Aristides de Sousa Mendes
|Aristides de Sousa Mendes|
|Born||Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches
July 19, 1885
Cabanas de Viriato, Viseu, Portugal
|Died||April 3, 1954(aged 68)|
|Alma mater||University of Coimbra|
|Known for||Saving the lives of more than 30,000 refugees seeking to escape the Nazi terror during World War II|
|Spouse(s)||Maria Angelina Coelho de Sousa Mendes|
Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches, GCC, OL (July 19, 1885 – April 3, 1954; Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐɾiʃˈtiðɨʒ ðɨ ˈsowzɐ ˈmẽdɨʃ]) was a Portuguese diplomat. He ignored and defied the orders of his own government for the safety of war refugees fleeing from invading German military forces in the early years of World War II. Between June 16 and June 23, 1940, he frantically issued Portuguese visas free of charge, to over 30,000 refugees seeking to escape the Nazi terror, 12,000 of whom were Jews.
Early life 
Aristides de Sousa Mendes was born in Cabanas de Viriato, in Carregal do Sal, in the district of Viseu, Centro Region of Portugal, on July 19, 1885. His ancestry included a notable aristocratic line: his mother, Maria Angelina Ribeiro de Abranches de Abreu Castelo-Branco, was a maternal granddaughter of the 2nd Viscount of Midões. His father, José de Sousa Mendes, had been a Judge on the Supreme Court; and his twin brother, César, would become Foreign Minister in 1932–33, during António de Oliveira Salazar's regime.
Sousa Mendes and his twin studied law at the University of Coimbra, and each obtained his law degree in 1908. In that same year, Sousa Mendes married his childhood sweetheart, Maria Angelina Coelho de Sousa (born August 20, 1888); they eventually had fourteen children, born in the various countries in which he served.
Shortly after his marriage, Sousa Mendes began the diplomatic career that would take him and his family around the world. Early in his career, he served in Zanzibar, Kenya, Brazil, and the United States before being assigned to Antwerp, Belgium, in 1931. In Belgium, he met Nobel Prize winners Maurice Maeterlinck and Albert Einstein. After almost ten years of dedicated service in Belgium, Sousa Mendes was assigned to the consulate of Bordeaux, France.
Acts as diplomat 
The consul was still in Bordeaux at the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of France by the Nazi army of Adolf Hitler. Salazar managed to maintain Portugal's neutrality in the war. On November 11, 1939, he issued orders that consuls were not to issue Portuguese visas to "foreigners of indefinite or contested nationality; the stateless; or Jews expelled from their countries of origin". This order was followed only six months later by one stating that "under no circumstances" were visas to be issued without prior case-by-case approval from Lisbon. Similar policies against Jewish immigration were adopted much earlier by the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Jewish Virtual Library biography of Sousa Mendes records the consul's response as follows:
- "Within days of the new orders, Sousa Mendes was taken to task for having granted a visa to a Viennese refugee, Professor Arnold Wizrntzer. Called to task by his superiors, Sousa Mendes answered: "He informed me that, were he unable to leave France that very day, he would be interned in a concentration [read, detention] camp, leaving his wife and minor son stranded. I considered it a duty of elementary humanity to prevent such an extremity."
Thus it was in a deliberate act of disobedience that Sousa Mendes issued an estimated 30,000 visas to Jews and other persecuted minorities: political dissidents, army officers from occupied countries, and priests and nuns. These visas were not all to individuals, but sometimes to families; in at least one case, the visa covered a family of nine people. Sousa Mendes was inspired to this act in part through his friendship with Rabbi Chaim (Haim) Kruger, who had fled to France from Antwerp.
The earliest of these visas were issued in the months between the 1939 and mid-1940 decrees, a period during which he attempted to protect his family by sending all but two sons home to Portugal and sending constant telegrams to Lisbon with coded requests for approval of the visas, in order to preserve his post while obeying his conscience. The majority of the visas, however, were issued after a harrowing three-day crisis of conscience in mid-June 1940, shortly after Franco changed the status of Spain from "neutral" to "non-belligerent", which suggested time was running out for Portugal to follow its neighbor. The consul offered a visa to his friend the rabbi, who responded, "I can't accept a visa for us and leave my people behind." The distraught consul took to his bed in confusion from June 14 to the 16th. From his crisis, Sousa Mendes emerged on June 17, 1940, determined to obey what he called a "divine power" and grant visas to everyone in need, at whatever cost to himself.
June 17-July 8: the French-Portuguese exodus 
Working feverishly with Rabbi Kruger, the two remaining Sousa Mendes sons and their mother, and a few refugees, the consul formed an assembly line that processed visas all through that day and well into the night. They made whatever changes were necessary to the usual procedure: the consul signing with just his surname, not registering the visas or collecting fees, and stamping visas on pieces of paper. The sense of urgency was heightened even more when Marshal Philippe Pétain announced that day that France would sign a peace agreement with Germany. The assembly line kept working all through the following day. A delegate of the House of Habsburg, after having to wait his turn in the seemingly endless line, left with 19 visas for the imperial family of the Archduke, who later returned in person to obtain an additional stack of visas for Austrian refugees.
