Elly Ringel

Helga and Elly's arrival in NY in 1941

Valery Bazarov, the present-day historian at HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the international refugee agency that helped Elli, Hilda, and Helga at several points in their three year long oddessey across France and Portugal to the safety of America, offered to look in the organization's archives in New York to see what they have on their case. Valery informed me that HIAS was very active in southern France from the time of the fall of Paris to the Nazis in June 1940 until the German occupation of southern France in November 1942--helping thousands of Jews escape the Nazis including prominent people like Marc Chagall --and therefore might be able to determine whether the organization helped them there as well as in Portugal and New York.

Today. when I visited him at HIAS' office on 7th Ave in Manhattan, Valery regretfully told me that he only found two pieces of paper that seem to have been part of a larger file, but the file itself seems to have disappeared. I will describe these two documents here, and since I dont have a scanner at home, will put them up on the website in several days. The first is a hand written scrap of paper, apparently from their days in Lisbon, reading:

Ringel, Elly
Ringel, Helga
Polonaise, Kattovice, 3.7.900
Address: rua de gloria 41-28

As we know, Elli and Helga had obtained fake Polish passports that must have listed Elli's borthplace as Kattovice--perhaps the 3.7.900 refers to Elli's birthday in 1900 (the correct year of her birth. The address is clearly where they lived in Lisbon.

The second document was issued by HIAS upon their arrival in New York on Aopril 23,1941.
It gives us the important information that the ship they arrived on was the S.S. Guine, a Portuguese ship that Bazarov said was one of the main ships that carried refugees from Lisbon to New York during those years. It lists Elly as a widow 40 years of age of Polish nationality and Helga as being 15 (actually she was 16). It lists their residency as Hotel Paris in New York, which was probably where Elli and Hilda stayed during the week that they spent in New York (Helga was held on Ellis Island during that period) connecting with Judge Ringel who apparently signed on as their guarator in New York even though he had never met them before and there was no discernable family connection. All of that was arranged through the aegis of HIAS. so it is a great shame that the file has been lost. It lists the HIAS worker who dealt with their case as Neubau (the first name is indistinct), who Valery said was a well known HIAS worker during those days and had the distinction of handling the very last immigrant held on Ellis Island when that facililty closed in 1954.

Bazarov urged me to check with the office of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington (now under Homeland Security) which likely has records from Elli, Hilda and Helga's arrival, which would shed light on how they managed to get permission to come back to the U.S. as permanent residents after travelling to Cuba from New York. The HIAS form lists them as "in transit to Ecuador" and specifies that they arrived in New York on "4/23-bonds to 5/10", apparently they would have to leave by May 10. I am going to have to rewrite some of the Ruby Family History account on all of this as in our last interview, Helga spoke of travelling on visas to Costa Rica, not Ecuador, and although she had previously spoken of Ecuador as the country whose visas they had purchased in France, thus allowing them to travel to Portugal and on to the Western Hemisphere, I went with the Costa Rican story in the RFH.

After leaving HIAS I went to the National Archives Research Administration in lower Manhattan--I had to research another person for an article I am writing about claims that Pope Pius XII supposedly helped 800 Jews and 11 nuns cross the ocean from Portugal to the US--also in 1941--and unfortunately was unable to find confirmation of that claim. That story and another one I have been working on re Pius and the Jews has turned out to be a wild goose chase that has taken way too much of my time over the past several weeks. But I did use the opportunity to find confirmation of Elli and Helga's arrival on microfilm. There was also a notation that Helga was naturalized (received U.S. citizenship) on June 2, 1947, only a week or two before she and Stan got married (Dan, Jo, what was their anniversary--I seem to remember June 9 or 11)? The office closed before I could secure Helga's naturalization (citizenship) papers, which Dan and Joanne were unable to find in their treasure trove of documents they discovered in Helga and Stan's attic last year, so now at last we will get it back.


Three Wohlgemuth generations

Betty Katz Wohlgemuth, Helga Ringel, Elly Wohlgemuth Ringel

Translation of Gissot "Irregularities" file

This is my Google Translate-enabled rough translation of the Gissot file. In several places, I made guesses as to the meaning of the text. In other areas, especially regarding the commercial contracts, I could not make a guess as to the meaning and left ambiguous text.

