The secret, failed Nazi plan to make German colonies in South America
An empire isn’t much of an empire without colonies; at least that’s what much of Europe seemed to believe for the past few centuries. If Adolf Hitler wanted his thousand-year Reich to really last a thousand years, he was going to need some of those colonies, especially if the rest of the Axis powers were going to have colonies as well.
In 1940, he was a full year away from attempting to invade the Soviet Union for the lebensraum (or “living space”) he promised the German people. The Nazis were at war in Europe, but to make the war effort last, they needed resources, too. It seems they looked for those resources in a place that is well-known for harboring Nazis after World War II – and it all began with a German-born Argentinian who planned to make South America Germany’s breadbasket.
By August 1940, the war in Europe was in full gear. Germany had already taken half of Poland, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Britain was under the constant threat of Nazi invasion. In the Western Hemisphere, many of the countries there remained neutral, even as the Battle of Britain raged in the skies over London. The United States ramped up its role as “the Arsenal of Democracy,” but many Americans remained opposed to direct intervention.
The U.S. would, of course, enter the war eventually. Brazil would contribute more than 25,000 troops to the liberation of Italy, the only South American country to send troops. Only Bolivia and Colombia would declare war against the Axis Powers before the end of 1944. The rest would remain neutral until February or March of 1945, but that didn’t mean they were ignored for the duration of World War II.
Far away from the front lines of Europe, German-born Argentinian Arnulf Fuhrmann was launching a scheme in neighboring Uruguay. According to his plan, written in pencil, all he needed was six machine guns and two hours to turn the South American nation into a Nazi German colony, growing food for the Third Reich.
Fuhrmann settled in South America at the end of World War I and began working as a journalist. He set up a German-speaking enclave in Uruguay. As the Nazis rose to power, so did the German colony’s support for Hitler. He left his work as a journalist to become a pro-Nazi agitator, distributing anti-Semitic literature. When World War II broke out in Europe, Uruguayan officials became less tolerant of his attitudes and began to crack down on Nazism in their borders.
He hatched a plan with five fellow Germans in Salto, Uruguay to raid specific targets in the country. Although a Uruguayan investigation did not release the particulars of his plan, he and his compatriots planned to take control of the country’s military forces within a few hours. With the military in hand, he would deploy it over two weeks to seize control of other vital areas of the country, effectively giving him power over Uruguay itself.
If it seems overly simplistic in hindsight, it didn’t appear that way to the Uruguayans, who called Fuhrmann’s plan “realistic,” “real,” and likely “imminent.” With control firmly in his Nazi hands, his first acts would have been the immediate “elimination” of Jews, political leaders, and Freemasons. He then would have declared the country “a Nazi colony of peasants.” From there, he planned to begin stoking tensions between Argentina and Chile to initiate a conflict over territorial disputes.
Luckily, Uruguayan investigators uncovered his plan and arrested him in August 1940. They found him and his five co-conspirators with six light machine guns, ready to implement the plan. Fuhrmann attempted to escape to Argentina but was arrested crossing the border. He was tried for a similar plot there. Germany tried extraditing him to Berlin, but Argentina refused, locking up the six men. Fuhrmann was sentenced to 13 years in prison but was released in 1946. He disappeared shortly after.