Trapped in my Mind
Nearly 60 years after his death, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, is finally beginning to get his due in his home country of Portugal:
Mr. Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s consul in Bordeaux when Germany invaded France, provided about 30,000 people with Portuguese visas to escape Nazi persecution, according to the Sousa Mendes Foundation, which is run by descendants of the visa recipients. His status as one of the most important protectors of the Jewish people, if not the precise number of visas, has been confirmed by Yehuda Bauer, a Holocaust historian at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
He issued many of the visas personally and also persuaded some others on the Portuguese diplomatic staff stationed in France to do the same, against the orders of his own government, which was neutral but Fascist. When the government realized the scale of his disobedience, Mr. Sousa Mendes was recalled to Lisbon, tried and dismissed from the diplomatic service. Stripped of his pension rights, he died in poverty in 1954.
In the 1980s, Portugal rehabilitated Mr. Sousa Mendes’s name and apologized to his family, while the Portuguese Parliament posthumously promoted him to the rank of ambassador.
Still, Harry Oesterreicher, the treasurer of the Sousa Mendes Foundation, said that it was disappointing to see the limited recognition Mr. Sousa Mendes had received in Portugal and how his family mansion here had been allowed to fall into ruin. It was repossessed by creditors after his death.
The foundation is now hoping to turn the house into a museum of tolerance, with the Portuguese authorities pledging last month to make an initial contribution of about $400,000.