Lisbon escape route

Schiffres family in Lisbon and after

The Schiffres family reached Lisbon about five weeks after the Ringel family. Their experiences were similar. Lines at South American embassies, no help from the U.S. Irwin joined with many refugee children attending a makeshift school where every language was spoken. Though he would stay just six months in Lisbon, departing earlier than the Ringels who stayed nine months, he was able to pick up a fair bit of Portuguese, as did Helga.

The Schiffres family was able to ship out of Lisbon on the basis of an immigration visa from Ecuador, exactly the same as the Ringels. He adds a new bit of information about the Ecuador visa, that it required a $1000 deposit that would be refunded on arrival in Ecuador. Since neither the Schiffres or Ringels planned to go to Ecuador, the deposit would be forfeited.

Their voyage, normally a six-day trip, took 15 days, says Schiffres. They stopped several days in Bermuda waiting for the all-clear to proceed to New York. The Schiffres' accommodations were in the ship's hold about the S.S. Serpa Pinto. The Ringel trip aboard the S.S. Guine also took 15 days, so we can reasonably conclude that they also were held in Bermuda.

Schiffres quoted form a autobiographical essay he wrote in junior high school a few years later: "Finally after 15 days at sea, we saw the statue that all free loving people like to see, the Statue of Liberty."

At Ellis Island, just as with the Ringels, members of the Schiffres family were held at Ellis Island while awaiting for a relative affidavit to be produced. Schiffres does not have detailed memories of Ellis Island.

Unlike with the Ringels, after acquiring a family affidavit, the Schiffres were able to stay in the U.S. on six-month visitor visas, which they renewed several times before one day taking to train to Detroit and crossing the border to Canada to receive legal immigration visas. This trip is analogous to the Ringel family's detour to Cuba before re-entering the U.S.

The Schiffres family settled on the Upper West Side, as did the Ringels. Irwin attended Joan of Arc high school and excelled there, as Helga did at Julia Richmond. He went on to City College, where he became active in student government. Then he went to Harvard Law and moved into a legal career that culminated in his position at the time of the interview as the chief editor of the legal journal Jurisprudence.

He and his wife Mimi had two children and five grandchildren. Since regrettably I have only met Irwin Schiffres posthumously, I hope to make contact with one of his children to see if he has left more useful information.

The Polish consul identified as Stanisław Dygat

I went to the Hoover Institution Archive on campus at Stanford University yesterday. Quite an experience--just finding it, getting registered, learning the procedures, and then finally being able to open these boxes of incredible original documents. Letters, telegrams, reports, budgets. These were records of the Polish consulate in Toulouse (Tuluzie) from 1940. One batch of mainly budget memos and reports, listing employee names and salaries. Another batch of letters and telegrams relating to the closure of the consulate in September of that year, including accounts of the critical events in June and July. 

Polish uses a lot of weird characters with unfamiliar diacritical marks, but it turns out to be basically a Latin language. I was able to enter unaccented characters into Google Translate on my iPad and get pretty decent results in English. So in a few hours, I was able to review four file folders of documents, pick out particular items of interest, and photograph them with the iPad. This will allow me to undertake a partial translation of key documents beginning today. 

The most exciting result is that I now know the name of the Polish consul who issued Elly Ringel a passport on July 5, 1940—and he turns out to be really interesting. His name is Stanisław Dygat. He became quite famous as a novelist and screenwriter in postwar Poland. His first novel, Bodensee (Lake Constance), published in 1946, about a German internment camp, might contain further clues for us. It was also a movie. Also, Magda Dygat wrote a memoir about her father. All in Polish of course. 

There are several lengthy letters by him from July and August, including one of seven handwritten pages, which is going to be tough to translate. One thing that is not in the file is a listing of passport recipients. I didn't see any specific reference to a Ringel family. 

I'm set up with a three-month registration at the archive and can return for a follow up visit any time. Right now, I have plenty of work I can do with the document photos but likely will want to go back in a few weeks for a deeper dive. 

Report on the refugee crisis at the Polish consulate

Here is my first translation of a document from the Hoover Institution archive of Polish foreign ministry documents. It is written on August 2, 1940, just after the height of the refugee crisis, by the acting head of the consulate, Vaclav Bitner, who has stepped in to help restore order in the wake of the premature departure of the former vice consul Stanisław Dygat. The extraordinary events of the previous six weeks break through the officialese of the report

Toulouse, August 2, 1940

The Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Toulouse hereby submits a report on of the business of the Consulate in its administrative work and social welfare in the period from mid-June to the present.

I. Issues of citizenship and passports:
Starting in mid-June, the Consulate experienced a one-hundredfold increase in the rate of applications, mostly regarding the issue of passports. Previously the Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Toulouse received at most 800 passports applications in a year. In the period from June 15, the number of passports issued has increased enormously. The peak number of passports issued and submitted were up to 200 a day. From 15 June to 31 July, around 6,600 passports were issued passports, judging from the use of blank passports.

