This film is part of Free

Europe’s Crossroads

This eye-opening report reveals the paradoxes of wartime Portugal: where Nazi black marketeers, refugees and gamblers mingled against a backdrop of fado, salt cod and port.

Documentary 1944 19 mins


Wartime Lisbon was a hub for rumour and gossip, channeling news and propaganda from all over Europe, but rarely, as this film points out, communicating any news about Portugal itself. This March of Time issue lifts the curtain on a conservative, almost feudal society, with a largely illiterate population, which nonetheless, in wartime Lisbon, was the centre of intrigue, hope and excitement, a place where gamblers could spend their money and refugees escape to the New World.

Despite the intense conservatism of Salazar’s government, his steadfast aim to remain strictly neutral meant that paradoxically Portugal - and Lisbon in particular - became a hub of activity for the Allied and Axis powers as propagandists, black market traders, spies, exiled royalty and gamblers all flocked to the city. The footage in this issue evokes something of the febrile atmosphere of the time; from wealthy exiles cavorting in the sea at Estoril and crowded bars filled with the haunting sounds of Fado singers, to peasants panning for tungsten and then trying to sell their finds to Nazi black marketeers, the images of this film convey the strange mixture of conservatism and ‘anything goes’ excitement.