Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a forgotten hero

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…


3 thoughts on “Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a forgotten hero

  1. Anonymous

    Sousa Mendes Foundation
    There would be no “Curious George” without Aristides de Sousa Mendes. His creators Hans and Margret Rey were rescued by Sousa Mendes, and they were then able to publish the first Curious George book in New York in 1941.
    There would be no art by Salvador Dali past 1940 without Aristides de Sousa Mendes as he too was saved by him.
    And my father would have died at the age of 7. My family was rescued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes in 1940, and I therefore owe him a debt of gratitude for my entire life.
    Recently I helped the Sousa Mendes family (his grandchildren) establish a foundation to raise money to create a museum and memorial to their grandfather and help perpetuate his memory.
    The website is and I urge everyone to go to the page called “How can I help?”
    With deepest thanks,
    Olivia Mattis

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks Olivia.
    Celeste Cortez (author of novels and poetry, born in Carregal do Sal).My great-uncle João Antonio de Mello, marry Maria José Mendes da Gama, great-aunt of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
    Thanks again for what you are doing by Aristides de Sousa Mendes.

  3. Pingback: Holocaust Memorial Day 2013 | Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

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