Ministry Of Foreign Affairs
Directorate general of economic and consular affairs

Irregularities of the vice-consul and manager of the Consulate in Toulouse, Mr. Gissot


The Consul in Marseilles and State Defense and Surveillance Police [PVDE] formulate several serious allegations against Mr. Emile Gissot, vice Consul and manager of the Consulate in Toulouse. These are reproduced below along with the explanations of Mr. Gissot and the conclusions of the Bureau of Consular Administration.

All charges are by the Consul in Marseille, with the exception of the last, which is by the State Defense and Surveillance Police:

1st - The Manager of the Consulate in Toulouse charged personal compensation of Frs. 30,00 for each passport examined, an amount set in the Table of Consular Fees as Esc 6$00, corresponding to the fee of Frs. 9.60. According to the calculations of the Consul in Marseilles, the difference reverting in favor of Mr. Gissot [comes to] Frs. 19726.80.

2nd - The Consulate in Toulouse, under the responsibility of Gissot, [remitted] insufficient revenue from stamps worth Esc 56,550$00.

3rd - Mr. Gissot insists that transfer fees much higher than the annual maximum limit allowed by the Consular Regulation [were necessary], citing the reasons - unacceptable, incidentally - which [are cited below] when dealing with the explanations of the Mr. Gissot.

4th - In the enlarged photographs of various visas in passports issued by Mr. Gissot (photographs that were sent to the Ministry by the Consul in Marseille), there are obvious irregularities such as:

a) Application of stamp fragments instead of complete stamps;
b) Charges which do not correspond to the particulars of its receipt;
c) Repetition of numbers in reporting revenue and not following a chronological order.

The Consul in Marseille who highlights these anomalies declares that the stamps were fragmented, divided into four parts, each to be employed for full consular acts.

5th - According to the statements by the Consul of Marseilles, Mr. Emile Gissot charged, at least sometimes, several hundreds of francs per visa.

6th - Also according to statements by the Consul in Marseilles, Mr. Emile Gissot granted visas on passports that had been forbidden by this Ministry, back-dating the visas to conceal the fraud.

7th - Mr. Emile Gissot extorted foreigners to grant them visas on passports for Portugal, charging hefty sums to which he legally had no right. He even had a service set up for this purpose, with individuals who walked by cafes, bars, etc.. garnering customers for the Consulate.


Mr. Gissot defended himself as follow on the three primary charges:

The first: It is a fact that he charged Frs. 30.00 instead of Frs. 9.60. The [additional] amount allowed him to spend the difference, in full, in aid to numerous stranded Portuguese workers.

Thus, despite the large number of Portuguese who came to be unemployed that region never overloaded the Ministry with requests for aid.

The consulate received very many such requests for repatriation or job placement, as was known to the Legation in Vichy and this ministry. Mr. Gissot regrets not having kept aid receipts but he never thought that this procedure could prove to be misunderstood. He cited that the concept is also taken by the Legation.

The second: The Esc 56,550$00 of missing stamps represent:

1st - 263 visas in work contracts (the Bureau checks taxed at a rate of Esc 210$00 per visa instead of Esc 110$00 that should apply);

2nd - 12 stamps of Esc 110$00 that were remitted under regulations, but were not recorded as received by the Consulate in Bordeaux, on which [Toulouse] depended at the time.

Mr. Gissot said that the company with the 263 contracts was a major firm known to the Consulate, which provided it with prepaid stamps. He imprudently delivered them already stamped​to that firm.

Consequently, at that time, the Portuguese Government has in fact prevented the departure of Portuguese workmen to France without notice and without notification to consulates that they should not legalize work contracts. Interested firms utterly refused to make payment to the Consulate in Toulouse for these authorizations. A representative who came to Portugal with the contracts said that the Portuguese authorities do not recognize the validity of those documents. The vice Consul telegraphically advised the Ministry requesting action against the aforementioned representative, whose address was indicated in Lisbon.

In response to the Consul in Marseille (pointing to Mr. Gissot as the only means to recover the value of the missing stamps), [Mr. Gissot] judged he cannot be held responsible for this fact, because the collections did not take place. The Portuguese Government did not recognize the commitment implicitly assumed to leave the workers out because it allowed the legalization of contracts and dealing with stamps of no intrinsic value.

