Emile Gissot

Portuguese consul Emile Gissot

I somehow overlooked a very interesting comment on the blog from early in January. A staffer at the Aristedes de Sousa Mendes Foundation had seen our Ringel escape route postings and wanted to know if the signature on the Portuguese visa in Elly's passport matched any of several other names besides Sousa Mendes. On her list was the name of Emile Gissot, and indeed as you can see from the closeup here, that's who signed off on granting a transit visa to Portugal to our family members in Toulouse on July 11, 1940.

After sending back this photo, I heard back from the director of the foundation with additional questions. She may be able to help clear up our party's movements in the weeks leading up to their arrival in Toulouse. We may also find that our family members will be added to the foundation's roster of those who benefited from the heroic action of de Sousa Mendes.

Gissot's role in the Sousa Mendes affair

In 1940, Emile Gissot was 58 years old, probably retired from government foreign service and living again in his home city of Toulouse. To supplement his income and keep his hand in the game, he takes a position as honorary vice-consul in Toulouse for the government of Portugal. It is not unusual for foreign governments to staff consulate offices with non-national local citizens. That is why his title was "honorary." The reason it was "vice-consul" was because he did not have full consular responsibilities but reported to a regional chief consul stationed 130 miles away in Bordeaux.

That consul was Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a distinguished Portuguese diplomat who was charged with representing Portugal in Bordeaux and southwest France and who would soon change history. By late May of 1940, following the German invasion of France and the Low Countries several weeks earlier, the urban centers of southwest France were overflowing with the waves of refugees coming from the north. Many of them were trying to get to Portugal, seen as one of the few viable escape routes from the insanity in Europe.

Sousa Mendes and Gissot in their respective Portuguese consulates were under siege by poor unfortunates with no place to go. Sousa Mendes instructs Gissot by telephone to keep referring supplicants to Bordeaux. For now, the vice-consul has no signing authority. Then, on June 17, after spending time with a Rabbi Kruger and his family, Sousa Mendes has his moment of conscience and commences his campaign to issue visas to any and all who need one. He gives new instructions to Gissot, giving him authority to issue visas in Toulouse, but only for those who already having destination visas from a third country. The Sousa Mendes Foundation has in its files a number of these Gissot visas signed in June while Sousa Mendes remained active.

This isn't the place to recount his heroic actions, but to summarize in the next 10 days Sousa Mendes issued as many as 30,000 visas to refugees of all types, including 10,000 Jews, before being shut down by the Salazar government. He was recalled to Lisbon to be harshly disciplined for his actions.

Now it was July and Sousa Mendes' spree had ended, yet the surge of visa supplicants continued unabated at Gissot's office. He must now have been given new instructions from Lisbon, probably to issue no more visas for any reason. Here I am going to move into speculation a little. I imagine that Gissot knows and socializes with consular officials from other countries in Toulouse. It is natural they would talk about the refugees and some of them might sympathize with their plight.

The Dutch consulate is manned by a local representative of the Philips company, an A.J. van Dobben, who has also seen an influx of Dutch Jewish refugees at his door at the Chanchellerie du Consulate des Pays-Bas. We actually have an address for his office, 8 Rue Strassbourg, courtesy of the memoir of escaping ex-Nazi Otto Strasser, who also benefited from the actions of Gissot and van Dobben. See our earlier article for more on Strasser's account. Keep in mind, too, that van Dobben's office remains open even though Germany has occupied the Dutch capital for the last six weeks.

I speculate that Gissot and van Dobben devise a cooperative plan to help some of the refugees. Gissot says that he can still issue Portuguese transit visas to holders of third-nation destination visas. Van Dobben says that he can issue tourist visas to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. Beginning probably on July 11, they put the plan into effect. The Dutch consulate begins issuing Curacao visas and Gissot just as quickly signs off on those for transit through Portugal. Our family gets both visas on July 11, then based on these gets a Spanish transit visa the next day. They leave France by train from Perpignan on July 23.

We don't know how many beneficiaries there are of what I am calling the Curacao exception. We know that it operated at least a week, from July 11 to July 19, when Strasser got his visas and observed dozens of Jewish refugees doing the same. I believe it will be possible to look more closely at already collected stories at the Sousa Mendes foundation and elsewhere to see if those dates can be extended in either direction, and to get a sense of the volume of cases.

I will leave off there for the moment but will return with a further dimension to the story.

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.

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

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