domingo, fevereiro 11, 2007

Sousa Mendes among the 29 Who Made a Difference

An article byPETER STEINFELS (NY TIMES, February 3, 2007) reports on the book launch for“Diplomat Heroes of the Holocaust,” on 24-Jan-2007 at the Park East Synagogue, New York City

According to the article, Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaking at the cerimony highlighted especially the story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese aristocrat with 12 children, who issued visas to Jews and other refugees seeking passage out of Bordeaux through Spain and Portugal. He was removed from office within weeks and died in poverty. It was only in 1987 that President Mario Soares restored his name.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes served as consul general in Bordeaux, France, from 1938 to July 1940. In May 1940, he faced pitiable crowds of refugees from the German invasion of France, many of them Jews camped in the streets and parks and desperate for visas allowing escape into Spain and Portugal. He also faced an absolute prohibition by Portugal’s dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, against issuing transit visas to refugees and especially to Jews.

In mid-June, the diplomat agonized for several days, cut himself off from the world, at one moment agitated, at the next despondent. Suddenly, on June 17 he proceeded to his office and announced: “I’m giving everyone visas. There will be no more nationalities, races or religions.” The next days were frenzied. All day and into the night, visas were issued. Fees were waived. No one filled in names. Sousa Mendes then traveled to the Spanish border to make certain that refugees were able to cross. He confronted Spanish border guards when needed — and continued to sign visas.

The Government was upset and on June 23 stripped him of his authority. Returning to his home in Cabanas de Viriato the next month, ahe further agravated the authorities by acknowledging his deeds and defending them straightforwardly on humanitarian and religious grounds and harboring some of the refugees, including Belgian officials who later formed the resistance government.
Holbrooke related the diplomats’ ordeal to contemporary moral and political dilemmas. “There are genocides going on all the time in the world today and government policies that we don’t agree with—and there are consequences to standing up and speaking out,” he said. “When does an issue rise to a great moral level? We all have to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do?’”
After the lecture, Rabbi Schneier of the Park East Synagogue presented certificates to the diplomats representing the countries of origin of the righteous protectors in the book.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs of Yeshiva University founded the Appeal of Conscience Foundation

Diplomat Heroes of the Holocaust” was written by Mordecai Paldiel, director of the department at Yad Vashem — the main Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, published by KTAV

Discipline Versus Dissent: A Dilemma in Times of Moral Crisis" by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Center for International Affairs of Yeshiva University, KTAV Press

See also
Photo exhibition arranged by Eric Saul, Visas for Life at the UN
link (NY Times)