The 19th of October 2021 marked a special day for the Portuguese and the world’s Jewry.
This is because on this day, Portugal, through its national parliament, honoured Aristides de Sousa Mendes at the National Pantheon, with a plaque in his memory. This thereby recognises the importance of his and admirable contribution, as well as of the importance of Jewish people in Portugal.
Sousa Mendes, General Consul of Portugal in Bordeaux, France, during WWII, saved around 30.000 people, including 10.000 Jews, from Nazi persecution by issuing visas to come to Portugal. In doing so, he defied the neutral wishes of Portuguese dictator António Salazar.
At the ceremony on 19 October, Portuguese politicians and public figures including the President of the Lisbon Jewish Community, Vice-President of Associação Lusa Portugueses por Israel (ALPI), and the Ambassador of Israel to Portugal, gathered to honour Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
The plaque erected at the National Patheon of Portugal honours Sousa Mendes and was placed alongside other historical Portuguese public figures, with the Portuguese President saying, “Portugal bows to his moral character.”
Sousa Mendes was fired from his job in Portugal for his “offense” of assisting these people and was shamed publicly before his death in 1954. Mendes died penniless, surviving from Lisbon’s Jewish community’s support until the end of his life. Decades later, he has received international recognition for his fight to save people, including Jews, across Europe from Nazi persecution.
This follows the offering of a bust of Aristides de Sousa Mendes by Russian Sculptor Gregory Pototsky, commissioned by Frédéric Lassoeur, to ALPI. This can now be found in the Portuguese Parliamentary Assembly.
Sousa Mendes was recognised as “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1966 by Yad Vashem (the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre). This title was given on behalf of the State of Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The honour bestowed on Sousa Mendes is inspiring for Jews all over Europe. It is gratifying to see this dedication to him and to remember those who protected and saved Jews and others from persecution.
By: Eryn Sarkin, EUJS Board Member