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Heroes and heroics of WW II February 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, life.

A new book about the diplomatic heroes of the holocaust. Here is one example of what they did. Touching indeed.

But the diplomat hero that Mr. Holbrooke highlighted in his remarks was Aristides de Sousa Mendes, an aristocratic Portuguese consul general in Bordeaux, France, from 1938 to July 1940. In May 1940, he faced pitiable crowds of refugees from the German invasion of France, many of them Jews camped in the streets and parks and desperate for visas allowing escape into Spain and Portugal.

He also faced an absolute prohibition by Portugal’s dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, against issuing transit visas to refugees and especially to Jews. In mid-June, the consul general agonized for several days, cut himself off from the world, at one moment agitated, at the next despondent. Suddenly he proceeded to his office and announced: “I’m giving everyone visas. There will be no more nationalities, races or religions.”

The next days were frenzied. All day and into the night, visas were issued. Fees were waived. No one filled in names. Sousa Mendes traveled to the Spanish border to make certain that refugees were able to cross. He confronted Spanish border guards when needed — and continued to sign visas.

Lisbon was upset and on June 23 stripped him of his authority. Returning to his property in Portugal the next month, he only disturbed the authorities more by acknowledging his deeds and defending them straightforwardly on humanitarian and religious grounds. Dismissed from the diplomatic service and with 12 children to support, he had to sell his family estate and eventually died in poverty, supported by an allowance from Lisbon’s Jewish community, where he ate at a soup kitchen.



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