Lisbon and its Jewish refugees: Engaging Portugal with its World War II history
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentTheology and Religious Studies
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
UCL research improved public understanding in Portugal of the important
role that Lisbon played in WWII as an `open city' where both sides in the
war operated. In particular, it showed and publicised the city's role as
an exit point for thousands of refugees (mainly Jewish) trying to escape
German-occupied Europe and get to North America or Palestine. This was
achieved through a best-selling publication and a photographic exhibition
in Lisbon attended by 10-14,000 visitors. Both were widely reviewed as
providing important insights supported by research into previously
Professor Neill Lochery has an established international reputation for
conducting archival research concentrating on the development of relations
between Britain (particularly the Foreign Office) and Israel since World
War II, as well as the interactions between Jewish refugees and the
Portuguese state during that conflict. His investigations have been
particularly underpinned by his use of unpublished and often previously
little-used or untouched archival documents — for example those held in
the National Archives at Kew, the Foreign Office archives and in major
holdings in Israel, Portugal and the United States — to elucidate
important socio-political and historical developments within and between
This archival research has, for instance, resulted in a monograph [a]
exploring the impact of Israel's West Bank security fence and examining
its integration into the broader philosophy of Israel's engagement with
the Palestinians and influence on political decision-making. A subsequent
project traced the development of Anglo-Israeli relations from the
creation of the State of Israel to the present day. In analysing why these
relations have been problematic, Lochery examined Britain's diplomatic
role in the Middle East, leading to a second monograph [b] and several
refereed articles on British arms sales to Israel since immediately after
independence [c]. Again, these outputs were underpinned by archival
research, including material released for the first time following a
Freedom of Information request by Lochery [d].
Whilst working on Loaded Dice [b], Lochery came across a series
of documents (FO/371) revealing attempts by the British Foreign Office to
persuade the Portuguese government not to allow Jewish rescue groups to
operate in Lisbon in 1940, lest Jewish refugees were sent to Palestine.
This policy — and Salazar's decision to accede — provided the starting
point for Lochery's extensive research on Lisbon during World War II.
In undertaking this work his expertise in using archival research to shed
new light on contemporary and historical issues particularly informed
Lochery's approach to the examination of archival records detailing
Portugal's evolving treatment of the thousands of refugees, most of them
Jewish, who flooded Lisbon during World War II, as well as the impact of
the policy of `flexible neutrality' formulated by Portugal's authoritarian
leader, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. With a British Academy Small Grant,
this was developed into an investigation of the role played by Portugal as
a neutral power during World War II, its treatment of its refugee
population, and its emergence from the war financially better off than at
its start. Over the course of this three year project (2007-10) some
50,000 unpublished documents were critically examined in archives in the
United Kingdom, United States, and Portugal, including many which had not
been studied before. The trajectories of thousands of refugees were traced
through Lisbon, and the failings, from 1940 onwards, of international
Jewish rescue groups to accommodate them examined. Finally, Lochery
examined the post-war negotiations over German gold payments for wolfram,
a mineral used in manufacturing armaments, of which Portugal had large
deposits. This has, to date, been published as a book based on this
research but written to be accessible to a popular readership [e].
References to the research
[a] Lochery, N. F. (2005). The View from the Fence: The Arab-Israeli
Conflict from its Present to its Roots. London, New York: Continuum.
Available on request.
[b] Lochery, N. F. (2007). Loaded Dice: The Foreign Office and Israel.
London, New York: Continuum. Available on request.
[c] Lochery, N. F. (2011). `British arms sales to Israel: exercising the
Foreign Office veto, 1950-56'. Israel Affairs 17.4, October 2011,
487-503. DOI: 10.1080/13537121.2011.603517
Publication in a peer reviewed journal.
[d] Lochery, N. F. (2010). ` Debunking the myths: Margaret Thatcher, the
Foreign Office and Israel, 1979-1990'. Diplomacy & Statecraft
21.4, 2010, 690-706 DOI: 10.1080/09592296.2010.529356;
submitted to REF 2014. Publication in a peer reviewed journal.
[e] Lochery, N. F. (2011). Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of
Light, 1939-1945 New York: PublicAffairs. Submitted to REF 2014.
