The city of Poznan, in what is today Poland, was in the 1600s home to many Portuguese Jewish families who, over the course of the previous two centuries were forced to flee Portugal. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the previous Chabad Rebbe, writes in his memoirs, about a street in that city that was called Portugal Street, “due to the large amount of Portuguese Jewish families who lived there, having fled Portugal due to the inquisition.” One such resident was Rabbi Baruch Portugaler, “the family name (Portugaler) originated due to the fact the family were descendants of Jewish People exiled from Portugal.” Rabbi Baruch’s daughter, Rachel, would become the grandmother of Rabbi Schenur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe.
During World War II, the Nazis increasingly occupied more and more of Europe. Portugal at that time was home to thousands of Jewish refugees, who had fled from all over Europe, and arrived at this Far East corner of the continent, hoping to survive persecution and to be able to continue their lives. One such notable person was Rabbi Chaim Kruger. Rabbi Kruger, who was a rabbi in Brussels, met and befriended the legendary Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes. After receiving his Portuguese visa, and being an integral part of the efforts of Aristides de Sousa Mendes to save thousands of lives, Rabbi Kruger and his family, spent almost a year in Lisbon from 1940 to 1941. They departed Lisbon in May 1941, only a short time before the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s arrival.
Indeed, in 1941, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, who were then in France, fled Paris to the south of France as they waited for their visas to the United States and passage aboard a ship that would take them across the Atlantic Ocean. In June of 1941, they arrived in Lisbon in order to board the ship liner, Serpa Pinto ship which was set to depart to New York on June 12.
On June 11, an entry was recorded by the Rebbe in his diary, detailing a Torah thought based on a section of Talmud and connected to Jewish mysticism and Chabad teachings. In this entry, the Rebbe discusses the connection between searching for fish for sick people and the coming of Moshiach. The illness is a spiritual one and the cure highlights the fact that fish survive only while totally immersed in their natural habitat, water. As such, the cure for spiritual dislocation is the total immersion in Torah. The fact that this passage deals with fish is highly relevant as fish is such a popular food staple in Portugal.
In 2010, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement established a permanent presence in Portugal. From a 17th century street in Eastern Europe bearing the name Portugal, the influence of the Chabad Rebbes and their connection to Portugal continues to uplift and inspire.