Aristides de Sousa Mendes 1885-1954
|Aristides de Sousa Mendes
was, in 1940, Consul General for Portugal in Bordeaux, France. He was a
graduate of the University of Coimbra, a wealthy lawyer from an old
aristocratic family and he had represented Portugal in diplomatic posts in
Brazil, Zanzibar and the United States. Hitler's Nazi forces had marched
into Paris and a flood of humanity had departed for the south, hoping to
leave France. Their destination was Bordeaux where a Portuguese visa could
assure them passage through Spain into Portugal, which was nominally
neutral; from there they could perhaps hope to obtain a passport or a visa
to America. Salazar had ordered his embassies not to issue exit visas to
Russians, Portuguese political exiles or any Jews.
Thousands of refugees reaching Bordeaux had found the Portuguese Consul General's apartment and had congregated outside, hoping for visas de Sousa Mendes, with great compassion, decided to disobey the Salazar orders and he, with his two sons, wrote by hand some 30,000 visas in order to save as many refugees as possible from the Nazis. 10,000 of these refugees were Jews. He was quoted as saying, "I have to save these people, as many as I can. If I am disobeying orders I'd rather be with God against men, than with men against God."
The result of this magnificent action was that he was recalled to Lisbon in disgrace, but on the way he stopped in Bayonne and wrote out more visas by hand, thus saving another thousand refugees. When he reached Lisbon he was fined and prohibited from practicing law. He was reduced to selling off all his personal possessions to procure food for his family. He died in 1954 penniless and still in disgrace.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes' name has been honored by the United States Congress, the Government of Israel, and has been recently restored to a place of honor and respect by the President of Portugal, Mario Soares.