Professor Neill Lochery. `Portugal and the Jews, 1939 - 1945' British
Academy Small Grant SG100128. Amount: £5850 Duration: 01-Jul-10 to
Details of the impact
The archival research outlined above has had significant impacts within
Portugal on public understanding of and engagement with the country's
ambiguous role in World War II, particularly its negotiation as a neutral
power and its relationship with Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. This
was achieved primarily through the publication of Lisbon: War in the
Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945, Neill Lochery's book, based
on his archival research. Lisbon appeared in English in November
2011; six months later it was published in Portuguese by Editorial
Presença, a major publishing house and, in May 2013, in Spanish. Uniquely
amongst histories with a popular readership, it provides an inside view of
the discussions within the Salazar administration and in Allied diplomatic
correspondence, based on many years of primary research using unpublished
The book received immediate critical acclaim through reviews in major
Portuguese newspapers, as well as in widely-read political, literary and
lifestyle magazines including:
- Expresso Actual, `Misérias literárias' 16 June 2012. 4*
review in culture supplement of top weekly newspaper with a circulation of
- Time Out Lisbon, `Lisboa em tempos de guerra' 20 June 2012. 4*
review in weekly events magazine, circulation of 13,100 per week.
- Diário de Notícias, `Algo de Scott Fitzgerald' 19 July 2012.
Top daily paper, circulation of 34k in 2011. 
These uniformly positive reviews recognised the unique contribution of
Lochery's research to Portuguese citizens' understanding of this important
passage in their country's history. For example, the 4-star Expresso
"Lochery understands that Salazar is a controversial figure, and the
merit of his book (for the Portuguese) is to show in detail the double
dealing; the complex politics of the former dictators policy of `flexible
neutrality', which both annoyed or reassured the Allies and the Germans,
while at the same time he kept an eye on Spain and did not lose sight of
the internal opposition [in Portugal]." Translated from the original
In addition, excellent reviews were received in widely-read publications
in the English-speaking world, including:
- The Wall Street Journal (3 Dec 2011), which wrote of Lisbon
that it "... traces the subtlety of [Salazar's] manoeuvring with clarity
and precision. Distilling an enormous quantity of research, he [Lochery]
has rendered a fascinating and readable account of this small country's
role in World War II, protected, as it was, by its wily champion". At 2.3
million, the WSJ enjoys the highest circulation in the US.
- The Australian (11 Feb 2012). Top national newspaper in
Australia, circulation 130k.
- The Spectator (31 Dec 2011). UK, 320k unique visitors to
- The National Post (Dec 2011). Canada, substantial extract
By May 2013, some 7,000 copies of the Portuguese version had been sold,
with the book nearing the end of its third edition. The extent and
significance of public interest aroused in Portugal by the book is evident
in Lochery's many invitations to follow-up activities, including invited
- An audience of approximately 200 secondary school pupils and parents at
St Julian's, Lisbon. Nov 2011.
- Students, journalists and the general public at the Wars and Cities
conference, New University of Lisbon and Camara Municipal, 15 Sept 2012.
- A general public audience at Camara Municipal de Lisboa (city hall), 25
Most significantly, the book's success inspired a group of public and
private sector sponsors to support a highly successful free photographic
exhibition titled `Lisbon: Bottleneck of Europe in WWII: 1939-1945'. Held
at the Camara Municipal and opened by the Mayor of Lisbon on the evening
of 17 October 2012, the exhibition presented many of the historic
photographs and other documents identified by Lochery in the course of his
research . A cocktail reception for 185 guests was hosted by Societé
Générale Private Banking, in association with Pernod Ricard Portugal and
Mont Blanc Iberia, attended by ambassadors from several European countries
and the United States, as well as by business leaders and arts
professionals. The interest and enjoyment taken by attendees in this new
exhibition of artistic resources is evident in the following comments,
extracted from the Exhibition Report prepared after its close:
- `Casts new light upon Lisbon's unique role during those terrible years'
— Partner, Morais Leitao, Galvão Teles, Soares da Silva & Associados
- `An impressive and unique portrait of the Portuguese capital in the
1940s' — Centro do Historia BES.
- `Very interesting and diversified display of documents, most of them
previously undisclosed to public eye' — Head of International, Montepio
- `Especially wonderful to see and to have on display for the first time
new documents uncovered on Peggy Guggenheim and her family' — President,
Peggy Guggenheim Collection Advisory Board. [4, p11]
A 56-page catalogue documenting the exhibition was published in an
edition of 550 copies, with sponsorship from the Société Générale bank, as
part of efforts to fulfil its commitment to supporting artistic progress;
the bank itself distributed 200 copies to its own guests at the opening
reception. The remainder were sold through the gift shop, distributed by
the mayor as gifts, and provided to Lisbon's municipal libraries .
