STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
ARISTIDES DE SOUSA MENDES
Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux
His Action in Saving Jews Has Been Called
"perhaps the largest rescue action
by a single individual during the Holocaust."
Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐɾiʃˈtiðɨʒ ðɨ ˈsowzɐ ˈmẽdɨʃ]) GCC, OL (July 19, 1885 – April 3, 1954) was a Portuguese consul during World War II.
As the Portuguese consul-general in the French city of Bordeaux, he defied the orders of António de Oliveira Salazar's Estado Novo regime, issuing visas and passports to an undetermined number of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, including Jews. For this, Sousa Mendes was punished by the Salazar regime with one year's suspension on half-pay but afterwards he kept on receiving his full consul salary until his death in 1954. Sousa Mendes was vindicated in 1988, more than a decade after the Carnation Revolution that toppled the Estado Novo.
For his efforts to save Jewish refugees, Sousa Mendes was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, the first diplomat to be so honored, in 1966.
It is impossible to determine the precise number of refugees who were granted visas by Sousa Mendes, although many sources agree that the number was in the thousands, and most say that it was in the tens of thousands. Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer characterized Sousa Mendes' deed as "perhaps the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust." One generally accepted figure is that he issued visas to approximately 30,000 people, of whom around 10,000 were Jews.This figure includes not only those refugees who successfully transited through Portugal, but also those trapped by the Portuguese government's order to seal the French/Spanish border on June 24, 1940.
Upon returning to Portugal in early July 1940, Sousa Mendes was subjected to a disciplinary proceeding that has been described as "a severe crackdown" and "a merciless disciplinary process."The charges against him included: "the violation of Dispatch 14; the order to the consul in Bayonne to issue visas to all those who asked for them 'with the claim that it was necessary to save all these people'; the order given to the consul in Bayonne to distribute visas free of charge; the permission given by telephone to the consul in Toulouse that he could issue visas; acting in a way that was dishonorable for Portugal vis-à-vis the Spanish and German authorities." the confessed passport forgery to help Luxembourger Paul Miny escape army mobilization, abandoning his post at Bordeaux without authorization and extortion, this latest one based on the accusation made by the British Embassy Rui Afonso wrote in 1990's Injustiça (Injustice) that the disciplinary action against Sousa Mendes was less due to the granting of too many visas and more the result of his various financial intrigues such as requiring applicants to donate to charity, and his personal use of public monies. Afonso softened this stance in his 1995 book Um Homem Bom (One Good Man). Historian Avraham Milgram observes that Afonso holds a minority view: the mainstream view is that Sousa Mendes was disciplined for the granting of too many visas, in violation of his instructions.
After Sousa Mendes' death in 1954, his children worked tirelessly to clear his name and make the story known. In the early 1960s a few articles began appearing in the U.S. press. On February 21, 1961, Ben Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel, ordered that twenty trees be planted by the Keren Kayemet in memory of Sousa Mendes and in recognition of his deed.In 1963, the Israeli Holocaust authority Yad Vashem began recognizing Holocaust rescuers as Righteous Among the Nations, and Sousa Mendes, in 1966, was among the earliest to be so named, thanks in large part to the efforts of daughter Joana. But with Salazar still in power, "the diplomat and his efforts remained unknown even in his own country for years." Moreover, Salazar's representatives gave statements to the press casting doubt on Sousa Mendes' heroism by denying that Circular 14 had ever existed.
In 1986, inspired by the election of Mário Soares, a civilian president in Portugal, Sousa Mendes' youngest son John Paul began to circulate a petition to the Portuguese president within his adopted country, the United States. "I want people in Portugal to know who he was, what he did, and why he did it,"explained John Paul. He and his wife Joan worked with Robert Jacobvitz, an executive at the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay in Oakland, California, and lawyer Anne Treseder to create the "International Committee to Commemorate Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes." They were able to gain the support of two members of the California delegation of the United States House of Representatives, Tony Coelho and Henry Waxman, who introduced a resolution in Congress to recognize his humanitarian actions. That same year, Sousa Mendes was honored at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, where John Paul and his brother Sebastião gave impassioned speeches and Waxman spoke as well.
