Problems in Portugal

The Portuguese international police had renewed John and my residence permit a few times and told us at one of the renewals if we did not leave the country by the time this permit expired, we would go to jail, because they would not renew it. We tried to explain, we were waiting for our U.S.A. visa and we were told, if we showed them the visa, they would release us. I did not mention that in Spain and Portugal we were able to communicate very well in French, which a very large section of the people spoke well. From the notes and little papers I have, it looks to me that the expiration date of our permit was April 26, 1941. We went to the police station to try again, no extension was possible and we were arrested, finger printed, mug shot, and we were searched and put in a large holding cell. It was as dirty and as filthy as the one in Nice, also the same hole in the floor on one side and a dripping faucet on the other side and an awful lot of people. The parents came and tried, particularly Mother, who spoke an excellent French, nothing helped. So close to the end of the odyssey and this had to happen.

As I remember, the same afternoon we were transported in a police van to a political prison, with the name of "Forte Norte de Cascais". It is near the Atlantic Ocean and also near the well known resort of Cascais, which, we never saw. When we arrived at the prison we saw it was an old, old fortress, it still had a rampart, where the soldiers were walking with rifles all around. Inside everything was done by numbers. We were put in a cell, unbelievably dirty and primitive, we were led to the dining hall. We had to march single file and we got a fork and a spoon, no knife, we had to remain standing at the table. Then they gave the order to sit down. There was another problem: the orders were shouted in Portuguese, which we did not understand, we could only do what the others did. After the meal it was the same, we could only get up when the order was given and we marched past the guards and they watched that we put our forks and spoons back in the trays. After that we marched to our cells. It looked to us almost like a maximum security prison. The food was also unbelievable. I have been kidding you and your mother with the expression "Stockfish". There is no refrigeration to speak about and very little ice is available to the fisherman. To preserve the fish they cover it with salt, string it up on long lines and let the sun dry it. To eat it, it has to be soaked in water and then boiled or fried. We came to the conclusion you would have to be born there to be able to eat it, John and I could not. This stockfish was served several times during our stay".

We arranged, through our parents, who were not happy with this new situation, particularly as it was a long bus ride from Lisbon, to be transferred to a detention cell first class. We had to pay extra for it, I still have some of the receipts. This had been the infirmary and we did not know why it was not being used. We hoped nobody would get sick. Including us, we were eight men in this room. Everybody had a different nationality. Two said they were Greeks who had been living in Paris, one said he was Swiss, one was Austrian, one Frenchman, one American and we two "Roumanians". Beside the eight of us we had a full compliment of bedbugs and fleas, we had full entertainment. For some reason we got very annoyed with each other and we resented each other. As the room was rather small we got on each others nerves. I did get the bright idea what had gone wrong. The two Greeks spoke their language, nobody else understood it, we spoke German with the Austrian, The Swiss spoke French and German, the American spoke some French and the Frenchman knew a little English. We got our heads together and we made out, as all of us understood and spoke French, we would only speak French with each other and to each other. This way nobody could say "I don't know what you are talking about." This, like a miracle changed the atmospheric pressure among us and we became friends with the same problems and worries. They all had residence problems, but we could not find out why the American and the Swiss did not return to their countries.

I always talk about "John" in this story, we called him "Hans", in French it was "Jean" and he only changed his name to "John" when he came to the U.S.A.

For fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon we had to go to the courtyard. This gave the guards time to search the cells. All around the court was the old wall of this fortress and on top of the wall walked the guards with rifles. When I think about it today, we stepped back to the 13th, 14th or 15th century. The grapevine had it that two Roumanian fellows were among the prisoners. One day, while walking around and around the yard, two young men started to talk to us in a language we did not understand and we assumed it was Roumanian. We explained to them that, unfortunately we don't understand Roumanian, because we had been raised in Germany. We talked to them for a while in French and they believed us, they were in jail for the same or very similar problem. They too were unable to get an extension of their residence permits and were already since one year in jail. Portugal also had a dictatorship with Salazar as the headman. Therefore political prisoners did not have much of a chance for a fair trial.

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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida.
©1991 Kurt Lenkway.

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