Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1941 – A Review

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1941
Neill Lochery
Public Affairs, 2011, 306 pg

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light will tell you just about everything you will ever need to know about Lisbon and Portugal during World War II. Perhaps, too much depending on you interests. Neill Lochery not only writes about the Salazar government at war, but about the intrigues and, in many ways, the gossip of those who passed through the city. The book is best at laying out Salazar’s plan to stay neutral and how he was able to play the two sides off of each other. As a man without any other goals than staying in power and making Portugal modern, he was able to sell tungsten to Germany without the least scruples in taking German gold (some of which the Bank of Portugal is said to have, Richsbank stamp and all). And with the allies, especially Britain which Portugal had long had alliances, he also sold materials for gold. As long as one side seemed more powerful than the other, he attempted to favor them more, short of joining the war. During the early years of the war he was quite welcoming to Germany, but he didn’t want to join the war, nor did he want Spain to invade. Spain had made several different plans to invade during the war, but Salazar was able to avoid it. He was always cautious, and even in 43 when Germany didn’t look as strong as it had, he delayed granting access to the Azores to the Allies.It is in the context of the scheming man that Lochery notes that any good that came out of Portugal’s neutrality during the war came about because it suited Salazar or he had no control over it. The Jewish refuges are a case and point. While Salazar didn’t kick Jews out of Portugal, he also didn’t want to grant them entry visas. It was his diplomatic officials early in the war who disobeyed orders and were able to allow Jews to escape through Lisbon.

Lisbon itself was a reflection of Salazar. It was full of spies, refugees, and people taking advantage of the situation. With all the refugees and the limited transportation options out of the country many were stranded there and had to do what ever it took to get out. For the rich such as the Gugenhiems, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Hollywood stars like Leslie Howard they stayed in the best hotels and lived a life that had nothing to do with the deprivations of the war. It is here, in the more biographical sections, that the book suffers a bit. Not that it is badly written, it just isn’t that interesting to me. Especially, the part about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. At least I know now how self-absorbed he was but other than that I don’t really care. There are definitely some sections one can skip over.

It is an interesting book, but for me only half of the book was interesting. But if you are interested in the history of Portugal during the war you can’t go wrong with this book.

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