenter" src="" alt="Major Eduard Ernst Thilo Otto Maximilian von Westernhagen" width="640" height="399" srcset=" 640w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, when this event was reported on at the time, it appears that the Brazilian press may also have mistaken him for someone else. Newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Folha de S.Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> stated that Major Von Westernhagen was a member of the German army, who had suffered severe injuries on the Eastern Front, and had received a medal of honor from Adolf Hitler himself.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This seems unlikely, however.</span></p> <h2>Twice mistaken</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While all awards in Nazi Germany were given in name of Adolf Hitler, only the highest order of medals was delivered by the Führer in person. There is no record of Eduard Ernst Thilo Otto Maximilian von Westernhagen having won any such award.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, there is a mention of a Heinz von Westernhagen as having received an Iron Cross from Hitler in 1941. This Von Westernhagen was a member of the SS, the highly politicized paramilitary force tightly linked to the National Socialist Party.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Heinz von Westernhagen was even a member of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, which was the Führer&#8217;s personal security detail, and he led a tank regiment on the Eastern Front. He suffered severe injuries in battle and ended up committing suicide in 1945.</span></p> <div id="attachment_20061" style="width: 1010px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-20061" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-20061" src="" alt="Brazil's army pays tribute to a Nazi … or did they?" width="1000" height="722" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><p id="caption-attachment-20061" class="wp-caption-text">Heinz (not Eduard) von Westernhagen was even a member of the SS</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On the other hand, there is little information available on Eduard von Westernhagen, but there are some indications that he may not have been as close to the Nazi party as some have suggested.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For one, after <a href="">World War II</a>, Maj. Von Westernhagen did not flee to South America, as had been suggested. In fact, in 1955, he became a member of the Bundeswehr—the newly formed army of Federal Germany—and was appointed as head of a Military School in Hamburg.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In simple terms, such a post would have been inaccessible to a former Nazi. According to French historian Bernard Quirin, when the Bundeswehr was put together, its candidates were selected based on their &#8220;anti-Nazi&#8221; past. &#8220;They had to show they had only belonged to the Wehrmacht [the Nazi Germany army, therefore, not a member of the SS], that they had not condoned National Socialism, and even that they had shown a certain spirit of resistance.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He was later transferred to Brazil on an exchange program in the 1960s, where he was the deadly victim of another case of mistaken identity.</span></p> <h2>What makes a Nazi?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Regardless of whether the Brazilian press in 1968 correctly identified Major Von Westernhagen or not, the issue hinges over the use of the term &#8220;Nazi.&#8221; Should it be reserved for those who were members of National Socialism, extended to members of the SS? Or is anyone who fought in the Wehrmacht in World War II considered a Nazi?</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Quirin has some reflections on this point. &#8220;In World War II, all Germans were enlisted to the Armed Forces, regardless of whether they supported National Socialism or Adolf Hitler.&#8221; He goes on to say that while the SS was an integral part of the Nazi party, the Wehrmacht was not, and often made up of young men and common soldiers. For instance, Maj. Eduard von Westernhagen would have been only 16 years old when Germany invaded Poland.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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