The Holocaust in Portugal


Figure 1.--.

Portugal was a major gateway to saftey for Jews and Europeans who had opposed the NAZIs. Portugal itself had perhaps the smallest Jewish population in Europe at the time of World war II. The country had a Jewish population of about 380 people and 650 Jewish refugees, mostly from Central Europe. The Government granted these refugees "resident" status. Prime Minister Salazar was in a difficult position. Portugal was a traditional British ally. After the fall of France (June 1940), Portugal adopted a liberal visa policy allowing thousands of Jewish refugees to enter the country, however, those of Russian origin or birth because they might be Communists were excluded. Portugal came under increasing pressure from the NAZIs. Salazar has some breathing space because Franco refused to enter the War or allow German armies to transit Spain to seize Gibraltar. Even so, Salzar had to tread the Germans with care as he could not be sure that Germany might not invade Spain. Unlike Spain, Portugal did not close its border, but refugees had to get accros the French-Spanish border which was closed. The danger posed by the NAZIs caused Salazar to issue more stringent immigration restrictions (late 1940). Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat in Vichy France, ignored Government directives and issued large numbers of visas allowing Jews in France to travel to Portugal. The Portuguese Government dismissed him as a result. Portugal as the War turned against Germany felt safe to begin granting more entry visas. The Government cooperated in various rescue efforts. The Government granted the visas with the condition that Portugal would be a transit point and that other countries would accept them. Portugal like other neutral countries attempted to save Hungarian Jews. An estimated 100,000 Jews and other refuges fleeling NAZI opression managed to reach safty through Portugal. All the Jews who managed to reach Portugal survived the War.

Portuguese Jews

Portugal has one of the longest histories of Jewish settlement in Europe. Jewish settlement may date to the 8th century BC at the time of the first diaspora. the status of Jews has varied widely. There have been times in which Jews prospered and were honored members of society. At other times they have suffered horific persecution and were finally banished from Portugal. Many converted to Christianity. Some continued Jewish religious practices in secret. Other lost all identity as Jews. Portugal at the time of World War II had perhaps the smallest Jewish population in Europe . The country had a Jewish population of about 380 people and 650 Jewish refugees, mostly from Central Europe. The Government granted these refugees "resident" status.

Salazar

Dr. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar ruled Portugal as a dictator with Fascist trappings. Salazar's adoption of Fascist policies (political dictatorship, police state rule, bans on trade unions, strident anti-Communism, and corporatist social and economic policies) gave his regime a Fasist aura. He supported Franco in the Spanish Civil War. As a result his regime was approved as sufficently Fascist by Hitler and Mussolini. He differed with Hitler on major issues, especially the pagan anti-Christian campaign, commitment to war, and the racial component of NAZI Fascism. He shared other NAZi principles espcially fear of trade unions, and Communism. Austhors disagree as to anti-Semitism. Some belieethat he was anti-Semeitic, primarily because if his harsh treatment of his consul in Bordeaux whonagainst orders from Lisbo, issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees (June 1940). Perhaps disintrsted is a more accurate description. Other authors believe that the Consul's insubordination as well as a desire to placate Hitler who looked at the time to have won the War. For the most part, Jews once they reached Portugal were correctly treated. There is no doubt that he knew what ws happening, although perhaps not the fullm extent of the killing. He ande no specialm effirt tonhelp Jews and chose to see NAZI policies as a domestic matter.

World War II

Hitler invaded Poland launching World war II (1939). Germany demonstrated Blitzkrieg nd the strength of the Luftwaffe and Panzers. This was made possible by the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact and the unwillingness of the Allies (British and French to move beyond the protection of the Maginot Line. American remained neutral.

Neutrality

Slazar maintained a neutral policy, but there were strong pro-Axis support in the country. Portugal also had a histoically special relationship with Britain that even preceeded the Napoleonic Wars. S Portugal was of some importance to Germany in World War II. Portugal was the principal source of Wolfram ore which yielded tungsten. This was a critical material because tungsten-hardened steel alloys had many military applications in machine tools, armor plate, armor-piercing projectiles, and other uses. The Germans pioneered the use of tungsten. As a result of these and other NAZI purchases, the Salazar regime benefited from the War. Salazar insisted on payments in gold. Here accounts vary as to the extent to which the regime profited from the War. NAZI inteligence agents were active in Portugal as were British agents. Portugal's role is complex. Salazar also cooprated with the Allies, especially as the German military situation shifted. Salazar leased the British important bases in the Azores for naval campaign in the Atlantic. Of course given Anglo-American naval power, he had no real choice.

