This is the first scholarly study of German espionage in Latin America during World War II. Though by an American, it was written for publication in Brazil which will limit its use in the United States. This is unfortunate because books which are intrinsically interesting, even exciting, are all too rare on reading lists for Latin American history courses. Stanley Hilton’s Suástica sobre o Brasil reads like a spy thriller in part because of the high quality of the material on which it is closely based and in part because of the author’s clever presentation and intimate familiarity with the Brazilian locale.

It is the story of the Abwehr—German armed forces intelligence service—operations in Brazil. The creation of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the Abwehr organized an extensive spy and communications network throughout the Americas that attempted to utilize Brazil as a radio transmission point to Germany. Apparently atmospheric conditions made it easier to broadcast from there rather than from points in North America. Agents in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere in the hemisphere mailed information secreted in ostensibly private correspondence to drop boxes in Brazil. These were often obtained by the creation of dummy businesses, sometimes with innocent third parties acting as legal fronts. The agents themselves were frequently Brazilian-born Germans or Germans wrho had lived in Brazil for many years and who were recruited during visits to Europe. German industrial and commercial firms’ offices and subsidiaries proved good sources of such agents. FBI reports mentioned such firms as Siemens-Schuckert, Theodor Wille, Allgemeine Electrizitaets Gesellschaft, Bayer, and I. G. Farbenindustrie.

This is an operational history of how the various rings were created and how they functioned. How successful they were is a question that Hilton allowed to recede into the background. The reader is impressed with the descriptions of codes and the often disruptive internal politics of the Nazi cloak-and-dagger world, but is not told what, if anything, came of all this activity. Indeed there is a comic opera air to much of this story. Hilton seems amused by the invincible Reich sending one of its most clever agents, Josef Jacob Johannes Starziczny, to set up rings in Brazil and the United States only to have him fall for a Brazilian woman and to invent a string of excuses to avoid continuing on to the United States. The German agents appeared rather too obvious and one wonders about the quality of Reich intelligence analysis based on distillation of articles in Time, Life, and the Reader’s Digest. More serious, of course, were reports on maritime movement in and out of Rio de Janeiro and Santos, but their connections with eventual sinkings seem tenuous. Besides the Anglo-American intelligence services had cracked the German codes and were monitoring the messages to and from the Reich. There was even hesitation at supplying Brazilian police with proof of spy activity to prevent the Germans from discovering that their codes had been violated.

One minor point of disagreement involves Hilton’s assertion that “unlike Berlin, Washington did not use its diplomatic mission as coordinator of espionage activities. . .” (p. 255). The American consulates, the U.S. naval observers scattered around Brazil, and various military attachés and undercover agents accumulated a vast amount of information about the Brazilian economy, political and military situation, and foreign policy as the bulging file boxes in the Modern Military and Diplomatic Branches of the National Archives and the army’s G-2 regional files in the Washington Federal Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, amply testify. Though the American collection process was comparatively open, the resulting intelligence reports were secret. If the U.S. embassy did not coordinate clandestine espionage it certainly coordinated intelligence collection.

Suástica sobre o Brasil created a furor in Brazil because Hilton rekindled half-forgotten memories of the activities of Brazilian Nazi sympathizers. He detailed Integralista involvement in a chapter based principally on testimony which army captain Tulio Regis do Nascimento and journalist Gerardo Melo Mourão gave after their arrest. In early 1978 the press gave voice to Melo Mourão’s shocked indignation. He attacked Brazilianists as a “small Mafia of worthless liars” (picaretas) who had crawled out of the cellars of the “worst American University and of the darkened rooms of the CIA,” but he refused to deny the truth of what Hilton wrote! Instead he attempted to paint Suástica sobre o Brasil, which significantly he had not read, as an attack on the dignity of Brazil and of Brazilian courts, which he claimed had absolved him. He quoted a judge as saying that “it is absurd to say that the defendant is a traitor to the fatherland, because [his country] is Brazil, and not the United States” (Jornal do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Jan. 24, 1978). Because his espionage was directed against the Allies and because most of it took place before Brazil officially entered the war in August 1942, one could argue that he had done nothing against Brazilian national security, but that does seem to be stretching matters too far. Hilton’s evenhanded use of police records in this case is convincing.

Sadly, access to some types of documentation in Brazilian public archives has grown more difficult since the book’s appearance, which is symptomatic of the influence of Nazi sympathizers in contemporary Brazil.