On into June 19, the assembly line marched on through stacks and stacks of visas, even as the city was bombed by German planes. At this point, Sousa Mendes rushed to the consulate at Bayonne, near the Spanish border where his visas were being honored for the crowds rushing out of the country. Finding that consulate overwhelmed, he took over responsibility from his subordinate there, Consul Machado, and set up a second assembly line to process thousands more exit documents. (Machado reported this behavior to Portugal's ambassador to Spain, Pedro Teotónio Pereira, whose maternal grandfather was German, who favored Germany and worried that accepting those unacceptable to Hitler would ruin Portugal's relationship with Franco; Teotónio Pereira promptly set out for the French border.)
Sousa Mendes continued on to Hendaye to assist there, thus narrowly missing two cablegrams from Lisbon sent June 22 to Bordeaux and Bayonne ordering him to stop even as France's armistice with Germany became official. In an article for a religious magazine in 1996, his son John Paul de Abranches told the story:
- "As his diplomatic car reached the FrENCH border town of Hendaye, my father encountered a large group of stranded refugees for whom he had previously issued visas. Those people had been turned away because the Portuguese government had phoned the guards, commanding, 'Do not honor Mendes's signature on visas.'"
- "Ordering his driver to slow down, Father waved the group to follow him to a border checkpoint that had no telephones. In the official black limousine with its diplomatic license tags, Father led those refugees across the border toward freedom."
Sousa Mendes traveled to the border at Irun on June 23, where he personally raised the gate to allow disputed passages into Spain to occur. It was at this point that Ambassador Teotónio Pereira arrived at Irun, declared Sousa Mendes mentally incompetent and invalidated all further visas. An Associated Press story the next day reported that some 10,000 persons attempting to cross over into Spain were excluded because authorities no longer granted recognition to their visas.
As Sousa Mendes continued the flow of visas, Salazar sent a telegram on June 24 recalling him to Portugal, an order he received upon returning to Bordeaux on June 26 but followed only slowly, not arriving in Portugal until July 8. Along the way he issued Portuguese passports to refugees now trapped in occupied France, saving them by preventing their deportation to concentration camps.
Dishonor and disgrace 
He saved an enormous number of lives, but lost his career. In 1941, Salazar lost political trust in Sousa Mendes and stripped the diplomat of his title, subsequently ordering that no one in Portugal show him any charity. He also found he could not resume his law career, as he was blocked from registration, and he was forced to surrender his foreign-issue driver's license. Just before the war's end in 1945, he suffered a stroke that left him at least partially paralyzed. In his later years, the formerly much-honored diplomat was abandoned by most of his colleagues and friends and at times was blamed by some of his close relatives. Aided by a local Jewish refugee agency — which had begun to feed the family and pay their rent upon discovering the situation — the children moved to other countries in search of opportunities they were now denied in Portugal, though all accounts by them indicate they never blamed their father or regretted his decision. His wife, Angelina, died in 1948. Stripped of his pension, he died in poverty on April 3, 1954, still in disgrace with his government.
This ill-treatment by his government for acts considered heroic in other countries was not unique to Sousa Mendes. Others similarly dishonored include Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania; Carl Lutz, the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, Hungary; and Paul Grüninger, chief of police in the Swiss canton of Sankt-Gallen (Saint-Gall). Ironically, the actions that caused Salazar to dismiss his diplomatic representative brought considerable praise to him and to Portugal, seen internationally as a haven of hospitality for refugee Jews; for example, the magazine Life praised Salazar as "the greatest Portuguese since Henry the Navigator" (July 29, 1940).
Posthumous honors 
Family members seeking to clear his name sought to have his story published in magazines and began to contact Jewish visa recipients living in New York. In 1966 Sousa Mendes was honored at Israel's Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust as one of the "Righteous Among The Nations," one of the first steps in the long journey. In 1986, inspired by the election of a civilian president in Portugal, his son John Paul Abranches began to circulate a petition to the Portuguese president within his adopted country, the United States. He and his wife Joan worked with Robert Jacobvitz, an executive at the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay (Oakland, CA), to start and run the "International Committee to Commemorate Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes." They were able to gain the support of various political actors, including: Colette Avital, the Israeli Ambassador to Portugal who liaised with the Portuguese government; and two members of the California delegation of the United States House of Representatives, Portuguese-American Rep. Tony Coelho and Rep. Henry Waxman, who had a family member saved by Sousa Mendes' signature, who introduced a resolution in Congress to recognize his humanitarian action (passed in 1987).
Also in 1987, the Portuguese Republic began to rehabilitate Sousa Mendes' memory and granted a posthumous Order of Liberty medal, one of that country's highest honors, although the consul's diplomatic honors still were not restored. On March 18, 1988 the Portuguese parliament officially dismissed all charges, restoring him to the diplomatic corps by unanimous vote and honoring him with a standing ovation. He was promoted to the rank of Ambassador He also was issued the Cross of Merit for his actions in Bordeaux. 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 in the assembly line at Bordeaux, and to President Mário Soares at the Palácio de Belém. In 1994 former President 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.
