The blog might have been getting a bit heavy over the last few days – that’ll teach me to download a news app for the iPod – but today’s Independent on Sunday has a nice article on Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portugese consul to Bordeaux during the Nazi invasion of France. In definance of his government’s orders, he started issuing visas to Jews and other people escaping Hitler’s tyranny, including the Belgian cabinet. All in all, as the article points out, Mendes saved more people than Oskar Schindler but he remains pretty much unknown today, a situation which the families of those he helped are now trying to change. Hopefully this will result in greater acknowledgement of what he did.
Of course, as a Brit, I’d also like to mention Frank Foley, the ‘British Schindler’, and I didn’t realise that in March this year, a medal of honour was given to 27 Britons (most of them posthumously) who worked to save people from the Holocaust; I guess it’s the UK equivalent of Israel’s Righteous Among the Nations honour.
Talking of which, I should also mention Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat in Hungary who saved tens of thousands of Jews but who was arrested by the Soviet Union after they entered Budapest – he died as a result of this, although circumstances surrounding his death remain murky.
Reading all this just makes me wonder what I’d do in the same situation – like everyone else, I’d like to say I’d do the right thing, but put the Nazi war machine behind me and goodness knows what would happen to all those high ideals. I guess I’m glad I’m not in that situation.
But as the rabbinic quotation goes, "He who saves one life saves the world entire." And while we’re not faced with living in Nazi-occupied Europe, we still have the opportunity to do something to help others. Maybe it’s just a case of figuring out what that is and doing it – most of the above don’t seem to have prevaricated too much, they just got on with dishing out passports…