In 1941, Gertrude van Tijn traveled to Lisbon in a last-ditch effort to save Europe’s Jews from annihilation. She was already too late.

Gertrude van Tijn in her office at the Jewish Council, Amsterdam, 1942. (Courtesy of the Collection of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam)

Gertrude van Tijn in her office at the Jewish Council, Amsterdam, 1942. (Courtesy of the Collection of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam)

One morning in May 1941 Gertrude van Tijn—a middle-aged Jewish woman bearing a Dutch passport—arrived at Lisbon airport after an adventurous journey from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.

The Portuguese capital at that time was a place of strange incongruities and topsy-turvy values: an island of peace in a continent at war, the seat of government of an authoritarian police state that boasted of being Britain’s “oldest ally,” and a magnet for international intrigue. The city was also the main embarkation point for refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe seeking desperately to secure passages to the Western Hemisphere.
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