The first rumors of the calamity that had befallen the German Jews reached Lisbon in the beginning of April. At first, most people were inclined to doubt them, for anti-Semitism is unknown in Portugal, and the Portuguese Jews have long enjoyed the friendship and respect of their neighbors. But all too soon these doubts were dispersed by the arrival of the first batch of refugees from Germany.
Portugal knew of the enormous services that had been rendered to Germany by her Jews, and the arrival of these refugees, driven out of their homes, caused much excitement and sympathy, not only in the Jewish community but equally among their Christian neighbors. One of the leading personages in Portugal, Dr. Ricardo Jorge, an ex-Minister and late head of the Faculty of Medicine, now Principal of the Institute of Hygiene, published an article in the most important Portuguese newspaper, the “Diario de Noticas”, in which he strongly condemned the actions of the Nazis and expressed his deep sympathy with the unfortunate victims of their persecution.
As soon as the refugees started arriving, a Relief Committee was very quickly formed, under the presidency of Professor Dr. Adolfo Benarus. At first this consisted mainly of members of the Lisbon Jewish association, “Hechaver”, but soon the leading personalities in the Jewish life of Portugal joined it. Unfortunately, the Jewish Community here is a very small one, and it has not the necessary means at its disposal, but so far no refugee has gone short of either moral or financial support.
The Committee at first directed its efforts towards obtaining immigration certificates to Palestine for a number of the refugees, but unfortunately these efforts were unsuccessful, and the situation of the refugees has become a very desperate one.