Blog: Through Testimony

The Memory of a Hero: Aristides de Sousa Mendes' Legacy Preserved in Testimony

Fri, 08/05/2016 - 9:52am -- deanna.pitre

Contributor: Benjamin Biniaz

Fri, 08/05/2016 - 9:52am

Earlier this summer, Eleanor Beardsley of NPR met with a group of Holocaust survivors and relatives gathered in Bordeaux, France. They were beginning a 10-day trek, tracing a specific escape route from France to Portugal by way of Spain. These survivors were brought together by the memory of one man: Aristides de Sousa Mendes.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time. For this act of resistance, Sousa Mendes faced trials and conviction, leaving him to live out the rest of his life in poverty and disgrace, and his 15 children scattered all over Europe and the U.S.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes in 1940 uring the time when he was the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux, France. The survivors present in June were united by Sousa Mendes’ sacrifice: they all were able to escape Europe because of Sousa Mendes’ visas. It’s reported that he issued over 30,000 visas to Jewish families during his time in Bordeaux, and because each visa could hold an entire family, the number of lives he helped to save stretches much, much further. Sousa Mendes’ impact was so huge, it makes it even more remarkable that a man who saved so many lives has gone largely unnoticed in Holocaust history. However, in 1966 Aristides de Sousa Mendes was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

The NPR story emphasizes the power of what she refers to as ‘testimonials’ from the survivors and relatives present in Bordeaux. Some read letters written by their grandparents, some told stories of parents or aunts, but most powerful were the reflections of the survivors who were present themselves.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes is mentioned over 50 times in 6 different testimonies in the Visual History Archive. Two of those testimonies are interviews with his children, Carlos Mendes (JFCS collection) and Pedro de Sousa Mendes, and the others are of Jewish survivors who escaped persecution because of his visas.

Without the stories of survivors, we may never have heard the story of Sousa Mendes, a man so quickly condemned by the government of his time. It’s easy to declare that humanity will never forget the evils of Hitler and the Nazis, but it’s stories like Sousa Mendes’ that remind us how important it is to collect the whole story. Our collective memory relies on preserving the details, the acts of heroism that can so easily be forgotten.

In Memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes

In Memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes

 Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time. For this act of resistance, Sousa Mendes faced trials and conviction, leaving him to live out the rest of his life in poverty and disgrace, and his 15 children scattered all over Europe and the U.S.

Carlos Mendes on his father Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Language: English

Carlos Mendes explains the sadness he feels for his father’s overlooked heroism and the pride he feels for the work his father did.

 Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time. For this act of resistance, Sousa Mendes faced trials and conviction, leaving him to live out the rest of his life in poverty and disgrace, and his 15 children scattered all over Europe and the U.S.

  • Carlos Mendes on his father Aristides de Sousa Mendes

    Language: English

    Carlos Mendes explains the sadness he feels for his father’s overlooked heroism and the pride he feels for the work his father did.

     Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time. For this act of resistance, Sousa Mendes faced trials and conviction, leaving him to live out the rest of his life in poverty and disgrace, and his 15 children scattered all over Europe and the U.S.

  • Henri Deutsch on Aristides de Sousa Mendes' life saving actions

    Language: English

    Jewish survivor Henri Deutsch explains the extent of Aristides de Sousa Mendes’ deep commitment to aiding persecuted Jews.

     Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time.

  • Esther Dresner on Portuguese Diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes

    Language: English

    Esther Dresner expresses the gratitude she feels to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a man who did the right thing, regardless of the price.

     Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time. For this act of resistance, Sousa Mendes faced trials and conviction, leaving him to live out the rest of his life in poverty and disgrace, and his 15 children scattered all over Europe and the US.

  • Carlos Mendes on his father's willingness to help save Jews

    Language: English

    Carlos Mendes was the son of Aristides Sousa Mendes, Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time. Carlos Mendes reflects on his father’s fundamental willingness to risk his career and life to save persecuted Jews.

  • Henri Deutsch on the sacrifices of Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes

    Language: English

    Henri Deutsch reflects on the sacrifice that Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes  made to save the lives of so many Jews during the Holocaust.

    Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time.

 

Posts are contributed by individual authors. The opinions are solely the authors’ and are not necessarily a reflection of the views of USC Shoah Foundation.

About Benjamin Biniaz

Benjamin Biniaz is a sophomore at Yale University. During his 2016 summer break he is interning with USC Shoah Foundation’s communication department. His family has been involved with the Institute for many years since his grandmother Celina Biniaz and great- grandmother Phyllis Karp gave their testimonies to the Visual History Archive in 1996.  

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