To meet this challenge the Consulate looked very liberally at evidence of citizenship. In relation to soldiers, service in the Polish army in France was found to be sufficient evidence to issue a passport. More difficult was the issue of the civilian population, particularly the large flood of refugees from Belgium, often not possessing Polish passports. Passports were issued on the basis of the Belgian identity card, together with Polish documents as birth certificates, membership certificates, etc.. This was the case for Polish citizens.

Under these conditions, it was possible for some people not already possessing Polish citizenship to get Polish passport. These are almost exclusively those who lost Polish citizenship in 1938 or 1939 under the Law of 31 March 1938 Article 1 but retained documentation of their prior citizenship. This amount is small, however, and might amount to no more than 1% of the total number of issued passports.

The working conditions during this time did not allow the Consulate to [properly index] issued passports. There could be no question of setting up a personal file for each person receiving a passport. The indexes that were kept were to avoid issuing double passports to one person.

Passports issued to former soldiers were usually free of charge. From the civilian population required fees, usually equal to the sum of 146 francs. However, about 90% of the people there were workers from Belgium and northern France who had been without work for several months and persist here with benefits received from the French authorities - received passports free of charge. The collected fees received are more than 90,000 fr. as if July 31, 1940

Time did not allow for postage stamps to be glued on passports. Fees collected by the clerk were listed on a piece of paper, with a list of people and the amount collected.

There were incidents of abuse [bribery?] in the issuing of passports but these are now very few or indeed eliminated. Three contract workers who helped in the first period with the flood of work have been removed for this reason by the Consulate.

In addition to passports issued at the Consulate, there were also other similar document-issuing centers, such as in Perpignan, where the stamp of the Pyrenees Orientales prefecture and signature of former Consulate officer George Morozewicz appeared on forms prepared on the duplicator. Quantities of passports were issued this way were during the first days after June 21, with the goal of easing travel within France. Whether and how much fees were collected has not yet been established. Several people who came forward with these passports at the Consulate stated that no fees were paid for such passports.

II. Accounting
The Consulate official who was left in place, Mr. Stanislaw Wozniak, a military passport clerk and accountant, and deputy head of the Consulate during absences by the station chief, had neither the time nor the authority to access the official account books. Cash receipts and expenditures in the write cache book were properly fastened and numbered.

According to the verbal command by the Consul, cash inflows and outflows of the Consulate for the entire period from 20 June 1940 were not recorded to the official ledgers, which made ​​impossible the normal account closings for the months of June and July. This now will be done as soon as possible - the difficulty is that the accounting officer Mr. Wozniak is far too preoccupied with work in other sectors and there is no proper or place or time to find the peace and quiet to do this task.

III. Security of the Consulate premises.
In the first days after the departure of the Head of the Consulate, circumstances allowed the theft and destruction of some items owned by the State, as well as the items in storage from private individuals. One officer together with the old, very energetic janitor (Walenty Jakubowski, formerly of the Embassy in Paris) could not cope with everything owing to the crowd of people besieging his desk.

There have been incidents of theft, especially with suitcases and trunks of individuals that were submitted here for safekeeping. The resulting loss is difficult to assess. Things destroyed in the office are limited to the value of the quantity while the losses of individuals are incomparably greater. In the first period of the crisis, the Consulate had to allow overnight access on the premises of the representative offices to a fairly large group of visitors, who would otherwise have been homeless outside the Consulate.

The above condition has now changed for the better. Those living in the building of the Consulate are persons performing official functions at the Consulate or with the Polish Red Cross, whose offices are located in the Consulate.

IV. Social welfare
In this report, the Consulate will be limited only to provide general sums issued, leaving other issues for a more detailed future report. Expenditure in the period from June 20 to July 31 amounted to a total of 741,520.70 francs. This included administrative expenses (paper, office supplies) of about 10,304 francs. rent new office premises, fr. 13,000 and staff costs of about 114,010 fr. The personal expense allowance is for three months and two officials of the Consulate, who were posted in the city after June 20, fr. 20192. Consulate employees, 37,450 and fr. 56,368 for office worker wages and military demobilization.

The balance of expenditure, fr. 604,206, are expenses for the proper care and housing of refugees. With larger amounts of benefits paid this sum appears fr. Board paid 40.000 to hostels in Salies du Salat, 10,000 fr. to the Polish House in Toulouse, 7,000 to shelter Polish in Loures-Barousse, fr. 36.200 for retirement and assistance grants for soldiers' wives (benefits granted by the Government Delegate for the Polish refugees in France) and the sum of fr. 511.006 assistance grants for soldiers, at a rate of fr. 20 per head every couple of days. The small amount of civilian assistance grants rarely exceed the sum of fr. 100 per person,

Consulate expenditures to aid Polish refugees has decreased by up to 80% since the organization of the Polish Red Cross in Toulouse. Red Cross registration has been in operation since about 10 July. Registered refugees receive assistance from the French authorities of 12 francs per day.

