The Portuguese Consul Who Lost Everything to Save Thousands of Jews from Hitler

Last month, the city of Jerusalem dedicated a square to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who was first honored by Yad Vashem 1966 for his heroic efforts to save Jews from the Nazis’ grip. Jane M. Friedman, whose grandparents were among those he rescued, tells his story:

Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France, when German forces overwhelmed the country in 1940. He defied his own government and issued thousands of visas that allowed an estimated 30,000 refugees to escape. Ten thousand Jews were said to have been saved. . . . In fact, historians believe that Sousa Mendes may have been responsible for the largest rescue by a single individual during the Holocaust.

Sousa Mendes paid a heavy price for his heroism. The Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar had prohibited visas for Jews and stateless people. Sousa Mendes, a deeply observant Catholic, knew what would befall the masses huddling around his consulate if he didn’t give them the visas they were begging for. He went to his bed and, emerging three days later, announced that he would grant visas to all who asked.

With his two sons and a ḥasidic acquaintance, Rabbi Chaim Kruger, who had pleaded with the consul to defy his own government, he established an assembly line, issuing thousands of visas over the next few days until Salazar ordered him back to Lisbon.

Sousa Mendes was tried, expelled from the foreign service, and stripped of his salary and pension. He died in poverty in 1954. His twelve children were pariahs in their own country. Most fled Portugal, establishing new lives elsewhere without the burden of the past. It took decades for Portugal posthumously to restore his ambassadorial status.

Read more at Forward

More about: Holocaust rescue, Portugal, Righteous Among the Nations

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount