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quarta-feira, junho 16, 2010

Canada takes note of the Day of Conscience
Mr. Mario Silva (Member of Parliament from Davenport, Lib.) made the following statement to the Canandian Parliament:
Mr. Speaker, for 21 days, beginning on June 17, 1940, Portugal's consul general in the French city of Bordeaux issued visas to over 30,000 refugees fleeing the Nazis, in defiance of his own government's orders and at great personal sacrifice. His courage and commitment to conscience saved those who would have otherwise perished and gave life to their descendants who today live in all corners of the world. When asked about his decision, he would answer, “I would rather stand with God against man than stand with man against God”. In Israel, Aristides de Sousa Mendes is known by the revered title, “Righteous Gentile”. The same courage and commitment was shown by the Brazilian diplomat Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas. I encourage all parliamentarians to recognize this devotion to conscience by supporting my motion to designate June 17 each year a day of conscience, consistent with the international efforts of Joao Crisostomo.

There was also an important article published in the Ottawa Citizen
He stood with God against men
By Bernie M. Farber, Citizen Special June 12, 2010

In our tradition we are taught that the reason God created the human race from one person (instead of creating millions of people all at once) was to remind us of the value of a single human life. It is for this reason that the Talmud instructs us that the merit ascribed to one who saves a single human life is the same as one who saves an entire world.
If this is true, then we must be struck dumb with astonishment at the magnitude of the achievement of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
De Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese consul-general in Bordeaux, France, during the dark years of the Holocaust. The roads of France were filled with refugees, Jewish and otherwise, fleeing the advancing Nazi forces.
So tragic was the sight of these people that French writers of the day referred to them as "le peuple du désastre."
The aim of the refugees was to flee south to Spain and then hopefully into neutral Portugal. In May 1940, the Portuguese government prohibited any further refugee crossings. De Sousa Mendes, a devout Christian, decided to disobey his government's explicit orders.
For three full days he signed thousands of transit visas allowing these desperate refugees entry past the border.
Eventually Lisbon heard of de Sousa Mendes' "transgressions" and ordered him back home. Incredibly while on his journey he passed through Bayonne, France where again he witnessed hundreds of desperate people begging for transit visas. Though he had no authority and disregarding the cries of outrage from the local Portuguese consul, de Sousa Mendes entered the consulate and began distributing visas.
Indeed in his own hand he wrote on the visas "The Government of Portugal asks the Government of Spain kindly to allow the holder of this document to cross Spain freely. The holder of this document is a refugee from the conflict in Europe and is en route to Portugal." He then personally escorted the refugees to the Spanish border to ensure they crossed in safety.
Over 30,000 refugees owed their safety to his heroism; 12,000 Jews owed him their lives.
And those 12,000 became parents and grandparents and great-grand-parents. If the 1,100 Jews saved by Oskar Schindler blossomed to 6,000 souls over the generations then the harvest of souls nurtured by Aristides de Sousa Mendes was enormous. Sixty-thousand souls? No, 60,000 worlds.
My father, Max Farber, was one of only two Jewish survivors of the town of Botchki in Poland. All the rest were trapped by the Nazis and transported to their deaths at Treblinka in November 1943. My father lost his first family there, and I lost half-brothers whom I never knew.
These worlds were extinguished along with all of their possibilities. There was no de Sousa Mendes for them. No courageous citizen of humanity to offer the papers that would provide safe passage from the Kingdom of Death to the Kingdom of Life.
Many years ago, the Canadian Jewish Congress had the honour of working with the Portuguese-Canadian Business Association to honour the memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
It was an evening I have never forgotten. Though he has been gone from our world for many years, the spirit of this exceedingly good man, his courage and honour brought Canadian Jews and Portuguese together to celebrate his life. Long lasting friendships endure to this day.
It was on that special night that I learned from his son, (the father died in 1954) for the first time why Aristides de Sousa Mendes undertook this deed of loving kindness. When asked why, why would you purposely disobey orders from your own government at the time to cease and desist from distributing these life-saving visas, de Sousa Mendes plainly replied "I would rather stand with God against man, than with man against God."
Simple words to explain a complex undertaking.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes received little honour in his life, but on Tuesday June 1, 2010, two MPs, Alexandra Mendes and Mario Silva, with the support of the Parliament of Canada, honoured him on the 125th anniversary year of his birth. There to praise his heroism in the company of de Sousa Mendes' grandson, was the Honourable Jason Kenney, who spoke on behalf of the government of Canada. I too was honoured to extol the virtues of this courageous man that evening.
Also this month, MP Irwin Cotler read a statement into the record in the House of Commons honouring de Sousa Mendes.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes, saver of souls, guardian of worlds; may his memory, now and forever, be for a blessing.
Bernie M. Farber is CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a son of a Holocaust survivor.
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