"Catholic Refugees in Lisbon," September 1941


DPs arriving at Ellis Island on a passenger ship, Bruce M. Mohler papers

Even when Catholic refugees had escaped from German-held lands, their problems were far from over. This article vividly depicts the plight of a community of Catholic refugees in Lisbon, Portugal, who cannot go back to their home countries, yet cannot continue on to the United States or elsewhere. They have been stalled either because of a lack of funds for travel, or because they have no visas and no advocates to obtain one for them. The fact that many of these Catholic refugees had been prominent intellectuals, writers, anti-Communists, and political leaders in their home communities is emphasized. Thus, their pitiful situation in Lisbon seems all the more compelling. Some of these refugee Catholics are even in prison, having unintentionally violated Portugal’s time limit for aliens to stay within the country. Notice, too, that the superior arrangements of Jewish charitable organizations on behalf of Jewish refugees are mentioned, presumably as a way of spurring Catholic organizations to do more.




Memo on Catholic Refugees in Lisbon

With the aid of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Friend’s Service Committee, and the Unitarian Committee, 30,000 Jewish refugees had passed through Lisbon in the prior year, on the way to their new homes in America or elsewhere. Sometimes Jewish refugees in Lisbon had the double coverage of aid from various organizations corresponding to their nationality—Polish, Lithuanian etc.—as well as organizations specifically geared towards Jews. Catholics, on the other hand, remained stuck in a bottleneck there. Although the Nazis persecuted both Catholics and Jews, their hatred towards the Jews became noticeable first, and was more vehement. Therefore, Jewish organizations had had more warning and more time to organize their aid for Jewish people fleeing from Germany.


As you read the document (linked below), reflect on the following questions:

  • How have the French Catholic writer Charles Oulmont and his wife been supporting themselves while in Lisbon?
  • Among the Catholic refugees in Lisbon, which ethnicity is most numerous?