Visa Recipients

  • MOWRER, Edgar Ansel P
    Age 48
  • MOWRER, Lilian née THOMSON P T
    Age 49

About the Family

The MOWRER couple, American journalists, received visas from Aristides de Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux in June 1940.

They crossed into Portugal, where they lived in Lisbon. They sailed on the Dixie Clipper seaplane from Lisbon to New York in August 1940.

  • Photos
  • Testimonial

A Reporter at Large: Fiesta in Lisbon by Lilian Mowrer

Published in The New Yorker, July 20, 1940

With the breakdown of the French Army and its capitulation to Germany, a whole civilization came crashing to the ground and civilians representing half a continent took to flight in a final scramble to get out of Hitler's reach....  Lisbon became the new and magic goal of the growing thousands of refugees.  There, if they were lucky, they would be able to begin the last lap in their long escape....

When we reached Bordeaux, disaster was already in the air.  Bordeaux was like a besieged city.  With a normal population of 250,000 inhabitants, it had suddenly absorbed a million.  The streets teemed with people; they filled the great squares, cafés overflowed, and waiters gave up attempting to fill orders.  Government officials were trying to find their new offices; broadcasting and telegraph agencies were trying to establish transmission; everyone was more or less thinking of trying to find a place to spend the night -- the back of a car, a park bench, or an armchair in a hotel lobby would be a luxury.  There was no place to work, no place to wait....  An atmosphere of disintegration was distinctly recognizable.  You could almost feel France going to pieces.  

Consulates were overwhelmed by visitors demanding admittance and asserting their right to a foreign visa.  The United States Ambassador to Poland, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., and some of his staff from Angers arrived to help in the American Consulate General, where the biggest crowds of all collected....

But if the American visa was the best guarantee of safety, the Portuguese visa was almost as eagerly sought after.  The crowds that waited at the Portuguese Consulate stretched far into the street.  The door opened every half-hour or so to admit a single applicant, while the rest stormed impatiently at the delay.  The Spanish Consulate was busy, too.  There I ran into Archduke Otto of Hapsburg.  The last time I had seen him was at a tea party in Chicago.  "Going back to America?" I asked.  He nodded ruefully.  But even archdukes had to wait for visas....

Not long after we crossed the border, the Spaniards stopped recognizing Portuguese visas granted in Bordeaux, and no one could enter Spain without a visa.  Thousands of people begged to be let in and some offered huge sums for the precious visas that would open the road to Lisbon.  American Embassy officials finally collected all the American passports and had them visaed en masse at Bayonne, but American diplomats could not help the French and the others....

We could not stop to rest.  We sped past the grim Spanish landscape and finally into Portugal and over the winding Portuguese roads, through the giant cork forests, till the seven hills of Lisbon came into view....

Lisbon officials promptly made it clear to all refugees that they were intruders and told them they would not be permitted to stay around very long.  The refugees showed no inclination to stay any longer than necessary.