The exhibition and catalogue successfully engaged a large Lisboan public
with new archival research on their city's murky history during World War
II. Although the exhibition was free and the precise visitor numbers were
not collected, a three-week tracking exercise found that on average the
gallery had 1,500 to 2,000 visitors per week, giving an estimated total of
10,500-14,000 visitors over the course of the relatively short run [4, p.
10]. A visitor survey found that whilst the greatest number of visitors
were Portuguese, many other nationalities (notably British, American and
Spanish) were also represented . While all age groups were evenly
represented, several schools benefitted particularly from the provision of
guided educational tours for Year 6 pupils (age 10-11) to support the
national curriculum of WW2 studies, as well as tours for students in
continuing education and civics. In particular, educational resources,
such as quizzes, were developed to help teach WW2 history through the
exhibition. One head teacher remarked: `...the students have just returned
from Lisbon, full of enthusiasm for the way they were looked after on
their visit to the exhibition — and found it instructive, attractive,
poignant and uplifting — as all good History should be.' [4, p. 11]
The exhibition received substantial and enthusiastic press coverage, with
long and detailed features appeared in at least 10 major Portuguese
language national and city newspapers, with a combined circulation of over
a million, a tenth of the population of Portugal. Examples include:
- Expresso Revista `Lisboa já foi Casablanca' 20 Oct 2012 (a 4
page interview feature in weekend magazine, circulation 140k per issue).
- Jornal de negocios `Lisboa, "Casablanca" de Salazar' 26 Oct
2012 (3 page interview feature in this daily newspaper, circulation 300k
- Time Out Lisbon feature and Top 3 Time Out Choice (weeks of 18
and 25 Oct 2012). 
This was accompanied by widespread broadcast coverage, including:
- Primetime evening news broadcast on SIC News (national commercial TV)
23 Oct 2012.
- Lunchtime News broadcast on RTP News (national state news) 24 Oct 2012,
repeated in `Good Morning News' the following day.
- Antena 1 (national state radio) 23 Oct 2012. 
Coverage continued well after the exhibition's end, demonstrating the
ongoing impact on media discourse; for example, Diario Economico,
the country's premier financial newspaper, published a 4-page article and
interview in its monthly magazine supplement in March 2013. 
However, the greatest indicator of the strength and scale of public
interest in the exhibition itself and in the social, historical and
political issues that it raised is its extension of the exhibition — due
to public demand — beyond the initial four weeks to seven weeks; it
eventually closed on 30 November 2012. The significance of the associated
public engagement activities is also witnessed by the fact that the
exhibition has consistently contributed to the visitor service and tourist
experience in Lisbon. Thus the Portuguese Tourist Board, for example, used
the story told in Lisbon of the refugees passing through Europe to
develop interest in the sights of this city by making it the focus, in
March 2012, of its regular `This Month's Travel Secret' feature,  and
in May 2013, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans (USA),
announced it had invited Lochery to present a talk and private exhibition
viewing of Lisbon for 300 passengers on a cruise commemorating the
70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings the following year. 
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Examples of English language press reviews of Lisbon: Wall
Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/1bFmmyy;
The Australian: http://bit.ly/19DRus3;
The Spectator: http://bit.ly/1b52tOF;
Portuguese reviews compiled by publisher: http://bit.ly/15sxDuW.
 Announcement of a photographic exhibition based on the book at the
Camara Municipal de Lisboa: http://bit.ly/1eGsR5t.
 The Photographic Exhibition Catalogue Neill Lochery, Bottleneck
of Europe in World War II, 1939-1945 (Lisbon, Impressa Municipal,
2012), available on request. For the Société Générale's sponsorship of the
catalogue as part of its commitment to supporting artistic progress see
introduction by Jean-François Mazaud, Head of Societé Générale Private
Banking. Distribution figures provided by the culture office, Camara
Municipal de Lisboa.
 Lisbon: Bottleneck of Europe in WW2, 1939-1945 (City Hall, Lisbon,
Portugal 17 October to 30 November 2012). Unpublished report on
Exhibition, Coverage and Impact, including press reviews, available on
request. Educational resource for school visits (quiz) available on
 Evidence of sustained press interest in the exhibition: see for
example the lengthy article published in Diario Economico Fora de
Serie, March 2013. Available on request.
 Use of stories from the book by the Turismo de Portugal, 1 March 2012
 Published itinerary for D-Day commemoration cruise: http://bit.ly/16HRwOR
(see entry for 30 May).