Way station on the road to freedom
NEILL Lochery offers readers a taste of the heady atmosphere of Lisbon during World War II in this impressively researched work. Under homespun dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal declared neutrality soon after war erupted. Its capital became a hub between war-torn Europe, London and New York, involving a no-holds-barred espionage war between Allied forces and Nazis.
The author has a vast canvas to fill and points out that each key subject covered could warrant a book in its own right. He describes the masses of refugees pouring into Lisbon, many of whom were Jewish and had trekked towards the Iberian Peninsula after the June 1940 fall of Paris. Salazar’s neighbour, General Francisco Franco, had also declared neutrality but was considered Axis-leaning, so most refugees hoped to pass quickly through Spain to Portugal from where they might catch a ship to America or Palestine. The Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, washed up in Lisbon among them with new wife Wallis Simpson. The Luftwaffe was bombing Cannes as they crossed into Spain, where they had difficulty gaining entry.
The Nazis had plans for the duke, who had visited Hitler in 1937. They intended to detain him, either in Spain or Portugal, and to install him as a quisling king after they conquered Britain. If persuasion failed, they would kidnap him.
During years working as a journalist from Lisbon, I was intrigued by this story. It was only in 1995, 21 years after the dictatorship fell, that Salazar’s files were opened. The advance catalogue held one mysterious item on the duke: ‘‘ Report of the PVDE [Portuguese secret police] on the Visit of the Duke of Windsor to Portugal, July 5, 1940’’. Its title indicated he had been watched throughout by Salazar’s agents and so there was a secret record of his time in Lisbon.