In search for a model of relations 1919-1939 (part 2)

Portugal’s envoy to Poland, César de Sousa Mendes, had been reporting back to Lisbon since the start of his mission in 1933 mainly on what he considered relevant for the relations of Poland with Germany and the Soviet Union; his leading insight was that a new war might be coming. In 1934, there was some friction in the bilateral relations: Poland did not back Portugal’s pursuits in the elections for the League of Nation’s Council although it had been manifesting a rather favourable stance on the matter beforehand. The situation was soon appeased, though. Also, the Portuguese envoy provided his ministry with some detailed accounts on Poland’s colonial ambitions; ideas on what Polish colonisation efforts in Angola could look like were circulating in the press and among interested parties already in the 1920s. Later, in the 1930s, there was a whole propaganda campaign on this subject spearheaded by the body called Maritime and Colonial League; the campaign centred on such questions as Poland’s overpopulation, new markets, opportunities for a direct trade, as well as the need for self-sufficiency in raw materials. It was hardly successful: in the early 1930s, more than ten Poles, including count Michał Zamoyski, settled on a plateau in the Huambo district of Angola. However, as time passed, some of the settlers decided to come home. Aside from that, the Polish press published pieces on mass emigration opportunities to Angola, which prompted a negative response of the government in Lisbon. In the second half of the 1930s, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs shifted focus in favour of Mozambique, discreetly supporting the activities of, among others, Dr Eng. Emil Surycz, owner of copper mines and farms in the Manica district. Further plans had never come to fruition as the war broke out. Polish colonial plans were on a close watch by the Legation of Portugal in Warsaw in conjunction with the fact Germany had expanded its colonial demands since 1936. The latter could pose a threat to the Portuguese colonies. All in all, Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s envoy, found it rather hard to figure out which Polish colonial initiatives were backed by the League alone, which were only private affairs, and which relied on the official support as well. The diplomat would step in anytime criticism vis-à-vis Portugal’s colonial policies was pronounced in the Polish press.

The Polish minority in Portugal in the 1920s and 1930s was made up by ca. 900 Polish Jews: in major part, they were involved in trade activities in Lisbon and Oporto. The Portuguese Estado Novo was enjoying some degree of interest both among circles of power and amid the representatives of conservative opposition. There were even some encounters in the field of propaganda. Moreover, the 1920s and 1930s was a period when bilateral relations in science were launched. Already in 1919, Eugeniusz Frankowski, the later known professor of ethnology, became member of the Portuguese Society of Archaeology and Ethnology; the following year he was the first Polish national to have ever received a Portuguese decoration. In 1933, Professor Józef Dzierżykraj-Morawski, an expert in Iberian literature, wrote that ‘time is ripe we uncovered the riches of Portugal’. In the 1930s, scholars from both countries participated in international congresses, also held in Portugal and Poland.

The relations were also furthered in the area of culture. The Polish-Portuguese Society was founded in Warsaw in 1930, while the Lisbon Portuguese-Polish Friendship Society started its activities in 1936. The Polish diplomatic mission in Lisbon made it possible for a world-famous pianist, a Łódź native Artur Rubinstein, to give a concert in the Portuguese capital. There were more and more texts in print revolving around Poland in Portugal and vice versa. The Polish press took advantage of regular mailing submitted by the Polish Telegraphic Agency. As the bilateral relations flourished, there was greater and greater interest in the bonds between the two nations in past times. The pioneer of research on the subject was Colonel Henrique de Campos Ferreira Lima, long-time Director of the Military Historical Archive in Lisbon, secretary-general of the Portuguese-Polish Friendship Society, a keen searcher of polonics, and author of an outline on bilateral relations based on Portuguese sources.

In the early months of 1939, an increasingly concerned Sousa Mendes reported back from Warsaw to the ministry that ‘war is inevitable’. In June, he added that Poles, although not seeking conflict with Germany, were nevertheless ready to actively defend their independence. 


  • Wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to Portuguese soldiers killed in the Great War; wreath laid by Karol Dubicz-Penther, envoy of the Republic of Poland, following his presentation of credentials to the president of the Portuguese Republic. Lisbon, 23rd March 1937. © NAC
  • Marian Szumlakowski, envoy of the Republic of Poland (6th from right), with colleagues from the diplomatic corps during the wishes-exchange ceremony with the president of Portugal on the occasion of the New Year at the Belém Palace. 1st January 1934. © ZMSHY
  • Speech by Tadeusz Romer, envoy of the Republic of Poland, on board MS Piłsudski, during a ceremony to hand over boxes of Portuguese soil destined for the mound of the late marshal Józef Piłsudski in Sowiniec, Kraków. Lisbon, 4th September 1935. © NAC
  • Portuguese envoy in Poland, César de Sousa Mendes, at his office. Warsaw, 1938 © NAC
  • Dinner given by Marian Szumlakowski, envoy of the Republic of Poland (standing 5th from right) in honour of Colonel Henrique de Campos Ferreira Lima (standing 7th from right). Lisbon, 12th July 1934. © ANTT
  • Portuguese envoy César de Sousa Mendes (4th from left) after presenting his credentials to the president of the Republic of Poland. The Royal Castle in Warsaw, 5th September 1933. © NAC