December 17, 2006

Lifelong Champion of Major Holocaust Hero Dies

Sebastião de Sousa Mendes, son of Portuguese diplomat and Holocaust rescuer Aristides de Sousa Mendes died in Scottsdale Arizona today, at the age of eighty-three.

He dedicated the better part of his adult life to vindicating his father who was wrongfully and severely punished by then Portuguese dictator Antonio Oliveira Salazar, for having disobeyed the dictator’s explicit orders by saving an estimated thirty thousand refugees from the concentration camps in June of 1940, while he was a diplomat in Bordeaux, France. This was the largest single rescue act of the entire Holocaust.

In 1952 and at a time when not other voices could be heard on the subject, Sebastião distinguished himself by being the very first person to write a detailed account of what Aristides de Sousa Mendes had done, in a novella ”A Flight Through Hell”. Throughout the fifties Sebastião continued by repeatedly approaching newspaper and magazine journalists. Except for a few brief sympathetic newspaper articles, the story largely fell upon deaf ears. Undaunted and with the help of siblings, Sebastião persevered until momentum and interest in the story began to increase. This culminated in 1995 with a national homage in Portugal, at which time then Portuguese president Mario Soares publicly proclaimed Aristides de Sousa Mendes to be ”Portugal’s greatest hero of the twentieth century”. In 1997, an international homage was organized by the European Union, in Strasbourg, France. In 2004, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation organized an international homage that was simultaneously conducted in some fifty cities around the world, including New York, Paris, London and Jerusalem.

During the eighties and nineties, Sebastião spoke publicly whenever he could at synagogues, community centers or institutions, which included the Simon Wiesenthal Institute, in Los Angeles and Israel’s official Holocaust memorial agency Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem. As a champion of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Sebastião received further recognition from a many institutions including the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and state and municipal legislatures.

Sebastião Miguel Duarte was born the tenth of fourteen children unto Angelina and Aristides in Berkeley, California, in 1923 while his father was Portuguese Consul General, in San Francisco. Two years after his father’s dismissal from the Portuguese diplomatic corps, Sebastião went to England where he volunteered for the US Army. He participated in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, among others. After the war, he immigrated to San Francisco where he spent most of his life.

Sebastião is survived by his wife of fifty-eight years, Ruth and their three sons Sebastian, Francis and Richard.

For more information about Aristides de Sousa Mendes visit:
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