The Consul in Marseilles does not believe the explanation given by Mr. Gissot, since it does not appear that the Ministry has taken any action as a result of participation Consulate in Toulouse.

As for the third: The manager of the Consulate in Toulouse insists on keeping safe an amount greater than allowed by the Regulation in order to have cash available in case the Portuguese Government decides to use the courts to force the firm to pay the aforementioned legalization of 263 contracts - or even to defend themselves in the courts of action that a branch of the same firm [might] eventually devise against the Consulate for loss and damages, based on the losses incurred due to the Portuguese Government's decision not to allow the workers to [remain in] France after the referenced contracts.


About the above, the Bureau of Consular Administration met to consider the following:

1 - The illegal collection of personal compensations, denounced by the Consul in Marseilles, can not be doubted as the manager of the Consulate in Toulouse himself confesses to this, while claiming that the proceeds from these charges was intended to help the needy Portuguese. It is not proven, however, that Frs. 19.726,80 were dispensed for this purpose. It is true that it appears during the current year the Consulate has not requested reimbursement for aid or repatriations. But it also must be recognized that the facts raised reveal bad faith on the part of Mr. Gissot - and reveal with certainty, at least, practices that can not be sanctioned by the State Department.

2 - There was an unforgivable mistake by the manager's office of the Consulate in Toulouse in the case of legalization of labor contracts, because they should not have them delivered before they were paid. But it seems that there has been bad faith because in due time the Ministry's representative firm telegraphically requested action against the interested party at the address indicated in Lisbon. The Ministry immediately turned turned the case over to the police, after insisting on an answer, which, oddly enough, has not yet been received.

Not [disinclined] to believe in the good faith of Mr. Gissot in this case, but the information verifies that the contracts were not utilized in the decision of the Portuguese Government to which reference is made above. Until then the person responsible for this matter is Mr. Gissot. Since it appears that the contracts may possibly call for restitution of fees charged for its legalization (though not in fact received but already filled), settling is thus the responsibility of the manager of the Consulate in Toulouse.

Perhaps this case reveals no more than carelessness and ignorance on the part of Mr. Gissot, but these are unforgivable.

3 - It is an unacceptable attitude for Mr. Gissot to refuse to carry out the passage revenue. It is unnecessary to insist on the lack of support of their arguments.

4 - The irregularities that occur in visas referred to the Consul in Marseilles are evident and are of a serious aspect.

5 - We agree with the claim made by the State Defense and Surveillance Police.

6 - It seems probable, in view of the deficiencies noted in the revenue receipts.

7 - There seems to be doubted information from State Defense and Surveillance Police.


The Bureau of Consular Administration found that the facts are such as to impose an immediate dismissal of Mr. Gissot, who, as a preventive measure had been already prohibited from issuing passports, shortly after the communication from the State Defense and Surveillance Police.

Considering the convenience of the Consulate in Toulouse, the Bureau of Consular Administration allows Mr. Emile Gissot to continue in his duties until he is replaced by an official assuming all titles.

Bureau of Consular Administration on December 19, 1940.

Vasco da Cunha

Gissot was charged with trafficking visas

Walter and I began our investigation into our mother's refugee journey with the idea that the Ringel family made it over the many border crossings with liberal use of bribes paid under the table to corrupt officials. "Things could be arranged by greasing the right palms," Helga told Walter in the oral history she gave in 2004.

As we have seen, one key location in their journey was Toulouse in July 1940 when they acquired important documents. Our ongoing investigation about what happened in Toulouse has previously identified four consular officials from three countries who were involved in supplying those those papers.

Perhaps naively, I have written of the four diplomats as minor Holocaust heros, who saved the lives of the Ringel family members and possibly hundreds of others through their selfless actions. Now I have received new information that may move the narrative back in the original direction--something closer to Casablanca than to Schindler's LIst.

Rui Afonso, the biographer of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, has sent me the 11-page disciplinary file "Irregularities of the vice-consul of the Consulate in Toulouse, Mr. Gissot," which I knew of but had not previously seen. Based on charges by the consul of Marseille, as well as by the Portuguese secret police, the report issued December 19, 1940 by the Bureau of Business and Consular Affairs details allegations of corruption against Gissot and concludes that they are grounds for his dismissal.

I have done a rough translation of the document and will share that in the next post.


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