Sept. 29, 2017
- The Moral Choice of a Diplomat Who Defied Orders – Mordecai Paldiel
Thousands of Jews owe their lives to the humanitarian act of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul-general in the southern French city of Bordeaux. In June 1940, as the German army was sweeping southward in defeated France, Portugal was under the rule of the dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, whose wartime decree “Circular 14” forbade the issuance of transit visas to Jews wishing to escape capture by the advancing Germans.
Sousa Mendes issued thousands of transit visas until Salazar learned of his flagrant disobedience and ordered him back to Portugal for disciplinary measures. Returning to Portugal, he was stripped of his diplomatic rank, fired, and all benefits accrued from a long diplomatic career annulled. He died in 1954 in poverty.
The Sousa Mendes Foundation has discovered nearly 4,000 names of those he saved, based on meticulous research of documents and boat manifests. When faced with a moral choice – to save the lives of strangers but lose his career and future in the process – Sousa Mendes, a devout Catholic and a patriot, rose to the challenge of history. The writer teaches at Yeshiva University and Touro College in New York.(Jerusalem Post)
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