June 17th marks the day the Portuguese Diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, following his conscience rather than orders of his government, started issuing visas to rescue 30,000 refugees in France. His decision to do so had an extraordinary impact during the next five years of WWII: it inspired and facilitated similar rescues by many other diplomats until the end of the war, and hundreds of thousands of refugees were able to escape.
This year, and on June 17th, on the 50th anniversary of Sousa Mendes’ death, following an initiative by The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) and the Angelo Roncalli Committee, special Thanksgiving Masses and Services in Synagogues will be held around the world, from the Holy See to New York, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, China and France, among many others.
In the New York area Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, will hold a service at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Yonkers. Following the mass there will be a cocktail reception where the names of all diplomat rescuers of WWII will be invoked. Rabbi Marc Angel of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City held a special service dedicated to the Portuguese diplomat in May. A similar service will be held at the First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill, NY.