February 10, 2009

Aristides de Sousa Mendes will be remembered

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Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Righteous Gentile who saved the lives of an estimated 30,000 Jews and others during the Nazi Holocaust, will be remembered and honored at the Museum of the Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust (Museum), 36 Battery Place, New York City, on Wednesday, April 6, 2005 at 6:00 pm, at a reception sponsored by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF), the Consulate General of Portugal in New York, and the Consulate General of Brazil in New York. Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France, in June 1940, when Paris fell to the advancing Nazi army, and Jewish and other refugees fled southwestward in an effort to escape by crossing into neutral Spain. The Spanish authorities did not want to shelter these refugees, however, and would not allow them to enter Spain without a Portuguese visa. Against the written orders of the Portuguese dictator A. Salazar, who said ”no Visas for Jews”, Sousa Mendes, with the support and assistance of his wife Angelina and his children, issued visas ”around the clock” to as many refugees as he could, without regard to nationality or religion.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes, hero of the Jewish people.

This act of moral courage resulted in Sousa Mendes’ dismissal by the Salazar government and in the impoverishment of his large family. Sousa Mendes died a pauper in 1954, and remained unrecognized in his native land even after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which brought democracy to Portugal. The reception on April 6, 2005 will mark the opening of the Museum’s exhibit of the actual registry book used by Sousa Mendes for the first two thousands visas issued on June 17, 1940, and of the pen used to enter those names. The reception will also feature the presentation of humanitarian awards to three individuals who have worked to honor the memory and the example of Sousa Mendes: Robert Jacobvitz, Anne Treseder, and Antonio Rodrigues. In early 1986, Jacobvitz, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Greater East Bay (California), and Treseder, a San Francisco attorney, along with John Paul Abranches, Sousa Mendes’ youngest son and Joan Abranches, John Paul Abranches’ wife, founded the International Committee for the Commemoration of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. They established branches in Israel, Portugal, and Canada; coordinated efforts with French and English-based organizations; and successfully campaigned internationally for Sousa Mendes’ ”rehabilitation” in Lisbon. Today, almost twenty years later, Sousa Mendes has been exonerated and honored by the Portuguese government, and his story is viewed as an example of moral courage by Portuguese school children and by their parents.

Aristides Sousa Mendes with Rabbi Krueger in Lisbon, Portugal in 1940.

Rodrigues, a Portuguese-American activist, has worked both in the United States and ”on the ground” in Portugal to honor Sousa Mendes’ life and memory, to restore the crumbling Sousa Mendes family home in Cabanas de Viriato, and to establish it as a museum and conference center dedicated to the study of the humanitarian values that Sousa Mendes represented. The reception, and the Museum’s exhibit, will also recognize the courage of Brazilian diplomat Luiz Martins de Sousa Dantas, who saved many Jews and others during the Holocaust by issuing visas to facilitate their escape. The names of both Aristides de Sousa Mendes and Luiz Martins de Sousa Dantas are recognized in the Rescuers Gallery of the Museum. The reception will be enriched by the presence of H.E. Pedro Catarino, Portuguese Ambassador to the United States who was appointed by Dr. Jorge Sampaio to represent him in this event, Ambassador Alexandre de Almeida Fernandes the Consul General of Portugal in New York, and Ambassador Julio Cesar Gomes dos Santos, Consul General of Brazil in New York. Among others whose presence is expected are Dr. Mario Silva, Member of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada, Mr. Baruch Tenenbaum, Founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, H.E. Mr. Felix Rohatyn, who was able to escape from Europe with a Brazilian visa issued by Luiz Martins de Sousa Dantas and other dignitaries. Kosher wine, made in Portugal by the Jewish community of Belmonte, where Jewish traditions have been transmitted in secret from generation to generation, will be served during the reception, through the cooperation of Ramos Pinto Wines, the ”Adega Cooperativa de Covilha,” and TAP, the national airline of Portugal. The reception, and the events described below, have been coordinated by Joao Crisostomo, Vice President of the IRWF and coordinator of the Aristides de Sousa Mendes and Luiz M. de Sousa Dantas 50th Anniversary Commemorations. A Thanksgiving Mass, honoring the good deeds of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and Luiz Martins de Sousa Dantas, will take place on Sunday, April 3rd, 2005, the anniversary of Sousa Mendes’ passing, at 11.00 AM at Saint Anthony Church, located at 159 Sullivan Street, New York. The mass will be celebrated by Brazilian Bishop D. Edgar Moreira da Cunha, and Father Joseph Lorenzo, OFM, the Pastor of this Parish. These events are the last in a series of year-long 50th Anniversary Commemorations, including worldwide Thanksgiving Masses; religious and civic ceremonies in Synagogues, Universities and other institutions; the presentation of the Aristides de Sousa Mendes Portrait to the Mission of Portugal to the United Nations; and a ceremony at the Consulate General of Brazil in New York City, wherein the Consulate’s Main Reception Room was named for Luiz Martins de Sousa Dantas, and Sousa Dantas was remembered by historian Fabio Koifman, author of ”Quixote nas Trevas,” about the life and courage of Sousa Dantas. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, with branches in New York, Buenos Aires, Jerusalem and Caracas, is a non-profit organization, with the aim of promoting peace among nations and people, as well as developing educational projects based on concepts of solidarity, dialogue and understanding, with the aim of rendering homage, promoting the message, and remembering the actions of all those Heroes of the Holocaust, who, like Raoul Wallenberg, risked their lives to save persecuted people during World War II.


(*) The ”mystery mansion” in Cabanas de Viriato is an imposing and elegant building, with a mansard roof in the French style and with a lovely view of Serra da Estrela, Portugal’s highest mountain. It was the home for Sousa Mendes large family and many visitors. It was sold at a creditors’ auction, and over the years it lay decaying, with water coming in through the windows and through an enormous hole in the roof. At one point, the owners developed a plan to create a small hotel, but by then Aristides de Sousa Mendes had been rehabilitated and his family home had become an historic site. When the Portuguese Government finally reversed its decision, the Foreign Ministry paid compensation for the undue dismissal to his heirs. The Sousa Mendes family chose to use these funds to endow the Fundação Aristides de Sousa Mendes, which it created in 2000. With an additional subsidy from the Ministry, the Foundation was just able to buy back the Sousa Mendes family home with the objective of creating the Sousa Mendes Museum, in permanent tribute to the heroic acts of conscience of a great man. But, Sousa Mendes was ostracised and his name and his story was unknown to most of us, a virtual taboo in Portugal until the 1970s. Although Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Authority recognized Aristides de Sousa Mendes as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1967, it was only in 1988 when the Portuguese Parliament voted unanimously to reinstate Sousa Mendes posthumously in the Portuguese diplomatic service. Today, Aristides de Sousa Mendes is considered to have undertaken one of the most important rescue actions of the war period. It was one of the first major cracks in the ”siege” of Europe which made the refugees unwelcome everywhere, as was the experience of the boatloads that wandered from port to port in search of a haven. Thanks to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, it is estimated that more than 30.000 refugees found their first haven in Portugal. Data: Marina de Sousa.