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About Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches
Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches, GCC, OL (July 19, 1885–April 3, 1954) was a Portuguese diplomat who ignored and defied the orders of his own government for the safety of war refugees fleeing from invading German military forces in the early years of World War II. Between June 16 and June 23, 1940, he frantically issued Portuguese visas free of charge, to over 30,000 refugees seeking to escape the Nazi terror, 12,000 of whom were Jews.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes was born in Cabanas de Viriato, in Carregal do Sal, in the district of Viseu, Centro Region of Portugal, on July 19, 1885. His ancestry included a notable aristocratic line: his mother, Maria Angelina Ribeiro de Abranches de Abreu Castelo-Branco, was a maternal granddaughter of the 2nd Viscount of Midões. His father, José de Sousa Mendes, had been a Judge on the Supreme Court; and his twin brother, César, would become Foreign Minister in 1932–33, during António de Oliveira Salazar's regime.
Sousa Mendes and his twin studied law at the University of Coimbra, and each obtained his law degree in 1908. In that same year, Sousa Mendes married his childhood sweetheart, Maria Angelina Ribeiro de Abranches (born August 20, 1888); they eventually had fourteen children, born in the various countries in which he served.
Shortly after his marriage, Sousa Mendes began the diplomatic career that would take him and his family around the world. Early in his career, he served in Zanzibar, Kenya, Brazil, and the United States before being assigned to Antwerp, Belgium, in 1931. In Belgium, he met Nobel Prize winners Maurice Maeterlinck and Albert Einstein. After almost ten years of dedicated service in Belgium, Sousa Mendes was assigned to the consulate of Bordeaux, France.
His acts as diplomat
The consul was still in Bordeaux at the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of France by the Nazi army of Adolf Hitler. Salazar managed to maintain Portugal's neutrality in the war. On November 11, 1939, he issued orders that consuls were not to issue Portuguese visas to "foreigners of indefinite or contested nationality; the stateless; or Jews expelled from their countries of origin". This order was followed only six months later by one stating that "under no circumstances" were visas to be issued without prior case-by-case approval from Lisbon. Similar policies against Jewish immigration were adopted much earlier by the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Jewish Virtual Library biography of Sousa Mendes records the consul's response as follows:
"Within days of the new orders, Sousa Mendes was taken to task for having granted a visa to a Viennese refugee, Professor Arnold Wizrntzer. Called to task by his superiors, Sousa Mendes answered: "He informed me that, were he unable to leave France that very day, he would be interned in a concentration [read, detention] camp, leaving his wife and minor son stranded. I considered it a duty of elementary humanity to prevent such an extremity."
Thus it was in a deliberate act of disobedience that Sousa Mendes issued an estimated 30,000 visas to Jews and other persecuted minorities: political dissidents, army officers from occupied countries, and priests and nuns. These visas were not all to individuals, but sometimes to families; in at least one case, the visa covered a family of nine people. Sousa Mendes was inspired to this act in part through his friendship with Rabbi Chaim (Haim) Kruger, who had fled to France from Antwerp.
The earliest of these visas were issued in the months between the 1939 and mid-1940 decrees, a period during which he attempted to protect his family by sending all but two sons home to Portugal and sending constant telegrams to Lisbon with coded requests for approval of the visas, in order to preserve his post while obeying his conscience. The majority of the visas, however, were issued after a harrowing three-day crisis of conscience in mid-June, 1940, shortly after Franco changed the status of Spain from "neutral" to "non-belligerent", which suggested time was running out for Portugal to follow its neighbor. The consul offered a visa to his friend the rabbi, who responded, "I can't accept a visa for us and leave my people behind." The distraught consul took to his bed in confusion from June 14 to the 16th. From his crisis, Sousa Mendes emerged on June 17, 1940, determined to obey what he called a "divine power" and grant visas to everyone in need, at whatever cost to himself.
June 17-July 8: the French-Portuguese exodus
Working feverishly with Rabbi Kruger, the two remaining Sousa Mendes sons and their mother, and a few refugees, the consul formed an assembly line that processed visas all through that day and well into the night. They made whatever changes were necessary to the usual procedure: the consul signing with just his surname, not registering the visas or collecting fees, and stamping visas on pieces of paper. The sense of urgency was heightened even more when Marshal Philippe Pétain announced that day that France would sign a peace agreement with Germany. The assembly line kept working all through the following day. A delegate of the House of Habsburg, after having to wait his turn in the seemingly endless line, left with 19 visas for the imperial family of the Archduke, who later returned in person to obtain an additional stack of visas for Austrian refugees.
On into June 19, the assembly line marched on through stacks and stacks of visas, even as the city was bombed by German planes. At this point, Sousa Mendes rushed to the consulate at Bayonne, near the Spanish border where his visas were being honored for the crowds rushing out of the country. Finding that consulate overwhelmed, he took over responsibility from his subordinate there, Consul Machado, and set up a second assembly line to process thousands more exit documents. (Machado reported this behavior to Portugal's ambassador to Spain, Pedro Teotónio Pereira, whose maternal grandfather was German, who favored Germany and worried that accepting those unacceptable to Hitler would ruin Portugal's relationship with Franco; Teotónio Pereira promptly set out for the French border.)
