Portugal was a neutral country during World War II (WWII). The government extended favorable trade terms to Great Britain, with which it had a centuries-old treaty, but continued supplying goods and tungsten – an essential material for the arms industry – to Nazi Germany until mid-1944. The Nazis paid with gold bullion looted from countries they had conquered and, it is suspected, from victims of the Holocaust. An estimated 40,000 Jews passed through Portugal between 1940 and 1941 fleeing Nazi persecution. Portuguese diplomats in certain European posts, including Aristides de Sousa Mendes, facilitated their escape – often in violation of official policy. There are approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Jews in Portugal today.
Portugal endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the related Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Immovable property from Jews or other targeted groups was not confiscated in Portugal during WWII, and the Department is not aware of outstanding issues or claims related to such property. In 2012, a member of the Portuguese government stated that, “to our best knowledge, there was no immovable property confiscated or otherwise wrongfully seized in Portugal during the Holocaust Era, between 1933 and 1945.” Nongovernmental organizations and local Jewish community groups also reported no significant outstanding Holocaust-era claims, including by foreign citizens. The government has general laws and mechanisms in place that could be used to compensate former property owners if any such case were to arise.
Experts estimate nearly 100 tons of Nazi gold ended up in Portugal. Almost half of this gold is believed to have been stolen from the treasuries of European countries that fell to the Nazis. In 1998, the government convened a commission (via Resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 57/98) to examine the gold transactions between Portugal and Germany between 1936 and 1945, chaired by the president and prime minister. The commission concluded in 1999 that there was “no basis for additional restitution” following the payment made by Portugal in 1960 for gold transactions carried out between Portuguese and German authorities between 1936 and 1945. The commission determined that Portugal did not knowingly handle gold looted from Holocaust victims and, as a result, there was no obligation to pay compensation. Jewish groups criticized the commission’s conclusions.
Unlike the research into Nazi gold, there has been very little attention to the fate of Nazi‑confiscated art that went through Portugal or possibly stayed in the country. Museums in Portugal do not conduct provenance research, although at least one painting has been reportedly identified as having been taken from Jews in France.
Portugal is a signatory to the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics. The country joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as the organization’s 34th member country in 2019.
The Department is not aware of any difficulties with access to archival documents. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has experienced excellent cooperation with both the National Archives and the archives of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Holocaust education is part of the general history curriculum for elementary schools and high schools. The Ministry of Education provides a 15-hour Holocaust history course for teachers.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day January 27, the Portuguese parliament holds a ceremony to honor Holocaust victims and raise genocide awareness. Senior government officials attend this event. Schools and some public institutions also commemorate this day. The Memoshoa Foundation, a Portuguese NGO that focuses on Holocaust education, holds conferences and seminars throughout the country in collaboration with local municipalities and schools.
There are memorial sites throughout Portugal to honor the Jewish community and pay tribute to Holocaust victims and survivors. An example is the Sahar Hassamaim Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the country, located on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores Autonomous Region. Although no longer used as a synagogue, Sahar Hassamaim serves as a library and museum for the preservation of Jewish history in the country.
Holocaust survivors in Portugal are entitled to the same social welfare benefits as other Portuguese citizens. According to the President of the Lisbon Jewish Community, there are currently no known survivors of the Holocaust residing in Portugal.