The Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression is the main institution dealing with the matters of Veterans of struggles for independence and Victims of Oppression in Poland. The Office's functions and resposibilities have been defined in legal acts establishing the special status of beneficiaries of the Veterans' law. It's main tasks consist of:

  • awarding the status of Veteran struggles for independence, Victim of Oppression and person deported to perform forced labor
  • providing the Veterans and Victims of Oppression with help, special care and proper respect
  • spreading the tradition of struggles for independence of Poland


The album “Thank You, Portugal! Polish civilian and military refugees at the western extremity of Europe in the years 1940-1945”

On 23 November 2015, the Head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression Jan Stanisław Ciechanowski took part in the launch of the album dedicated to Polish civilian and military refugees who were given shelter by Portugal during World War II. The meeting in the Porczyński Gallery in Warsaw was combined with an exhibition dedicated to that very theme. The organisers were the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression, the Portuguese Embassy in Poland and the publishing house Rytm sp. z o.o.

The album “Thank You, Portugal! Polish civilian and military refugees at the western extremity of Europe in the years 1940-1945”, is a token form of our wish to thank the Portuguese nation for the hospitality and support it extended to Polish refugees during World War II. Mindful of the time-honoured tradition of friendly Polish-Portuguese relations over the centuries, it is worth recalling that the little known mass exodus of Poles to Portugal when they sought shelter at the western extremity of the European continent due to the capitulation of France in summer 1940. Only a small proportion of the Polish soldiers and civilians stationed in France managed to escape directly to Great Britain. Most of the remainder had to find their way across Spain to Portugal, and hence to Britain or the American continent. In the years 1940-1945, Portugal accepted over six to seven thousand Polish citizens, civilian refugees. About five thousand five hundred Polish officers and soldiers were also evacuated via this country to the British Isles.

The most important photographs in the album are those relating to the stay of Polish refugees in Portugal during the war. They present the work of Polish institutions bringing help to their countrymen, above all the Polish Refugee Aid Committee in Portugal. They present the everyday life of Poles both in Lisbon and in centres elsewhere – in Figueira da Foz, Ericeira or Caldas da Rainha. Also their religious life, where Polish priests once again in our history, accompanied their countrymen in their displacement and exile.  We can also acquaint ourselves among others with the exceptionally interesting initiative and expression of material and moral support for our countrymen at home, which was the despatch of hundreds of thousands of food parcels to occupied Poland with the significant help of the Portuguese post office. Many people who remember the (wartime German) occupation have memories of those little parcels with Portuguese sardines.  – said the Head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression Jan Stanisław Ciechanowski at his presentation of the album to the invited guests.

The significance of the Portuguese chapter in the history of Polish emigration, can be seen not only in the number but also the rank of the persons that stayed temporarily in Portugal or passed through Portugal without stopping. Among them were such personages as the composer and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the bishop of Chełm Stanisław Wojciech Okoniewski, gen. Józef Haller, Polish National Council member Szmul Zygielbojm, deputy foreign minister in the years 1932-1939 Jan Szembek, and the actress Irena Eichlerówna.

There were Polish institutions actively offering help to refugees (in their number a large number of Polish citizens found themselves of Jewish descent or nationality, who had great problems with obtaining visas) in Portugal during the war. Above all, there was the Polish Refugee Aid Committee in Portugal with its seat in Lisbon headed by the prewar diplomat Stanisław Schimitzek. The initiative of sending food parcels to the occupied homeland was an especially interesting expression of material and moral support for countrymen back home.

The Polish intelligence service operated in Portugal during the war, for which Lisbon was one of the more important capitals. A key role was played Ly lt. Col. Jan Kowalewski, head of the outpost of Continental Action, who many years earlier, in 1920, gained fame by cracking Bolshevik ciphers. The clandestine evacuation of Polish officers and soldiers from France to Great Britain via Portugal, was also conduced.

Here are the opinions of some Polish emigrants quoted in the album and at the exhibition:

“As a result of the two and a half year stay in Portugal I got to like this small and beautiful country, its residents and its language. Even up to day, I believe that the Portuguese are very good people and the most courteous among the nations of Europe. This characteristic makes itself particularly evident in relation to foreigners about whom they speak courteously »senhor estranjeiro« (Mr. Foreigner)”.

(Tadeusz Nowak Cieplak, head of the liaison with Poland outpost of the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs in Lisbon in the years 1943-1945.)


“[Legation of the Republic of Poland in Lisbon.] from a small outpost it became overnight the most important Polish legation in the western part of the European continent.”

(Stanisław Schimitzek, chairman of the Polish Refugee Aid Committee in Portugal)


“I don’t know whether […] anyone in Warsaw could have imagined before 1939 that Lisbon would be our main intelligence headquarters in this war.”.

(Lt. Zbigniew Godyń, Polish military intelligence officer stationed at the Lisbon outpost)


Numerous representatives of the diplomatic corps, the world of culture and ex-servicemen participated in the launch of the album.



Photo gallery