Portugal plays each side against the other in World War II
Neill Lochery's new book "Lisbon" chronicles Portugal's pivotal role in World War II.
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Neutral and seemingly weak, the little country on the Iberian Peninsula managed to play the world powers off each other and avoid invasion. Meanwhile, desperate refugees crowded the streets of Lisbon while a dictator fought to survive and boost his country's wealth.
Neill Lochery, a historian best known for work analyzing the Middle East, chronicles the struggles and success of Portugal in his new book Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945.
In an interview this week, Lochery explored a dictator's dilemmas, a diplomat's bravery, and a legacy that could include tons of Nazi gold.
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.