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  • Portugal, Salazar and the Jews by Avraham Milgram
  • Rui Afonso
Milgram, Avraham . Portugal, Salazar and the Jews. Trans. Naftali Greenwood. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2011. 324 pp.

Avraham Milgram's Portugal, Salazar and the Jews will likely take its place alongside Irene Pimentel's Judeus em Portugal durante a II Guerra Mundial as one of the essential works on Portugal and the Holocaust. Divided into four long chapters, Milgram's book covers much of the same ground as Pimentel's study but, in its first chapter, "Portugal as a Test Case where Anti-Semitism Lost Its Grip," Milgram also endeavours to explain how a nation once infamous for its Inquisition managed to emerge, during the Holocaust, as a society with no public and official antisemitism. Milgram attributes the change to the Enlightenment reforms of the Marquis de Pombal, and sees the change reflected in the way Portuguese writers of the nineteenth century, like Camilo Castelo Branco, wrote sympathetically about the victims of the Inquisition. This new tolerance was eventually reflected in the provision of religious freedom enshrined in the constitution of the Portuguese Republic and in the 1933 constitution of Salazar's [End Page 270] Estado Novo. This historical underpinning is a necessary prelude to the book, in which Milgram shows how Salazar's refugee policies during the war were dictated, not by antisemitism, but by his fear of alien influences, in the form of unwanted refugees on Portuguese soil—or as Milgram puts it, "the dread of the foreign wind that might endanger the nationalist project he had set in motion in his Estado Novo."

In the second chapter of his book, "Portugal's Policy on Jewish Refugees from 1938 to 1941," Milgram describes the policy that would remain essentially the same until the summer of 1944. With regards to Jewish and non-Jewish refugees, Portugal was to be no more than a transit point. Only refugees in possession of the papers and the means to go elsewhere were to be admitted into Portugal. Most Jews did not fit into one or both of these categories, so they were simply not welcome. Since a surprising number of Portuguese consuls succumbed to humanitarian considerations, Salazar was careful to invest the political police, the PVDE, with more and more decision-making power over who entered Portugal. When some diplomats dared to question openly and even defy his instructions, Salazar began a crackdown. His most famous victim was the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who issued unauthorized visas to thousands of refugees who were thus able to enter Portugal.

In Chapter 3 of his book, "Lisbon as a Hub of Jewish Activity During the Holocaust," Milgram shows how the presence of Jewish relief organizations in Portugal in no way led to a change in Salazar's refugee policies. Relief organizations were welcome in Portugal because their main objective and the main objective of the Salazar regime on this matter was the same: to find new homes for the refugees that had made it into Portugal against Salazar's wishes. In the meantime, these organizations, by paying most of the bills, made sure that the stranded refugees did not become a financial burden to the state. Milgram shows how the relief committee of the Lisbon Jewish Community, COMASSIS, "provided an infrastructure for the activities of these Jewish organizations in Portugal." Headed by its ultra-cautious and pro-Salazar president, Dr. Moses Bensabat Amzalak, the Jewish community of Lisbon did all it could to help those refugees in their midst, but was unable to do much for the rest of European Jewry, apart from a laudable program of sending food packages to suffering Jewry. A close acquaintance of Salazar, Amazalak interceded only on one occasion on behalf of refugees (Greek Jews of Portuguese extraction) wishing to come to Portugal. The cold water Salazar threw on the project seems to have killed any further desire on Amzalak's part to ruffle the dictator's political feathers. Portugal's Jews had a rather strong sense of history, reaching back to the Inquisition, and an interest in their relationship with the regime not deteriorating.

The final chapter of the book, "Protection and Repatriation...


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pp. 270-273
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