Aristides de Sousa Mendes – The Portuguese Super-Schindler.

When the Nazis overran France in the Spring of 1940 many of the Jews, fearing the worst, tried to flee the country. The ones heading South were refused entry into Spain or Portugal unless they had visas.

 

The Portuguese government did not want this influx of Jews and forbade their embassies to issue these visas. The Jews were frantic. Not to get that piece of paper amounted to a death sentence. They frantically pleaded with the consuls to give them clearance.

 

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux. He saw the plight of the desperate Jews and realized what the outcome would be. He decided, despite his thirty year career, to deliberately ignore the direct order.

 

For ten days, hardly stopping for sleep or sustenance, as the German forces closed in on Bordeaux, Aristides and his team issued visas and stamped them.

 

They managed to issue thirty thousand before the Portuguese government got wind of what was happening and sent agents down to escort him back to Portugal where he was summarily sacked.

 

However, like the true bureaucrats they are, they honored those visas and thirty thousand Jews were saved by that one brave man.

 

The moral of this story is that it is imperative to stand up against officialdom and do the moral thing rather than follow orders blindly.

 

Aristides de Sousa Mendes saved more lives with his rubber stamp than anybody else. He truly was the Portuguese Schindler.  We need far more men of principle like him.

Comments

opher goodwin Added Nov 9, 2017 - 4:17pm
Despite all the cruelty, meanness, selfishness and greed that human beings exhibit there is an inner core of altruism and caring that is present in many people. These are the ones who should be highlighted. They are the role-models I would like to associate with.
Thomas Sutrina Added Nov 9, 2017 - 5:03pm
He is but a very small portion of the bureaucracy of the world.  You can find them even today.  The deads are far less consequential.   People of honor and morals still exist.   
 
Religion is the teacher in societies of honor and morals.  That is why every immoral government that is based on man made laws exclusively tries to either destroy religion or engulf religion. 
 
Islam does not separate government from religion so is perpetually engulfed.  Seldom does it exist separate from government.  Other religions from time to time are engulfed by government and act no better then Islam.  
opher goodwin Added Nov 9, 2017 - 5:12pm
Thomas - men of honour do still exist. I have met many caring, idealistic and compassionate people. Many of whom are not religious. Religion is no teacher of morals in my book. It is a teacher of intolerance and hatred much more often.
Man made laws of morality are more reasonable and less ambiguous than those in religion. But religions were created by men long ago. We've got better at it and our understanding of psychology and sociology is greater.
Theocracies, such as Islam, are the worst.
Don Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:32pm
Opher, this was a new one for me.  Thanks for sharing this great story
opher goodwin Added Nov 10, 2017 - 3:46am
Don - it was a new one on me too. I felt I had to share it. Just goes to show what a determined man can do with a rubber stamp. Thanks for commenting.
Gone Away Added Nov 10, 2017 - 5:40am
New story for me too. Thanks for teaching me something new...always a good thing.
opher goodwin Added Nov 10, 2017 - 6:03am
You are welcome Colette. Good to have something we agree on.
Gone Away Added Nov 10, 2017 - 6:07am
Gone Away Added Nov 10, 2017 - 6:08am
That should read 'Yes.'
I'm not always contentious or bad tempered. :-)
opher goodwin Added Nov 10, 2017 - 6:14am
That's OK Colette. GM is contentious. That's why I thought it was worthy of debate. There are good and bad sides. I don't take it personal.
This post on such a clear moral issue and good act is pretty black and white - unless you are a holocaust denier like some on this site. It's easier to agree on.
But it isn't very good for debate is it?
Thomas Sutrina Added Nov 10, 2017 - 8:54am
Opher, Men only claim they hear and speak to God.  No definitive proof has ever been put forth.  Religion is based on faith.   So what you are saying is that religion is a construct.   Morals are a human construct since proof of God is a human construct.  Thus I can call the creation of moral based on faith and you can call the creation of morals based on humans.   No difference.   
 
My stipulation is that morals are created and tested for generations  and only those that have passed this test of time are believable.  If this is not the case then Hitler and Mao Tse Tung created morals for the nations they created.    Who teaches morals is the society and within a society the responsibility is alway allocated to some group.  I can call it a church you may call it something else.  You may said no God exists I may say on does.   But in the end their is still no definitive proof and we both make our decision based on faith, a belief.
opher goodwin Added Nov 10, 2017 - 9:58am
Thomas - I agree with you to some extent. Leaving God out of it. Man made the morals that are in religion. I just think we are better at it now than we were in medieval times.
Mao and Hitler did not make morals. They were politicians.
The morals I support are the carefully crafted morals as laid out in the UN Charter of Human Rights. They distill the essence of good morality. We need nothing else.
Michael Cikraji Added Nov 10, 2017 - 2:45pm
Opher,
A great article, as always. I think at the end of the day, no matter what you're told to do, what your religion is or isn't, or even how you may inwardly feel about something, you need to be at peace with what you do at the end of the day. I never understood how murderers slept....
 
