Surely you have seen the magnificent film "Schindler's List", in it Spilberg tells us how the industrialist Oscar Schindler managed to deceive the Nazis and save the lives of the Jews who worked in his factory. It was declared Right between the Nations by the State of Israel , but he is not the only one who took the risk to save his neighbor. In Supercurioso we have seen the cases of the Polish doctor who invented a false typhus epidemic that saved 8,000 Jews in Poland and the one the Zabinski family who ran the Warsaw Zoo . On this occasion we want to approach the figure of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese who saved more Jews than Schindler.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes and his history
The figure of Aristides de Sousa Mendes is sometimes controversial because for economic reasons he received extra money for granting visas to those fleeing France on their way to Portugal. However the June 17, 1940 , he forgot his monetary interests and for three days, convinced by the Rabbi of Antwerp Jacob Kruger, granted visas to all those who requested it and, in front of the Lisbon warnings that he stopped issuing visas, said: "If you have to disobey, I prefer it to be to an order of men than to an order from God"
Arístides de Sousa Mendes was born in Portugal in 1885 in the bosom of an aristocratic family, studied law and devoted himself to the diplomatic career, being Consul of Portugal in various parts of the world, including Zanzibar, Brazil, USA. and in Antwerp between 1929 and 1938. For his political ideas and economic problems his career was immersed in chiaroscuros and both received reprimands from his government and praise on some occasions. In the personal aspect, he had 14 children with his wife Angelina and a daughter with his French lover, which caused great social upheaval, with which he married when his wife died.
In 1938 he was transferred from Antwerp to Bordeaux and he is exercising this position when the Second World War breaks out. At first, during the so-called "Prank War" granted visas in exchange for sums of money since, due to a circular 14 of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could not be granted to stateless persons, Russians and Jews expelled from their countries, without express authorization. However, after the invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, the situation changed. An exodus began through France and the Portuguese consulates did not grant more visas. They could only be obtained in Bordeaux and thousands of people, Jews and non-Jews, went there. looking for salvation in Portugal .
After a personal crisis, on June 17, 1940 Aristides affirmed that he was inspired by a divine power and decided to grant the visa to anyone who asked for it, declaring: "From this moment, I will give visas to everyone, regardless of nationality, race or religion" . Helped by his children, nephews and by Rabbi Jacob (Chaim) Kruger of Amsterdam, who made him understand the need to help all those people, for three days they issued visas without rest , using all the documents they had in the consulate.
Finally, Arístides de Sousa Mendes He fled to Portugal through the Spanish border, and according to some testimonies when he arrived in Bayonne and saw the people who were gathered before the consulate, he ordered him to open it and grant more visas. He died in poverty in Lisbon in 1954. He was rehabilitated as a national historical figure in 1988. His actions have raised controversy due to the contradictory testimonies of what happened during those days. However, it is an undeniable fact that thanks to their visas, granted disobeying the orders of their government, more than 10,000 Jews fled from all over Europe could take refuge in Portugal.
Did you know the figure of Arístides de Sousa Mendes ? Do you know other people who took risks to save the lives of their peers in conflict zones? Share it with us! If you want to meet other heroes, we invite you to read the post: The Mexican hero who saved thousands of lives during the Holocaust.