Frederico Kniestedt

German-born anarchist brush-maker who moved to Brazil and settled in Rio Grande do Sul before joining the workers’ and anarchist movement in Porto Alegre. In the memoirs of João Perdigcão Gutierrez (in the possession of Edgar Rodrigues) it is stated that in Europe, Kniestedt was active alongside Kropotkin, Malatesta and other world-famous anarchists. A very learned intellectual, he fled Germany to escape the death sentence passed on him for his revolutionary beliefs. In Porto Alegre he became a brush-maker and campaigner and died on 12 October 1947. The news of his death was carried simultaneously by the newspapers A Plebe (São Paulo) and Ação Direta (Rio de Janeiro) and the former commented:

From a terse note dated the 12th of last month and sent by a comrade from Porto Alegre, we learn of the death of one of our movement’s most dedicated militants, Frederico Kniestedt was born in Germany and waged a determined and uncompromising struggle there in favour of anarchism. Moving to Brazil he settled in Porto Alegre where he lived for many a long year, carrying on his fight for our cause.

Over many years Frederico Kniestedt published a German-language libertarian newspaper and latterly was regularly issuing a mimeographed, many-paged bulletin in German, in which he campaigned tirelessly against the noxious influence of reactionary elements and championed libertarian principles.’

Rio de Janeiro’s anarchist Ação Direta carried a ‘letter’ from Kniestedt in the form of an article telling the dramatic story of anarchists tortured and killed in Nazi concentration camps.

He outlined the tragedy of the German anarchists murdered by the Gestapo, with extracts from letters from some survivors whom he tracked down at the end of the war. These were Leopold Spitzegger, H. Bergammen from Westphalia, Willi Paul and other comrades with whom he had been active prior to his departure for Brazil. From them he learned of the death of Gerhardt Wartenberg, director of Der Syndikalist newspaper; of the death of the anarchist poet Erich Mühsam, the libertarian writer Rudolf Grossmann and dozens of others after their long odysseys through the Nazi death camps.

In 1989, after he was dead, a religious publisher in Rio Grande do Sul published (in Portuguese) a splendid work, Kniestedt’s 167-page Memoirs of an Anarchist Emigrant, translated and edited by René E. Gertz.

Kniestedt towards the end of World War II talked of sending 53 food parcels totalling 400 kilos via Switzerland. He managed to set aside 8,000 for this purpose. The parcels offered a little assistance to the handful of our comrades or to the ‘wives and children of the fallen’.

Unfortunately, there is no way of getting help through to comrades living in the Russian-occupied zone. The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ forbids such aid. I have sent food parcels to every other zone, including to Vienna.’

That act of international solidarity sponsored by the anarchist Frederico Kniestedt from Porto Alegre was undoubtedly a noble gesture. After residing for over 30 years in Rio Grande do Sul, his citizenship having been withdrawn by Hitler, when some Brazilian Nazis began to co-operate with the Axis forces he responded by launching the Movement of German Anti-Nazis based on the following principles: (…)

2. The object of the Movement of German Anti-Nazis is to use every lawful means to combat any gesture in favour of Nazis,.

3. The bearer of this certificate must at no time have been a member of the German National Socialist Party.

4. The bearer of this certificate is named on the list maintained by the Public and Social Order Department of the Central Police Bureau as an anti-Nazi.

5. Whatever may be required in respect of the fight against Nazism or to assist the Brazilian Red Cross is to be provided by the free, spontaneous generosity of each member, each of them acting in accordance with the dictates of his convictions.

6. Members of the Movement of German Anti-Nazis consider themselves citizens of a land that is allied to Brazil.’

Frederico Kniestedt was also a member – along with Anastácio Gago, Francisco Greco, Daniel Conde, Jesus Ribas, Francisco Diz, Angel Veja, Antonio Campana and Antonio Manna – of the anarchist group that published the newspaper A Luta.

According to a letter from Rafael Fernandez (in the possession of Edgar Rodrigues) while Kniestedt was addressing some strikers on the streets a police platoon arrived with orders to use violence to disperse them. Contrary to the usual practice in such cases, Kniestedt used his powers of persuasion on the police. ‘We are workers of mattock, spade and hoe and you are workers under arms! You cannot kill your fellow wage-slaves just for seeking better pay and a little more bread!’ According to an affidavit of 1984 to Edgar Rodrigues by Maria Silva, the police backed off and the meeting was allowed to proceed.

Kniestedt took part in the labour congresses held in Rio Grande do Sul as representative of the Workers’ Federation and wrote for the newspapers O Sindicalista and Der Freie Arbeiter and helped out on the Social Prisoners’ Aid Committee, making a name for himself with the motions he tabled and his fidelity to the principles of the International Working-Men’s Association.

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.