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

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict