Lisbon escape route

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.

Zwartendijk keeps mum

We pick up Jonathan Goldstein's version of the Jan Zwartendijk story after his visa-writing campaign ends on August 3, 1940. Within days, he returns home to Nazi-occupied Holland with his wife and children.

For the next several years, Zwartendijk lived in fear that his actions in Kovno would be discovered by the Nazis. At one point he was interrogated by the Gestapo about an unrelated matter, but his actions in Lithuania escaped notice. Needless to say, he did not talk of the incident to anyone.

Goldstein writes that Zwartenkijk didn't learn that many of his beneficiaries actually made it out until 1963, when he was informed of survivors he had helped living in California. In 1976, Ernest Heppner and other survivors succeeded in locating the man most knew only as "Mr. Philips Radio" or literally as "Philip Radio."

That year, he was honored by the Montreal Rabbinical Court and communicated with historian David Kranzler, whose soon to be published history of the Shanghai Jews documented their connection to Zwartendijk. Shortly after, Zwartendijk passed away at age 80.

In 1997, through the efforts of Kranzler, Heppner, Goldstein and others, Zwartendijk achieved recognition as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem.

Goldstein examines Zwartendijk's motivations and concludes that it was simple humanitarian instinct. He also looks at the motivations of the other players in the affair, Chiune Sugihara and the Soviet authority, which he finds more complex.

As for the Dutch government, Goldstein says they knew nothing about the incident until 1963, when Zwartendijk was called in for a discreet interview. Finally, Goldstein tells us that two other Dutch diplomats, A.M. de Jong in Stockholm and N.A.G. de Voogt in Kobe, Japan, subsequently issued their own Curacao visas. The suggestion, though not directly asserted, is that those later cases were inspired by Zwartendijk's example.

More to come on how this connects with our knowledge of the Toulouse Curacao visas.

A new clue about the Ringel journey

We knew from Helga's interview with Walter that the family was first in Lyon, with the idea of getting through to Switzerland. (This is after leaving Nice sometime around June 20.) In Lyon, they saw Gestapo presence and thought they recognized the very agent that had tracked them in Berlin. They gave up on the Switzerland plan and returned to the Mediterranean.

This document shows that they then stored eight pieces of luggage in the town of Gallargues-le-Montueux before proceeding on their journey. This could be some time in the range of June 23-25. We think they next went to Marseilles but quickly reversed course to Bordeaux, probably on rumors of Sousa Mendes. They were almost certainly in Bordeaux and may also have been in Hendaye, but after Sousa Mendes had already gone. Then they are definitely in Toulouse, where on July 5 they obtain a Polish passport, followed by Pichal and Gissot visas on July 11.

A few days later, they are in Perpinan with documents and preparing to depart for Lisbon. This receipt, which I have had for years but had not been able to interpret before, itemizes their eight pieces of luggage being forwarded by rail from the Gallargues PLM station to Perpinan.

Spain's two consulates

Among the files sent by Paul Freudman are several with stamps from the Spanish consulate in Toulouse. This surprised me because we know that Elly made a separate round trip from Toulouse to Perpinan to obtain a Spanish transit visa. This she did on July 12, the day after she had secured the prerequisite Dutch and Portuguese visas. But why did she go to Perpinan to do it, when Spain had a consulate in Toulouse? The same question applies to Rosalia Freudmann and her husband, who also went to Perpinan for their Spanish visas. The inevitable conclusion is that the Spanish consulate in Toulouse was not honoring Gissot visas while the Spanish consulate in Perpinan had a different policy.

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