In 1987, the Portuguese Republic began to rehabilitate Sousa Mendes' memory and granted him a posthumous Order of Liberty medal, one of that country's highest honors, although the consul's diplomatic honors still were not restored. In October of that year, the Comité national français en hommage à Aristides de Sousa Mendes was established in Bordeaux, France, presided for the next twenty-five years by Manuel Dias Vaz.
On March 18, 1988, the Portuguese parliament officially dismissed all charges, restoring Sousa Mendes to the diplomatic corps by unanimous vote and honoring him with a standing ovation. He was promoted to the rank of Ministro Plenipotenciário de 2ª classe and awarded the Cross of Merit. In December of that year, the U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, Edward Rowell, presented copies of the congressional resolution from the previous year to Pedro Nuno de Sousa Mendes, one of the sons who had helped his father in the assembly line at Bordeaux, and to Portuguese President Mário Soares at the Palácio de Belém. In 1994 former President Mario Soares dedicated a bust of Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux, along with a commemorative plaque at 14 quai Louis-XVIII, the address at which the consulate at Bordeaux had been housed.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes plaza in Vienna
In 1995, Portugal held a week-long National Homage to Sousa Mendes, culminating with an event in a 2000-seat Lisbon theater that was filled to capacity. A commemorative stamp was issued to mark the occasion. The Portuguese President Mário Soares declared Sousa Mendes to be "Portugal's greatest hero of the twentieth century."
In 1997, an international homage to Sousa Mendes was organized by the European Union in Strasbourg, France.
Casa do Passal, the mansion that Sousa Mendes had to abandon and sell in his final years, was left for decades to decay into a "ghost of a building," and at one time was to be razed and replaced by a hotel. However, with reparations funds given by the Portuguese government to Sousa Mendes' heirs in 2000, the family decided to create the Fundação Aristides de Sousa Mendes.[ With assistance from government officials, the foundation purchased the family home in order to develop a museum in his honor.
In April 2004, to mark the 50th anniversary of Sousa Mendes' death, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and the Angelo Roncalli Committee organized more than 80 commemorations around the world. Religious, cultural and educational activities took place in 30 countries on five continents, spearheaded by João Crisóstomo.
On May 11, 2005, a commemoration in memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes was held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
On January 14, 2007, Sousa Mendes was voted into the top ten of the poll show Os Grandes Portugueses (the greatest Portuguese). On March 25, 2007, when the final rankings were announced, it was revealed that Sousa Mendes came in third place overall, behind communist leader Álvaro Cunhal (runner-up) and the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar (winner).[
In February 2008, Portuguese parliamentary speaker Jaime Gama led a session which launched a virtual museum, on the Internet; it offers access to photographs and other documents chronicling Sousa Mendes' life.
On September 24, 2010, the Sousa Mendes Foundation was formed in the United States with the purpose of raising money for the conversion of the Sousa Mendes home into a museum and site of conscience, and in order to spread his story throughout North America.
On March 3, 2011, the Casa do Passal was designated a National Monument of Portugal.
In May 2012, a campaign was launched to name a Bordeaux bridge after Sousa Mendes.
In January 2013, the United Nations headquarters in New York honored Sousa Mendes and featured Sousa Mendes visa recipient Leon Moed as a keynote speaker during its International Days of Commemoration of Victims and Martyrs of the Holocaust.
On June 20, 2013, a big rally was held in front of the Sousa Mendes home, Casa do Passal, to make a plea for its restoration. An American architect, Eric Moed, spearheaded the event, attended by visa recipient families from all over the world. At this event, a representative of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture publicly pledged $400,000 in European Union funds for the restoration effort.
On October 20, 2013, a playground in Toronto, Ontario, Canada was renamed in honor of Sousa Mendes. That same month, the Portuguese airline Windavia named an airplane after him. In December 2013, a letter that Sousa Mendes had penned to Pope Pius XII in 1946 begging for help from the Catholic Church was delivered to Pope Francis.
In late May 2014 construction began at the Casa do Passal with funds from the European Union.
In September 2014 TAP Air Portugal has named its newest Airbus A319, after Aristides de Sousa Mendes as a tribute to the Portuguese Consul
There is now a Sousa Mendes Foundation.