Krauel Colony (Alto Krauel District, Santa Catarina, Brazil)

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Krauel, a former colony of Russian Mennonites located in the district of Alto Krauel, Santa Catarina, Brazil, was founded in 1930 and dissolved in 1952 after a gradual disintegration. The colony was more commonly known as Witmarsum, after the name of the central village. The name Krauel is derived from a small river which flows into the Itajahy some distance above Blumenau. Alto Krauel is a deep valley lying about 40 miles (65 km) from the railhead at Hansa Hammonica, about 12 miles (20 km) long and 1/2  to 4 miles (1 to 6 km) wide. The sides of the valley rise to a maximum of 2,300 ft. above sea level, the ridges of the low mountains being 500-1,000 feet above the valley floor. However, the valley floor itself is not flat but rolling, and covered with thick forest. Hence, although the climate is good and rainfall plentiful, agriculture was not very profitable because of the cost of clearing the land, the distance from the markets, and the medium quality of the soil. It took 6-8 years to make the land cultivable with horse-drawn implements. The chief crops were corn, aipim (a starch-bearing tuber which must be converted to starch for profitable sale), and sweet potatoes. Attempts at dairying and logging were not too successful. After a few years beginning in 1934, families began to leave because of the poor economic prospects, cultural isolation, and internal social and ecclesiastical weakness of the colony. By 1952 practically all had left, and the history of the colony came to an end. The earlier emigration had been to Curitiba. At the end about 70 families, chiefly Mennonite Brethren, left to found a new colony at Bage north of Curitiba city.

The reason for the now clearly mistaken location of the Krauel colony is to be sought in the difficult situation in which the refugees from Russia found themselves in the camps in Germany November 1929 to January 1930. The German government had generously granted temporary asylum in Germany but was pressing for early resettlement. Since Canada at that time had very strict health requirements for immigrants and barred completely those who had had trachoma, and the United States was even stricter, these two destinations were impossible. The arrangements for Paraguay which the Mennonite Central Committee was making were not yet complete in January 1930, and in any case Paraguay was not attractive because of its poverty and isolation. The Hanseatic Colonization Company of Hamburg, a close ally of the German government in colonization matters, owned land in Santa Catarina which it was willing to sell on credit, but the only tract available for sale in a compact area such as the Mennonites sought was the Krauel tract, hence the choice. The Krauel tract was not large enough to accommodate the entire group which wanted to go to Brazil; so the remainder, some 130 families with 500 souls, was settled on a small high plateau (2,300 ft. above sea level) some 20 miles from the Krauel, an almost criminally impossible location, which was soon abandoned.

The original Krauel settlement consisted of 152 families ranged along both sides of the river, each family owning and living on 40 to 100 acres of land with a frontage of 700 feet on the river. For administrative purposes the colony was divided into three villages (civil districts: Witmarsum with 70 families, Waldheim with 46, and Gnadental with 36). Each village had a Schulze and a school. An Oberschulze was the colony leader. The colony had no civil autonomy; this organization handled only internal social, educational, and economic matters. The "town" of Witmarsum was in effect the capital of the colony. David Nikkel was the long-time Oberschulze.

The Krauel colony had two Mennonite churches, Mennonite Brethren with 200 baptized members in 1934, and the Mennonite Church with 65 members. Church meetings were held in the schoolhouses, until in the last years (1950) a commodious meetinghouse was built by the Mennonite Church in Witmarsum.

In 1934 the settlement was relatively complete and at the high point in population - 159 families, mostly from Siberia, with 846 souls, distributed as follows among the three "villages": Witmarsum 341, Waldheim 290, Gnadental 202.

For further information see the article Brazil


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 556-558.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Krauel Colony (Alto Krauel District, Santa Catarina, Brazil)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 15 May 2021.,_Santa_Catarina,_Brazil)&oldid=145632.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1957). Krauel Colony (Alto Krauel District, Santa Catarina, Brazil). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 May 2021, from,_Santa_Catarina,_Brazil)&oldid=145632.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 233-234. All rights reserved.

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