Fall of France

The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardenes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the exposive highly mobil style of Blitzkrieg warfare. The Panzers surrounded the Belgian Army which King Leopold III surrendered. The BEF was within Hitler's grasp. The Panzers were only a few miles south of Dunkirk and facing no serious opposition. Hitler ordered the Panzers to halt. Some believe that he hoped this gesture would help convince the British to comes to terms, other believe that is was just as it was described at the time, aneeded pause to regroup and prepare for a more coordinated assault. [Davidson, p. 408 and Fest, p. 630.] What ever the reason, this 48-hour respite allowed the British to organize a defensive perimter around Dunkirk and begin an almost miraculous withdawl. Nearly 340,000 men were evacuated from Dunkirk, including French and Dutch sholdiers. This is even more important that it sounds as akmost all if the British sholdiers were regulars and would form the corps of the future British Army that would play such an important role in the War. All of the BEF's equipment, however, was lost. Paris soon fell and the French signed a NAZI imposed armistace. The collapse of France after only a few weeks was a disaster of emense proportions. It was the French Army that had provided the bulk of the allied War Western Front in World War I. The German victory was no ccomplished with superior numbers or weaponry. In fact they had fewer men, tank, and planes. What they had was a superior tactical doctrine. The Germans were amazed to find, for example, that French tanks were not even equipped with radios, and a more disciplined fighting force. NAZI propaganda began to describe Hitler as " Der grŲsste Feldherr Allerzeiten " (the greatest field commander of all time). [Davidson, p. 483.]

Immigration Policy

Portugal was a major gateway to safety for Jews and Europeans who had opposed the NAZIs. Prime Minister Salazar was in a difficult position. Portugal was a traditional British ally. After the fall of France (June 1940), it looked like Britaim might fall as well. For a time it looked like Spain might join the Axis or allow passage to German forces. Portugal adopted a liberal visa policy allowing thousands of Jewish refugees to transit the country, however, those of Russian origin or birth because they might be Communists were excluded.

NAZI Pressure

Portugal came under increasing diplomatic pressure from the NAZIs. Salazar has some breathing space because Franco refused to enter the War or allow German armies to transit Spain to seize Gibraltar. Even so, Salzar had to deal with the situation carefully. He could not be sure that Germany might not invade Spain. And for a while it looked like Germany would be the dominant force in Europe. Unlike Spain, Portugal did not close its border, but refugees had to get accros the French-Spanish border which was closed. The danger posed by the NAZIs caused Salazar to issue more stringent immigration restrictions (late-1940).

Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat in Vichy France, ignored Government directives and issued large numbers of visas allowing Jews and other refugees in France to travel to Portugal. The number of visas issued has been questioned, but by all accounts it was substantial and the number of people helped is much larger as single visas often covered the children or even entire families. Sousa may well have saved more Jews than any other single person in NAZI-occupied Europe. Among those saved were the authors and illustrators of the w0nderful children's book series--Curious George--the Reyes. The Portuguese Government dismissed him as a result, perhaps more for disobeduence than anti-Semitism. He died impoverished. For his efforts, he was later recognized as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations," Portugalís only honoree.

Cooperation in Rescue Efforts

Portugal as the War turned against Germany felt safe to begin granting more entry visas. The Government cooperated in various rescue efforts. The Government granted the visas with the condition that Portugal would be a transit point and that other countries would accept them. Portugal like other neutral countries attempted to save Hungarian Jews. An estimated 100,000 Jews and other refuges fleeing NAZI opression managed to reach safety through Portugal. All the Jews who managed to reach Portugal survived the War.







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Created: 11:21 PM 11/1/2005
Last updated: 2:45 AM 12/2/2017