In 1995, a commemorative stamp was issued in Portugal.
In 2004, 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 in the five continents.
A great homage was done in memory of Aristides Sousa Mendes at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 11 May and 10 November 2005, in a benefit performance on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of UNESCO and the fortieth anniversary of Portugal's admittance. The baritone Jorge Chaminé gave a recital at the Great Hall. The French writer Jean Lacouture wrote that "in more than 50 years as a listener all over the world, I never heard such an incredible performance. What a marvellous homage to this great man!"
The mansion that Sousa Mendes had to abandon and sell in the poverty of his final years was left for decades to rot and decay, 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 Aristides de Sousa Mendes Foundation (Fundação Aristides de Sousa Mendes, in Portuguese). With assistance from government officials, the foundation purchased the family home in order to develop a museum in his honor. The house was classified as a Portuguese National Monument on February 3, 2005. The two events at UNESCO raised a 6,000 euro donation for the foundation; even so, the foundation's president said in 2006 that the organization was finding it difficult to raise sufficient additional funds for the renovation.
On 14 January 2007, he was voted into the top ten of the poll show Os Grandes Portugueses (English: The Greatest Portuguese), on 25 March 2007, the day of the results revelation, he was voted into third place, behind deceased communist leader Álvaro Cunhal (runner-up) and deceased dictator António de Oliveira Salazar (winner).
In February 2008, Portuguese Parliamentary Speaker Jaime Gama led a session which launched a virtual Museum, on the World-Wide Web; it offers access to photographs and other documents chronicling Mendes' life. The site includes content in Portuguese, but translations into other languages are planned.
Sousa Mendes was the subject of several fims and documentaries based on his life history, namely:
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes - O Cônsul de Bordéus (2011).
- Désobéir (Aristides de Sousa Mendes) (2008).
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes (2007).
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes - O Cônsul Injustiçado (1992).
I will not condone murder, therefore I disobey and continue to disobey Salazar.
I would rather stand with God against man, than with man against God.
I could not have acted otherwise, and I therefore accept all that has befallen me with love.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Aristides de Sousa Mendes|
Notable people issued visas by Sousa Mendes 
- Otto von Habsburg, heir of the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor, who was detested by Hitler and condemned to death by him
- Norbert Gingold, pianist
- Charles Oulmont, French writer
- Robert Montgomery[disambiguation needed]
- The Belgian cabinet
- Sylvain Bromberger, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT
- Salvador Dali
See also 
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes: The Jewish Virtual Library
- "Portuguese Righteous Gentile," article by Rufina Bernardetti Silva Mausenbaum, Portugal On Line (Portugal Em Linha)
- John Paul Abranches Highlights Denver Conference (Commemorating 500th Anniversary of Forced Conversion of Portuguese Jews), reprinted from HaLapid Fall 1997
- "A Matter of Conscience," by John Paul Abranches, Guideposts, June 1996, pp. 2-6.
- The Jewish Virtual Library article notes that a Spanish newspaper headline the next day announced the sudden insanity of "the Consul of Portugal in Bayonne," an ironic error that labeled Sousa Mendes' accuser as the one who had lost his faculties.
- Sousa Mendes, With God Against Men, The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (Argentina)
-  Words of Remembrance by one of his sons, Luis Felipe], at sousamendesfoundation.org
- Jacobvitz, Robert. "Reinstating the Name and Honor of a Portuguese Diplomat Who Rescued Jews During World War II: Community Social Work Strategies". Journal of Jewish Communal Service. Jewish Communal Service Association of North America. Spring 2008
- AT&T News February 19, 2008
- Picture available at Aristides Sousa Mendes-Le juste de Bordeaux (The Righteous One of Bordeaux) - site in French and Portuguese
- "International acknowledgment of Sousa Mendes on the 50th anniversary of his death" The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes: A Testimonial (retrieved August 26, 2006)
- Foundation with "difficulties" in restoring house, LUSA Agency, February 2, 2006 (article in Portuguese)
- [dead link]
- Ilan Braun (Association Mémoire-Yzkor-Morbihan). "Aristides de Souza Mendes : héros de l’ombre". Pagesperso-orange.fr. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
Further reading 
- Fralon, Jose Alain (author) and Graham, Peter (translator). A Good Man in Evil Times: The Story of Aristides De Sousa Mendes—The Man Who Saved the Lives of Countless Refugees in World War II. 2001, Carroll & Graf Publishers, ISBN 0-7867-0848-4.==External links==
- www.AristidesDeSousaMendes.com (in Portuguese and French)
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes Virtual Museum (in Portuguese) (archives, documents, interviews, testimonials)
- Jewish Virtual Library: Aristides de Sousa Mendes
- Hero of the People Series: Aristides de Sousa Mendes
- Holocaust Rescuers Bibliography
- Aristides de Sousa Mendes Foundation
- Petition: Aristides Sousa Mendes’ name proposed for Bordeaux’ new bridge – France Portuguese American Journal