Sousa Mendes continued on to Hendaye to assist there, thus narrowly missing two cablegrams from Lisbon sent June 22 to Bordeaux and Bayonne ordering him to stop even as France's armistice with Germany became official. In an article for a religious magazine in 1996, his son John Paul de Abranches told the story:
"As his diplomatic car reached the French border town of Hendaye, my father encountered a large group of stranded refugees for whom he had previously issued visas. Those people had been turned away because the Portuguese government had phoned the guards, commanding, 'Do not honor Mendes's signature on visas.'" "Ordering his driver to slow down, Father waved the group to follow him to a border checkpoint that had no telephones. In the official black limousine with its diplomatic license tags, Father led those refugees across the border toward freedom."
Sousa Mendes traveled to the border at Irun on June 23, where he personally raised the gate to allow disputed passages into Spain to occur. It was at this point that Ambassador Teotónio Pereira arrived at Irun, declared Sousa Mendes mentally incompetent and invalidated all further visas. An Associated Press story the next day reported that some 10,000 persons attempting to cross over into Spain were excluded because authorities no longer granted recognition to their visas.
As Sousa Mendes continued the flow of visas, Salazar sent a telegram on June 24 recalling him to Portugal, an order he received upon returning to Bordeaux on June 26 but followed only slowly, not arriving in Portugal until July 8. Along the way he issued Portuguese passports to refugees now trapped in occupied France, saving them by preventing their deportation to concentration camps.
Dishonor and disgrace
He saved an enormous number of lives, but lost his career for this. In 1941, Salazar lost political trust in Sousa Mendes and forced the diplomat to quit his career, subsequently ordering as well that no one in Portugal show him any charity. He found he also could not resume his law career, as he was prevented from registration, and he was made to surrender his foreign-issue driver's license. Just before the war's end in 1945, he suffered a stroke that left him at least partially paralyzed. In his later years, the formerly much-honored diplomat was abandoned by most of his colleagues and friends and often blamed by some of his close family members. Aided by a local Jewish refugee agency — which had begun to feed the family and pay their rent upon discovering the situation — the children moved to other countries one by one in search of opportunities they were now denied in Portugal, though all accounts by them indicate they never blamed their father or regretted his decision. His wife, Angelina, died in 1948. Stripped of his pension, he died in poverty on April 3, 1954, still in disgrace with his government.
This ill-treatment by his government for acts considered heroic in other countries was not unique to Sousa Mendes. Others similarly dishonored include Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania; Carl Lutz, the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, Hungary; and Paul Grüninger, chief of police in the Swiss canton of Sankt-Gallen (Saint-Gall). Ironically, the actions that caused Salazar to dismiss his diplomatic representative brought considerable praise to him and to Portugal, seen internationally as a haven of hospitality for refugee Jews; the magazine Life called Salazar "the greatest Portuguese since Henry the Navigator" (July 29, 1940).
http://sousamendesfoundation.org - Sousa Mendes Foundation
…preserving the legacy of Aristides de Sousa Mendes…
http://sousamendesfoundation.org/visa-recipients - list of known visa recipients
Diplomata. Cônsul de Portugal em Bordéus, onde à revelia das ordens de Salazar, emitiu passaportes que salvaram a vida a milhares de judeus.
Aristides' parents were Jose de Sousa Mendes, a former Supreme Court Judge, and Maria Angelina Ribeiro de Abranches de Abreu Castelo-Branco, a granddaughter of a Viscount of Portugal. His twin brother Cesar was also a Foreign Minister for Portugal under Salazar. Both brothers had graduated from Coimbra University. Sousa Mendes disobeyed Salazar's orders that every visa needed approval from Lisbon, in order to rescue 15,000 families from Hitler during June of 1940. Once the route was open, Spain was obliged to honor the visas, and it is possible that we will never know the true extent of people saved by his issuance of visas without charge in a time of extreme peril. The dictator Salazar never forgave Aristides for his disobedience of orders regarding visas and admission of refugees into Portugal from the war. Sousa Mendes was fired in July 1940 from the diplomatic corps, without a pension, deprived of his license to practice law within Portugal, deprived even of his driving license. Salazar forbade anyone to help him, and he was left with no means of earning a living, eventually selling his home. He and his wife died without an obituary being published for them. Such was the fear of the ban. Although not well known during his lifetime, due to the ban placed upon him by Salazar, yet after his death his children worked to rehabilitate the image of their father, after immigrating to the United States and other countries to escape discrimination and blacklisting within Portugal. Israel's Yad Vashem Museum declared him a Righteous Gentile in 1966. In 1987, the Portuguese Parliament granted him a medal - Order of Liberty. In 1988, the government of Portugal restored his diplomatic status, paid his pension to his heirs, and granted him another medal, the Cross of Merit. His former childhood home, Villa Passal, was declared a national historical monument, and a local school was named after him. He was then proclaimed a national hero, and other events were arranged to celebrate his memory. Aristides was born in material wealth, but he died in abject poverty. But his posthumous fortunes reversed.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches's Timeline
July 19, 1885
Carregal do Sal, Viseu, Portugal
September 21, 1885
Carregal do Sal, Viseu, Portugal
April 10, 1920
April 3, 1954
Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Portuguese Foreign Service