Proceeds V.
After the departure of the Head of the Consulate on June 20, 1940, the officer had left the sum of fr. 131,037.80, representing the balance on hand, bank account, and postal account. Since then until July 31 inclusive, revenue from charges for passports amounted to (exactly) 87,603.50 and there is a note in the amount of fr. 13,000 received from the Consul Chiczewski. The rest of the money covered expenses of the current head of the Consulate of Mr. Vaclav Bitner.

VI. Staff of the Consulate
In addition to the two former officials of the Consulate (Mr. Wozniak and Mr. Osuchowska) the rest of the staff consists of officials from other offices of the Republic of Poland and a few people from outside the Consulate voluntarily reported their work during June 19-24. Staffing is 23 people - in addition to the head of the Consulate.

Not shown here is the number of office workers handling soldier demobilization, which is now treated as a separate entity but remaining under the overall supervision of the Consulate.

By today (August 2) we have seen some reduction work in the Consulate. Several issues remain unsettled, such as drawing up inventories, ordering a personal archive and restoring the property, and above all to bring accounting up to date. The Consulate will proceed in the coming days to as soon as possiblereduce staff, but the composition of the Consulate will remain for the period to be about 60% higher than previously.

Stanisław Dygat defends his actions

This next translation tells Stanisław Dygat's side of the story as to why he departed from Toulouse on June 20 and why he didn't return there after receiving instructions to do so. It is addressed to the Polish ambassador to Spain at the embassy in Madrid. It has no date or post location, but it refers to events and locations up to Lisbon on July 18. I also have a six-page handwritten letter from Dygat, not yet translated, that is dated August 1 from Capvern back in France, not very far from Toulouse, where he may be in custody at an internment camp. There is still more to learn.

From Dygat
To Minister Szumlakowskiego in Madrid

In view of the allegations that (1) I unnecessarily left Toulouse, and (2) I delayed the execution of an order to return to base, I have the honor to state the following.

Regarding point 1, on June 16 I received a telegram from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland France recommending burning the Consulate archives, payment of 3 months salary to Consulate staff, and that I should depart for Bordeaux with three officials.

On the same day I received a telephone message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bordeaux confirming the order to burn the archives. On the occasion of this telegram Mr. Deputy Prime Minister Gralinskiemu wrote that the Toulouse Consulate should communicate regularly by phone with Mr. Minister Frankowski in Bordeaux. However I could not speak directly with Mr. Frankowski but only to the agent of honor in Bordeaux, who repeated to me the order of the Minister that I should wrap Consulate operations and leave.

On the night of 19 June, I received a telephone message from Libourne given by a Colonel (whose name I can not remember) recommending me to leave the minimum Consulate officials and evacuate towards Bayonne. In this state of things, and to the panic which swept all in Toulouse (colleagues can witness this as Consul General Kolankowski, Consul Sidorowiczi and others slept that night in Toulouse), I decided to entrust the care of the Consulate to Mr. Wozniak, accountant and passport clerk, and Mr. Jankowski, the Secretaries-General of the Union of Polish Settlers, and to leave on July 20 in the afternoon.

In Bayonne on July 21, I found out there a mood of panic and incredible chaos so I decided to go further. On the way I found many Poles going to St Jean de Luz, seeking ships to Hendaye or directly to Spain. There was also mention that the Polish military had announced to head for the port, and thus set off to England. The fact that there was such a possibility no one told me previously.

In San Sebastian, I checked by telephone to the Minister Szumlakowskiego crossed the border, I received instructions from him would be guided as soon as possibly to Portugal.

Regarding point 2, my passport was taken by Portuguese police at the border in Vilar Formoso, when I arrived on June 23, and was refused entry to continue to Lisbon but was sent to the village of Figueira da Foz. On June 28, I wrote letters from Figueira Mr Dubicze and Mr Szumlakowskiego. In these letters I mentioned the possibility of my return to Toulouse.

It was not until July 7 that I received a copy of the letter of 5 July, via one of the Poles who came from Lisbon to Figueira, orders to return to their base to Toulouse. In order to do so, I asked in writing for permission to come to the Republic of Poland legation in Lisbon to obtain a new passport.

On July 12, the police in Figueira allowed me to leave for Lisbon, but my passport was not yet issued. This happened on the evening of July 16. Visa formalities lasted two whole days. I left Lisbon on July 18, as soon as I received the necessary Spanish visa.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Lisbon escape route