Lisbon and its Jewish refugees: Engaging Portugal with its World War II history

Submitting Institution

University College London

Unit of Assessment

Theology and Religious Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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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 Both were widely reviewed as providing important insights supported by research into previously unpublished archives.

Underpinning research

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 His investigations have been particularly underpinned by his use of unpublished and often previously little-used or untouched archival documents — for example those held in the National Archives at Kew, the Foreign Office archives and in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 these nations.

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.

Research grants:

Professor Neill Lochery. `Portugal and the Jews, 1939 - 1945' British Academy Small Grant SG100128. Amount: £5850 Duration: 01-Jul-10 to 31-Dec-10

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 archival material.

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 140k.

- 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. [1]

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 noted that:

"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 Portuguese [1]

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 website annually.

- The National Post (Dec 2011). Canada, substantial extract published. [1]

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 talks to:

- 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 Oct 2012.

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 [2]. 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 legal firm.

- `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 Bank.

- `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 [3].

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 [4]. 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 per issue).

- Time Out Lisbon feature and Top 3 Time Out Choice (weeks of 18 and 25 Oct 2012). [3]

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. [4]

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. [5]

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, [6] 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. [7]

Sources to corroborate the impact

[1] Examples of English language press reviews of Lisbon: Wall Street Journal:; The Australian:; The Spectator:; Portuguese reviews compiled by publisher:

[2] Announcement of a photographic exhibition based on the book at the Camara Municipal de Lisboa:

[3] 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.

[4] 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 request.

[5] 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.

[6] Use of stories from the book by the Turismo de Portugal, 1 March 2012 see

[7] Published itinerary for D-Day commemoration cruise: (see entry for 30 May).