A fact little known on the participation of Brazil in World War II was the existence of a Prisoners of War Camp, created in the country, located at Pouso Alegre a small town at the state of Minas Gerais. By the decree # 411/348, of 24/Aug/1943, was created in the vicinities of the 1st Group of 8º Regiment of Mounted Artillery the Prison Camp, that was regulated in accordance with the Convention of Treatment of Prisoners of War of 27/Feb/1933 and published in the Bulletin of the Army nº 22 of 28/Apr/1943.
With the entry of Brazil in the war against the Axis, and the capture of 62 German sailors in Brazilian territorial waters, Pouso Alegre was chosen to isolate them, as prisoners, in the 8º R.A.M. (Regiment of Mounted Artillery) quarters. That unit in its majority had been deployed in the Northeastern Theater of Operations.
In the Camp of Pouso Alegre, 62 Germans were imprisoned from 22/Sep/1943 to 15/Apr/1944, being 42 from German Merchant Navy and 20 from the Kriegsmarine. In all, they were 14 officers, 13 Sub Officers and 35 sailors. They belonged to the merchant ship “Annelise Essberger”, that was sunk by her crew in 21/Nov/1942, in the position 00º05’5N-23º34’W, when intercepted by ships of the Fourth Fleet based at Recife.
All captured sailors after a brief stay at Recife where they were interrogated at the 7º Military Region Headquarters, they moved to Rio de Janeiro to the Military Regiment of Cavalry Caetano de Faria, and from there they were sent to the captivity. The commander of the “Annelise Essberger” was captain Johann Prann, 51 years old, natural of Westhandefehn. The “Annelise Essberger " was a blockade runner that carried rubber as well as animal and vegetal fats from Japan to Germany, material of high relevance for the German War effort. The ship displacement was 5,000 tons and was the first one of the 5 intercepted blockade runners in the south Atlantic.
The sailors arrived 21/Sep/1943 and the officers 3 months later, in 29/Dec/1943.
According to general Paulo Queiroz Duarte, in his book “Days of War in the South Atlantic ", these sailors “had constituted the worst group of prisoners never captured in all the war ". However, opposing this opinion, the prisoners had disclosed good behavior and had given a demonstration of discipline and organization, during the stay in the Camp.
One compound of the 2nd battery, was prepared to lodge the prisoners, carefully organized and clean. Running away from the idleness, they had organized a program of activities that included navigation lessons, mechanics, history, besides the singing of military songs, that they helped to keep, the moral and high spirits.
The relationship of the Germans with the guards was good, almost friendly (one of them kept correspondence, after the ending of the war, with the sergeant Manuel Torres de Aquino, that photographed the prisoners for identification), but some ran away to the contact with the Brazilians, remaining themselves isolated from others.
Moments were granted to them outdoors and other exemptions were assured by the Convention of Geneva and assured by the Embassy of Spain (that represented the interests of Germany), that frequently sent, agents to Campo Alegre to verify the treatment received by the prisoners.
They served as interpreters the lieutenant-doctor of the merchant navy of the German Naval Reserve, Dr. Leo Hofmann, 35 years, natural of Schweinfurt, as well as Brazilian sergeant Günther Müller, of German ancestry, who was transferred to the 8 " R.A.M, especially to serve as liaison with the prisoners. They were in charge of the Camp along with Captain Venturelli Sobrinho, lieutenant-druggist, Heitor M.Carvalho, Sergeant Moacyr Santos, besides the permanent guard who watched the Camp.
Rare view of the Railway station at the small town of Pouso Alegre from where the German crew of the Anneliese Essberger was taken to the Prison camp.
The prisoners had been lodged in 2ª battery, surrounded for barbed wire, illuminated at night for searchlights and equipped with alarm against escape. After about 7 months in Pouso Alegre, they were taken to Rio De Janeiro, under the guard of an escort commanded for the Sergeant Rossi. Other concessions were made by the camp authorities like the right to purchase tobacco and other goods at the local shops. Life went uneventful until 15 Apr 44 when several Army trucks came and the Germans were once again evacuated this time to Rio and there remained for a few days before boarding the US Navy oiler Patoka that took them to Recife.
At their arrival they were handed over to American authorities and this time the same waited for a long trip to a US prison camp. Some time later they were included in one diplomatic agreement and through the Red Cross the 62 men were sent to Portugal and changed by several Brazilian diplomats held in Germany since the declaration of war.
Picture shows a group of prisoners gathered near the provisory Camp at Recife where the same were first interrogated by Brazilian/US authorities. Later the 62 men were despatched to the Internment Camp at Pouso Alegre. Photo kindly sent by Francisco Freire son of First Lieutenant J. Lisboa Freire who served aboard the Brazilian Corvette Cananeia during the War.