A Short Archival Note

A Short Archival Note

Maria Isabel Fevereiro
Director, Diplomatic Historical Archives
September 2000

The researching community is well aware of the documentary wealth deposited in the Arquivo Histórico-Diplomático (Diplomatic Historical Archives or AHD, for short) about Portuguese foreign policy during the Second World War. Many works, some published, others not, the result of research made there, attest to that wealth. Despite the already significant bibliography extant and the sources published by the Foreign Ministry in the so-called “White Papers” (in this particular case the fifteen volumes of “Dez Anos de Política Externa, 1936-1947″), researchers as a whole still investigate the period of the Second World War more than any other.

Nevertheless, examination of the many aspects of this question is far from complete. This is the case of the refugees, for instance, which has not yet been the target of an exhaustive, in-depth study, although it has been the object of occasional focused scrutiny by a few academics.

The lack of works on this subject may possibly be due to the difficulties encountered by researchers who face a task that requires time to spare on long hours of investigation. In addition to the substantial volume of documents involved and the fact that the sources are, naturally enough, scattered throughout the archival record groups of the AHD (with connections that are not always immediately obvious), many of the documentary files were disorganized from the start, which in itself shows how difficult contemporary administration of this problem was. Furthermore, the absence and/or non­ existence of archives from diplomatic and consular posts means that we cannot complement the research with specific material from these posts and fill in occasional, but inevitable, omissions in the archives of the Secretariat of State. Some of the former archives of legations, embassies and consulates, such as the Madrid Embassy and the Berlin Legation, disappeared during the devastating violence of the conflicts. Others have not survived to our day for the simple reason that the historic value of consular documentation was only belatedly understood. Others await transfer to Lisbon at such a time when the AHD deposits, already seriously overcrowded, are able to accommodate them.

Linked to the question of the refugees are the Portuguese diplomats who personally endeavored to save as many persecuted lives as possible. This is the theme of this exhibition which is dedicated exclusively to the actions of Aristides de Sousa Mendes (Bordeaux, 1940), and Sampaio Garrido and Teixeira Branquinho (Budapest, 1944). We would like to make it clear, however, that the fact that the exhibition concentrates exclusively on these three men is not meant to imply that they were the only diplomats who played a relevant role in this field, merely that so far it has not been possible to research more thoroughly into the question of whether others behaved similarly.

With the exception of the photographs by Roger Kahan and the proofs of the article by the journalist César dos Santos (both kindly lent by Professor Moisés Fernandes), which as far as we know have never been published, the documents in this exhibition have been sourced only from the AHD.

Because of the itinerant nature of this exhibition we have decided not to display the original documents. Instead we have arranged for photographic reproductions which are as faithful to the originals as possible, mainly in terms of size and color.

When selecting the documents it was our intention to give visitors all the vital data, all the parts, to enable them to piece together the episodes shown, not merely to illustrate some of their more significant moments. This was only possible because the cases themselves are limited to short periods in time, enabling us to present the sequence of events as if it were a film.

It was our intention to let the documents speak for themselves, prompting visitors to read them directly, so we did away with the usual captions as these would inevitably involve each document being summarized and subject to our own interpretation. Furthermore, as this exhibition is aimed at the Portuguese community in the United States but also at the American public in general, we wished to provide non-Portuguese speakers with a convenient way to “read” the exhibits, albeit indirectly. We have accordingly replaced the traditional archival description in the bilingual catalogue with a transcription of the more important segments of each text. For the same reason the catalogue also contains fifteen documentary annexes which, on account of their importance and length, have been reproduced in full. We are thus giving the American public an opportunity to read the quotes and transcriptions in a translation that has attempted to respect the style both of the times and of their writers. In short, in one way or another the public will feel “compelled” to interact with each document and the message it conveys. We hope that this intimate contact will inspire visitors and let them experience emotions that can only be transmitted through the language (and thinking) of the protagonists themselves, which would be totally stripped of all intensity of feeling if reduced to a mere archival description.

It is a well-known fact that documentary exhibitions are not very appealing and risk being boring. We have therefore attempted to raise people’s interest by showing in the same space excerpts from an award-winning documentary about Aristides de Sousa Mendes by Diana Andringa, Teresa Olga and Fátima Cavaco. The fact that visitors can actually witness Sousa Mendes’ drama through the magic of pictures will, we hope, make them curious to read the documents on display and contribute to minimizing their in-built dryness.

Where will this anonymous Jew, with his entire fortune in a small bag and his soul overflowing with melancholy, rest from his worries? [César dos Santos]