Portugal Recognizes Consul who Saved thousands From Holocaust #holocaust

Jan Meisels Allen




In mid-June 1940 Hitler’s forces were days from completing victory over France. Paris fell on June 14 and a week later an armistice was signed.  Portugal's diplomatic corps was under strict instruction from the right-wing Salazar dictatorship that visas should be issued to refugee Jews and stateless people only with express permission from Lisbon.  For those thronging Bordeaux's streets hoping to cross into Spain and escape Nazi persecution there was no time to wait.


Aristides de Sousa Mendes (1885-1954) was Portugal’s consul in Bordeaux during World War ll. He supplied Jews with visas that permitted them to escape from advancing German forces. His decision to save the Jews’ lives cost him his diplomatic career under Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. The foreign ministry in Lisbon began sending cablegrams to Bordeaux, ordering him to desist, amid reports from colleagues that he had "lost his senses".


Spanish authorities declared his visas invalid, but thousands had already made it across the Bidasoa river into Spain's Basque region.

Among those who escaped occupied France due to Salazar’s visas include surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, filmmaker King Vidor, members of the Rothschild banking family and the majority of Belgium's future government-in-exile.


The rest of his life was spent in penury.


The Consul had a friendship with Rabbi Chaim Kruger who fled the Nazis from his home in Belgium. Consul Sousa Mendes offered the rabbi and his immediate family safe passage across the Spanish border. Kruger refused the offer, as he could not abandon the thousands of other Jewish refugees in Bordeaux. After days of contemplation, according to Menes’ son. “he strode out of his bedroom, flung open the door to the chancellery, and announced in a loud voice: 'From now on I'm giving everyone visas. There will be no more nationalities, races or religions'."


Estimates of number of transit visas allowing refugees to pass from France into Spain and travel on to Portugal range between 10,000-30,000. On June 9 Parliament’s parliament decided for a monument with his name in the National Pantheon.


In 1966 Yad Vashem recognized him as Righteous Among the Nations.


In 1988 Portuguese parliament posthumously withdraws disciplinary charges against him


Now the Portugal has recognized him.


To read more see:


Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee


Milton Koch

Yes, he was instrumental in helping my family members leave Luxembourg after Eichmann invaded the country-and enabled them, with some difficulties on a train ride-to enter Lisbon, where they lived for 1 1/2 years.
In addition, there is currently a wonderful exhibit about him in the Luxembourg National Archives.
Milton Koch
Behtesda, MD., USA


Consul Mendes spent 72 hours without sleep after his announcement writing the visas as described. His son, an artist, was a faculty member at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA., US until his untimely death a few years ago. Before his death he undertook an art project involving his staying awake for 72 hours inscribing the many hundreds of names of the Jews who received visas from his father over and over, on top of each other, in a large art installation that was recently exhibited on the University campus as part of a larger Holocaust-related exhibit. It was extremely moving.

Henry S. Levine, MD
Bellingham, WA 

Nicole Heymans

Thank you Jan for this piece of history!

Which connects with my own family history.

In 1940 my mother's German Jewish family was living in Antwerp, Belgium. During the phony war, Belgian authorities had listed all potential "enemies": mainly Germans, Austrians, "Böhmen und Mähren" (Chekoslovakia) and pro-Nazi groups. At dawn on 10th May 1940 as soon as German troops set foot in Belgium, listed men aged about 17-60 (I need to check) were arrested, emprisoned  and sent to camps in south-western France, previous refugee camps dating from the Spanish civil war. My uncle was among them, along with his cousin once removed, recently divorced from his aunt who had got away with their two daughters; and with one of my mother's pre-war boyfriends.

They ended up in Saint-Cyprien in south-west France, barracks on the beach, barbed wires on three sides, the sea on the fourth. Appalling conditions. At a point my uncle decided to leave. I was told he dug under the barbed wire, he didn't need to dig far, he weighed less than 40 kgs. He walked to the nearest house, was sheltered but sent off at dawn,

My uncle had relatives in Central America, one of whom vouched for him, but the affidavits were in Lisbon and he never managed to cross the Pyrrenees However he survived.

Nicole Heymans, Belgium

Jean-Pierre Stroweis

Jan Allen Maisel reported here recently that Aristides de Sousa Mendes - Portugal’s consul in Bordeaux in 1940 - finally received his country’s recognition for his salvation action. Let me just add that the Sousa Mendes Foundation provides a list of the known visa recipients, sometimes with a short bio and a picture at :


Unfortunately, not all of them were able to make use of the visas.


Jean-Pierre Stroweis