What Brazil Owes Its Indigenous Aikewara

A Brazilian Justice Ministry committee has officially apologized and offered reparations to the Aikewara, decimated in the early 1970s by army soldiers. But one more step is still needed.

A file photo of Aikewara
A file photo of Aikewara
Ywynuhu Surui*


BELÉM — We, the Aikewara, a Tupi-Guarani group also known as "the Suruí do Pará," are writing this article so that everybody knows why on Sept. 19 we became the first indigenous people of Brazil to receive an official government apology, and to be granted reparations for our suffering. This was a historic day for us and for all the indigenous people of this country.

For 40 years, we waited for the Brazilian state to acknowledge the violence we endured during the era of military rule. We suffered both in our homeland and outside, without knowing why these men in uniforms came to our village to "hunt people down." Our grandfathers and fathers asked themselves "Why?" as the military killed their people.

Between 1971 and 1973, the Aikewara lived in fear, trembling at the first sound of a car or plane, immediately fearing they would be killed. Many had insomnia: They couldn't sleep because they were constantly threatened by Brazilian army soldiers.

The women were panic-stricken when the few among them who could speak a little Portuguese translated what the soldiers were saying, that the children needed to keep quiet or else they'd be killed. The adult men had all been taken away, forced to serve as guides for the soldiers in the forest, which we are very familiar with because it is our land.

For days and days the men walked through the forest. They didn't eat properly and were forced to carry heavy loads on their backs while being pushed, screamed at and threatened, sleeping outside in the forest, falling ill.

Regardless of the reparations we obtain, the Aikewara people will never forget these scenes of terror and torture, which everyone in the village witnessed and was subjected to. While the army tried to crackdown on the Araguaia guerrilla, the Aikewara were prisoners in their own homes, locked inside. Children, the elderly and women starved because they were stripped of the right to come and go on their own land.

As children, all of us heard the stories that our grandparents told for years and years. Today we are ourselves parents and some even grandparents. Now we understand why they shared these memories so often, and why we must keep telling our children and grandchildren the story of the Aikewara people.

That, however, is not how we would like to be remembered in our country’s history.

It is a sad thing that we had to fight and lose so many lives to live in a democracy. For freedom, we lost real heroes who can never be forgotten, whose efforts were cut short by violence and death. It is thanks to the bravery of these people that we can now demonstrate for our rights.

Now that our suffering has been legally acknowledged by the Justice Ministry's Brazilian Amnesty Commission, we await the most important reparation of all: the restitution of the indigenous land of Tuwa Apekuokawera, which is part of our territory and was taken away 40 years ago. Only when our territory has been returned to us and protected will we be able to go back to living in peace.

*Ywynuhu Surui is an Aikewara and headmaster of the Moroneikó Indigenous School in the northern state of Pará.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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