The Portuguese Diplomat Who Saved Thousands of Jews from the Nazis

Jan. 29 2019

After World War II began, Portugal ordered its embassies and consulates not to issue visas to people “of undetermined, contested, or disputed nationality,” and especially not to stateless Jews. But Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul-general in the French city of Bordeaux, simply refused to follow these orders, as Richard Hurowitz writes:

[When] in May 1940 the Nazi Blitzkrieg swept into France, tens of thousands of people descended on Bordeaux by train, car, bicycle, and even foot. Crowds formed at the Portuguese consulate. . . . On June 17, Paris fell. Sousa Mendes became more and more tortured by what he saw. In front of the great synagogue of Bordeaux, he met Chaim Kruger, a young Polish rabbi with his family crowded along with thousands of Jews in the square. Sousa Mendes offered to help, but his request for visas for Kruger and his family was rejected. Sousa Mendes assured the rabbi he would do everything in his power to get the necessary papers.

“It’s not just me that needs help,” the rabbi told him, “but all my fellow Jews who are in danger of their lives.” The words hit Sousa Mendes like a thunderbolt. For three days, he took to his bed in despair. . . . Then he emerged full of energy. “From now on I’m giving everyone visas,” the diplomat declared. “There will be no more nationalities, races, or religion.”

“I cannot allow all you people to die,” he told the refugees.

Kruger collected the passports of the Jews in the square. Sousa Mendes signed them all. Indeed, he reportedly proceeded to sign every visa put in front of him, setting up a veritable assembly line. His two sons along with other members of the family and Kruger prepared the passports and visas for signature, while his deputy, the thirty-two-year-old José Seabra, dutifully stamped them. News quickly spread and the consulate was suddenly filled to capacity. The consul himself worked well into the night signing visas. . . .

Sousa Mendes was later fired for his disobedience and died in penury and disgrace. But those who received visas escaped the horror that awaited them in occupied France.

Get unlimited access to Mosaic: Subscribe now

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories FREE.

Register Now

Get unlimited access to Mosaic: Subscribe now

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories FREE.

Register Now

Read more at New York Times

More about: History & Ideas, Holocaust, Nazis, Portugal, Refugees, Righteous Among the Nations

 

The American Jewish Establishment Has Failed to Grapple with the Threat of Anti-Semitism

Feb. 17 2020

When the White House released its plan for the creation of a Palestinian state that also gives due consideration to Israeli security, writes Seth Mandel, a number of major Jewish organizations rushed to condemn it. The self-styled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street lambasted the plan for being too pro-Israel, as did the Israel Policy Forum—founded in the 1990s at the behest of Yitzḥak Rabin. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) responded equivocally. To Mandel, this attitude is only a symptom of a deeper problem:

Sign up to read more.

You've read all your free articles for this month. Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture and politics.

Register Now

Sign up to read more.

You've read all your free articles for this month. Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture and politics.

Register Now

Read more at Commentary

More about: ADL, AIPAC, American Jewry, Anti-Semitism