Grounds for conferring Sousa Mendes Award

In its justification the jury considered that ”the winners are conferred the International Sousa Mendes Award due to their unchanging commitment over the years with the work of clarifying, promoting and educating, keeping as their guideline rule the behaviour and the humanitarian values that distinguished Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Raoul Wallenberg, the Brazilian diplomat Luis Martins de Souza Dantas and many other public officials who, at risk of their own lives and against the directives of their own governments, gave the best of themselves to help the fellow man in need in one of the darkest periods in history as was the Holocaust.”

The communiqué also says that ”the historical and journalistic work of Jose Ignacio Garcia Hamilton and Nicholas Tozer is a living example of two noble professions at the service of common welfare and the defence of the inalienable rights of people, such as freedom of opinion and religion; prerogatives that in the full exercise of democracy may seem to be given by the grace of nature. Nevertheless, history teaches us that they are fragile treasures that can only be upkept through the actions of those who demand and defend them from barbarism and despotic regimes day after day.”

¿Who was Aristides de Sousa Mendes?

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese General Council in Bordeaux, France, in the spring of the year 1940 when the Nazi ‘blitzkrieg’ (lightening war) broke through the French defences in Sedan on May 14th.

A crowd of refugees of diverse nationalities, among them thousands of Jews, arrived the French city with the hope of obtaining transit visas enabling them to enter Portugal from where America could be reached

Despite strict directives given by Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar prohibiting diplomats from providing visas to ‘Jews expelled from their countries of origin’, Sousa Mendes issued thousands of transit permits, not only in Bordeaux but also in Bayonne and on the streets of Hendaya, on the Spanish border. Thanks to his intervention around thirty thousand refugees received help, among them ten thousand Jews who avoided death in Nazi extermination camps. ‘I will grant a visa to whoever needs it, whether they can afford it or not. I will act in accordance to what my Christian conscience tells me’, he used to say.

As a result of his disobedience he was expelled from the Portuguese Foreign Service and deprived on an income and for decades his name could not be uttered publicly in Portugal. He lived the rest of his life as an outcast, eventually losing his family home and dying in almost abject poverty on April 3rd, 1954. It was only in 1987 that then- President Mario Soares granted Sousa Mendes with the Portuguese Order of Freedom and publicly apologised to his relatives for the injustices committed.