Historian Neill Lochery chronicles the struggles and success of Portugal in his new book Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945.
From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:
Q: Lisbon sounds like a combination of both Casablanca (the movie version, at least) and Switzerland. Is that a valid comparison?--Marshal Zeringue
A: To me, Lisbon was the real Casablanca, the only city where the allies and axis powers openly operated in Europe. It had all the diamond traders, the refugees, people with letters of transit, people trying to get letters of transit to get to America.
The British operations manager said it really resembled Casablanca twenty-fold. That was the atmosphere of Lisbon. But your point about Switzerland is well taken. One of the key questions was neutrality, and the success of maintaining neutrality was a great challenge for the Portuguese.
Q: What made Lisbon useful to people trying to get out of Europe?
A: Once France fell in summer of 1940, and specifically Paris fell, refugees started streaming to the south of France. As Germany consolidated its control, they moved into Spain and Portugal to try to get out of Europe to get to America or somewhere else in the free world.
Many of these refugees were Jewish, and they were desperate to escape the horrors of the Nazis. As Arthur Koestler said [in a 1941 book], "Lisbon was the bottleneck of Europe." It was the last chance to get out.
[Koestler, a journalist, added that Lisbon was "the last open gate of a concentration camp extending over the greater part of the Continent's surface."]
Q: How easy was it to get out of Lisbon to a place like America?
A: It was ...[read on]