JOHN PAUL ABRANCHES HIGHLIGHTS
TO COMMEMORATE THE 500TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FORCED CONVERSION OF THE JEWS OF PORTUGAL THE SCJS INVITED THE SON OF ARISTIDES DE SOUSA MENDES TO SPEAK
THE SIMON WEISENTHAL CENTER HAS HONORED DE SOUSA MENDES AS A RIGHTEOUS DIPLOMAT FOR HIS RESCUE OF THOUSANDS OF JEWS FROM OCCUPIED FRANCE IN WORLD WAR II
Reprinted from HaLapid Fall 1997
Recently the Simon Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles hosted a reception and an exhibit dedicated to Righteous Diplomats. One of those honored was the late Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches. Dr. Souas Mendes was represented at the event by his son John Paul Abranches who now resided in Mesa, Arizona. Mr. Abranches was also the featured speaker at the SCJS Denver conference this past summer. He was invited to speak in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the forced conversion of the Jews of Portugal. His topic: the incredible story of how his father saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.
When France was defeated by the Nazis in World War II, Dr. Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux. Thousands of refugees, fleeing the barbarian invasions from the east, streamed into Bordeaux, then under Vichy control. Many came into the offices of the Consul-General seeking visas to Portugal, a neutral country. The dictator of Portugal, Dr. Antonio Salazar, had issued orders to the foreign office that no refugees were to be allowed into the country and under no circumstances were visas to be issued to Jews.
Dr. Sousa Mendes was distressed at these orders, he was greatly concerned for the safety of the masses of people who were begging for transit visas through Portugal as a last effort to escape the Nazis. One of those seeking safety through Portugal was Rabbi Chaim Kruger, himself escaping the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe. Dr. Sousa Mendes met many times with Rabbi Kruger and learned from him of the horrors of the Holocaust. After much anguish and consulting with his wife and family, he decided to disobey his government’s orders and to go ahead and grant the visas.
Working day and night, Dr. Sousa Mendes, his family and his staff issued thousands of visas. They did not rest until every request for a visa was granted. When news of this reached Lisbon, Dr. Sousa Mendes was ordered to return to Portugal. But even this did not stop him. On his way back he passed through Bayonne where he found thousands of refugees gathered at the Portuguese Consulate. Again he disobeyed his orders and issued life saving visas.
On reaching the Spanish border he found that the Spanish immigration officers had been ordered not to honor Portuguese visas issued at Bordeaux and Bayonne. With his diplomatic experience, Dr. Souse Mendes was able to persuade some border guards to accept the visas.
Because of his efforts an estimated 30,000 people were saved, 10,000 of them Jews. But, his disobedience resulted in his being dismissed from the Portuguese Foreign Service. He was denied his pension and was never able to find work again. The family lost its property, reputation and honor. His children were forced to emigrate to other countries to find work.
For the next forty years, his family sought to clear his name. Finally, in 1986, the story was featured in an American newspaper and, following that, the International Committee to Commemorate Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes was created. Eventually he was recognized by Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Museum and Documentation Center in Jerusalem). A tree was planted along the Avenue of the Righteous and a medal was awarded posthumously in his honor.
Society For Crypto Judaic Studies