July 20, 2005

Portuguese diplomat who saved thousands in the Holocaust remembered in New York

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation presented a celebration on the 120th anniversary of Aristides de Sousa Mendes birth

On occasion of the 120th anniversary of Portuguese savoir Aristides de Sousa Mendes’ birth, The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation hold an event to commemorate the diplomat’s heroic deeds. Mrs. Sheila Fleischhacker Abranches, Sousa Mendes’ granddaughter, represented the Sousa Mendes family. The commemoration was hold in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where the Registry Book used by Sousa Mendes for the thousands visas issued on June 17, 1940, and the pen used to enter those names, are exhibited.

As Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France, he issued an uncountable number of visas between the end of 1939 and June 1940 that allowed thousands of Jews and non-Jews, from important politicians to artists, intellectuals, people of commerce, industry or finance and anonymous folks to escape from the horrors of World War II and the cruelties of Nazism. The Hasburgs, the royal family of Luxembourg and the Rothschilds were among tem. More than 30,000 people survived the Holocaust thanks to Sousa Mendes’ courage.

As a result of his disobedience he was expelled from the Portuguese Foreign Service and deprived of 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.

As late Pope John II said, ”It is our duty to remember all those Christians who. maintained by their faith, reacted bravely. by offering help to the persecuted Jews, sometimes with the risk of their own lives. Their blessed memory shall remain alive.”

The spirit of coexistence and peace, the deep religious faith and the humanitarian commitment displayed by Sousa Mendes provide an inspiring example for the IRWF and the Angelo Roncalli International Committee activities and are also a binding ethical model for Humanity.