If you were de Sousa Mendes, could you be at peace knowing you followed orders, but thousands died when you could have done something to stop it? I couldn't. 
opher goodwin Added Nov 10, 2017 - 6:56pm
Michael - I think you're are spot on. The most important thing is to do what you know is right. You have to be able to live with yourself.
Dave Volek Added Nov 11, 2017 - 1:21am
Opher
I was at museum in Vienna, and one of the exhibits was a story of a young German girl being attracted to a commotion on the street. She was curious and worked her way into the interior of the crowd to see a group of Nazi Brownshirts supervising a group of old men scrubbing the street with toothbrushes. The girl looked at one of the old men, and he was her family's doctor. He was a Jew. Nobody stepped in to do anything about his humiliation. The brownshirts eventually let the old men go, and the crowd dispersed itself. 
 
I have tried to put myself in that situation, and I hope I would do the right thing. But one never knows.
 
BTW: I have put an hour into your book "Star Turn." I'm very impressed!
Simply Jews Added Nov 11, 2017 - 3:03am
There are quite a few good men like Mendes who have done the seemingly impossible during these time. Another one of them: Sir Nicholas Winton
 
And here is some unforgettable moment in his life.
 
Of course, there were many more.
opher goodwin Added Nov 11, 2017 - 3:07am
Dave - I don't think any of us know quite how we'd react until we find ourselves in the situation do we? We always hope we'd react in the right way.
I'm glad you are enjoying Star Turn. It's an old one of mine. Thanks for taking the trouble to read it.
opher goodwin Added Nov 11, 2017 - 3:11am
Simply Jews - Thank you for putting that up here. He was another of those men for whom one cannot heap enough praise. I can't imagine how he would have felt at that event. Some reward for what he had achieved.
These are the people we should be holding up as role models.
Don Added Nov 11, 2017 - 3:00pm
Although not as courageous a subject, this story does put one in mind of the Japanese 1952 award winning classic film Ikiru (To Live) and remade for television in 2007.
 
Thirty years the protagonist Kanji has been among consummate bureaucrats--shuffling papers--faking--blocking.
 
Kanji has been watching a family in the office being sent from one department to another. There is a cesspool in their community they wanted covered and a playground built over.
 
Then Kanji gets the death sentence of cancer. The rest of the story is his dealing with his soon impending death.
 
He fast-tracks the playground and the last scene has him swinging in the playground swing. The story is very moving.
Don Added Nov 11, 2017 - 3:15pm
I once lived through an Ikiru story. I had put in a submission for a federal grant. The bureaucrat in charge liked it and brought me to Washington to flesh it out.
 
Meanwhile, he too received a death sentence of cancer. And, this wonderful man worked with me and caused my successful program to go.  He actually stayed with me on the project almost up to the day he died.
 
I often say tacky things against bureaucrats. These stories above remind me there are many unsung heroes among their midst.
mark henry smith Added Nov 11, 2017 - 7:36pm
Thanks Opher
 
we hear so much about what the scum of this earth are capable
of and not enough about how hard it is to resist being smeared
 
brave men and women will always stand for justice, the only intangible is whether they'll be heard over the roar of jingoism, god, bible.
Eileen de Bruin Added Nov 12, 2017 - 9:48am
Yes, Opher, very moving and someone to admire because he took demotion, unemployment even, to do the right thing.
 
Doing the right thing is probably the hardest thing to face in life. Perhaps we will not be put to the test, something I do wonder about often.  Near to me there is a school named Anne Frank and there is this feeling that her memory will be kept alive in Holland, from where she was taken .... it is this type of action by councils that will cause us to, at least, reflect on contemporary issues.  Any cause for reflection and self searching has to be a good thing. 
 
I cannot imagine what went through the mind of de Sousa, can you?  Did his family support him, I wonder? 
 
I do fear that not enough attention is paid to doing the right thing in contemporary times and if these stories of true courage and bravery were more widely distributed and read and spoken about and used in schools, then it would be such a great thing don’t you think?
 
I read, a long time ago, the story of Corrie Ten Boom and their shop in Harlem where they lived above it and managed to hide Jews and get them out. They all were sent to a concentration camp but beofre they sent their old Father, he was told by the Gestapo that if he promised to stop doing what he had been doing, they would leave him in peace.  He responded that he would never refuse help to anyone including any German, any Jew, anyone....so he was sent away and he did die there.
 
 
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 12, 2017 - 5:09pm
Yes. The post invigorated me to root for those who would be called leakers or whistle blowers in the Trump administration. Indeed here is another story. the 
opher goodwin Added Nov 15, 2017 - 4:38am
Don - thanks for that. The world is full of little heroic stories isn't it? They should be an inspiration to us.
opher goodwin Added Nov 15, 2017 - 4:39am
Mark - that is so true. Maybe we just need to emphasise the great things being carried out by those people in the face of such opposition.
opher goodwin Added Nov 15, 2017 - 4:41am
Eileen - it would be good to get some of his back story wouldn't it?
I have never heard of Corrie Ten Boom. I bet there were hundreds of those brave people who went unsung.
opher goodwin Added Nov 15, 2017 - 4:44am
Thank you Dr Green.