This blog is part of a site named where you can find the stories of more than one hundred planes that during WWII landed or crashed in Portugal. Here I will announce the updates and also publish stories and information related with WWII in Portugal. All the stories will be in English and there another twin blog in Portuguese... forgive if sometimes the English is not always correct...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A few questions to Ronald Weber

Ronald Weber is professor emeritus of American studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, United States.

He has published romances and non-fiction. 

His past books include News of Paris, America in Change, The Literature of Fact, and Hired Pens.

His most recent work "The Lisbon Route - Entry and Escape in Nazi Europe" was originally published in March 2011. 

In last April a Portuguese version appeared in the bookshops.
There can find the story of Lisbon as the entry and escape hatch for a Europe deeply involved in WWII.

There is still a discussion about how many refugees arrived in Portugal.

Certain is that thousands found in the Lisbon harbor the chance to escape the Nazi advance. 

Rich people, poor people, intellectuals or just common people arrived in cars, by train, in bicycles and even on foot.   

Land in Portugal – How did you become interested in the story of the refugees, escapees and others that went through Portugal to leave or enter Europe?

Ronald Weber - I was a visiting lecturer in American culture at the University of Coimbra in 1968-69.  

It was then that I first heard stories about German pilots coming to neutral Portugal during the war for rest and recreation.  

But it wasn't until I published in 2006 a book called NEWS OF PARIS: AMERICAN JOURNALISTS IN THE CITY OF LIGHT BETWEEN THE WARS that I recalled those earlier stories when I learned that many journalists and others escaped Europe through Lisbon after the fall of France in 1940.  

I decided then that my next book would be about Lisbon as the great escape hatch of WWII.

LP – Although occupying the same physical space you describe two different countries that rarely touched each other. One for the Portuguese and another for all the others. How was this possible?

RW - The refugees and others who reached Portugal were required by the Salazar government to move on as quickly as possible to countries that would accept them for permanent resettlement.  

As a result, the new arrivals made few contacts with Portuguese citizens beyond workers in hotels and restaurants, agents of shipping companies and commercial airlines, and local police officers.  

Beyond that, the refugees were gathered together in Lisbon and a few others towns, such as Caldas da Rainha and Ericeira, were authorities required them to stay while awaiting resettlement.  Portuguese elsewhere in the country would have had little or no awareness of the many thousands of people flowing through the country.  

But one caution here.  I studied those coming and going through Portugal during the war from their point of view.  

It was their story I tried to tell.  Another story is what the Portuguese may have thought and felt about such new arrivals.  

To get at that story one would have to look into purely Portuguese material in the form of letters, diaries, memoirs, novels, etc.

LP – Reaching Portugal was not – for most of these refugees - the end of the line or the end of the fear?

RW -  Reaching Portugal was the end of the line for very few people (Calouste Gulbenkian was among the few) since Portugal wouldn't allow the creation of a permanent colony of refugees.  

Many had an overwhelming sense of freedom when they reached the country.  But there was always a sense that Germany could end Portugal's neutrality whenever it wished.  There were as well always stories of the Nazis abducting from the streets of Lisbon figures they wanted, especially anti-Nazi Jews.

It was always understood by the new arrivals that full freedom required leaving Lisbon behind.

The Lisbon Route, from Ronald Weber was published in 2011. You can find more about it  HERE.

LP – You have a chapter dedicated to the lights of Lisbon. Was it really something that fascinated the refugees?

RW - Lisbon's brilliant illumination at night dazzled the new arrivals coming from largely blacked-out Europe.  

It hardly seemed possible that tiny Portugal could live as if the war did not exist.

Equally dazzling, especially early in the war, was the abundance of food in Portugal after the shortages and rationing refugees had experienced in Europe.

LP – Was there any story more surprising for you than any of the others?

RW - I knew that wartime Lisbon was a center of spy activity, but I didn't know the tangled extent of it--including the great number of Portuguese employed as low level watchers and tipsters.  

I think a full account of Lisbon as a spy center is yet to be written.  Another area that surprised me was that of relief groups (Quakers, Unitarians, Jewish groups, etc.) who moved their center of operations to Lisbon during the war and made heroic efforts to aid the refugees with funding, housing, and counseling.

Carlos Guerreiro