Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s consul-general in Bordeaux when Germany invaded France, saved 30,000 people by providing Portuguese visas against the orders of his superiors.
This has been confirmed by descendants of the visa recipients, who run the Sousa Mendes Foundation.
Mendes started ignoring Lisbon’s orders and delivering his visas in 1939, several months before Germany’s invasion of France, in part because he had a twin brother, a fellow Portuguese diplomat, who was stationed in Warsaw and told him about Nazi atrocities there.
He issued many of the visas personally and also persuaded some others on the Portuguese diplomatic staff to do the same.
Many of his visas were issued in the frantic month of June 1940, when the Germans were tightening their grip on France and the Portuguese government was scrambling to bring home its rebel consul from Bordeaux.
Mendes eventually gave up his struggle and returned to Lisbon in early July, after the Portuguese instructed the Spanish border police to turn back holders of his visas.
He was dismissed from the diplomatic service, stripped of his pension rights, and died penniless in 1954.
Mendes was honored posthumously by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as “Righteous Among the Nations”, in 1966.
In the 80s, Portugal rehabilitated Mendes’ name and apologized to his family, while the Portuguese Parliament promoted him to the rank of ambassador.
Today we proudly honor Aristides De Sousa Mendes as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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