February 10, 2009

John Paul Abranches. Son of Holocaust Rescuer dies aged 78.

Obituary

John Paul Abranches, who spearheaded efforts to honor and ”rehabilitate” his father, Portuguese diplomat and Righteous Gentile, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, passed away in Antioch, California, on February 5, 2009, after a long illness. John Paul was 78. He was the last surviving son of his parents, Aristides and Angelina de Sousa Mendes.

John Paul’s father, who had been Portuguese consul in San Francisco, California, in the early 1920′s, was the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France, in 1940, when Paris fell to the advancing German army, and Jewish and other refugees fled southwestward to escape into neutral Spain. But the Spanish authorities would not allow refugees to enter Spain without a Portuguese visa.

Against the orders of Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar, who had directed that no Jews or other ”undesirables” be allowed visas, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, with the support and assistance of his wife Angelina, his older sons Pedro Nuno and Jose, and Rabbi Haim Krueger, issued Portuguese visas ”around the clock” in June 1940 to as many refugees as possible, without regard to nationality or religion. He is credited with saving the lives of 30,000 refugees, including 10,000 Jews. Aristides de Sousa Mendes’ acts of moral courage and ”disobedience” resulted in his dismissal from the Portuguese diplomatic corps, his public disgrace, and his own impoverishment. He died a pauper in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1954; his wife Angelina had predeceased him.

Because of his ”disgrace,” most of Aristides’ children could not find employment in Portugal and were forced to emigrate to other countries.

With the assistance of Jewish charitable agencies, John Paul moved to the US at the age of 19. He joined the U.S. Army in 1951 and was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. Following his Army stint, he moved to San Francisco and met the love of his life, Joan (Casey), to whom he was married for 51 years. Together, while living in Dublin, CA, they raised four children: Paul (Nelly), Newman, CA; Peter, Antioch, CA; Sheila, Queens, NY: and Eileen (Joe), Oakley,CA, all of whom survive him.

John worked as an Architectural Draftsman for The Hofmann Company in Concord for many years. As his family relates, in his spare time John was a big believer in helping others. As a member of the St. Raymond’s Catholic Church in Dublin, CA, he was an active participant in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the Chairman of the Vietnamese Refugee Committee in Dublin; he helped many new immigrants to his community learn to read, write and speak English.

But John’s great passion during his entire adult life was to honor and rehabilitate the name of his father Aristides, who, even after Portugal’s democratic revolution in 1974, remained a ”non-person” in Portugal. In 1967, through the efforts of John’s sister Joana, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was recognized as a Righteous Gentile at Yad Vashem in Israel.

Despite this honor in Israel, Aristides de Sousa Mendes remained largely unknown in the larger Jewish and Portuguese communities, and unheralded in his homeland. In early 1986, following a petition presented by John Paul Abranches, Mario Soares, Portugal’s President and himself had been a victim of the Portuguese dictator Salazar, rehabilitated and honored Aristides de Sousa Mendes.

In May 1987 Soares travelled to Washington, D.C. and presented a Portuguese medal dedicated to the memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. One day later he apologized to the Sousa Mendes/Abranches family for the wrong done to them and their father during the Salazar dictatorship.

On March 18, 1988, in the presence of Sousa Mendes family members, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was finally rehabilitated and posthumously honored by Portugal’s Assembleia da Republica (Parliament).

At present time, Aristides de Sousa Mendes is honored in Portugal as a hero and humanitarian. Schools and streets are named after him. In a recent public poll, he was voted among the ten greatest Portuguese of all times. And he continues to be honored worldwide.

In addition to his four children, John also leaves behind four grandchildren, two sisters, Teresinha Swec and Marie Rose, many beloved nieces, nephews, and in-laws, and many dear friends.