I could not have acted otherwise, and I therefore accept all that has befallen me with love.
The sentiment of these words, spoken by Aristides de Sousa Mendes towards the end of his life, is currently being celebrated with the Aristides de Sousa Mendes Exhibition at the National Archives of Luxembourg.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes (1885-1954) joined the Portuguese consular corps during a tumultuous time in the country's history. After postings around the world, Sousa Mendes was appointed to serve as consul in Bordeaux, France from 1938. This lasted until his dismissal for disobedience in 1940.
The decision to act against orders
The professional downfall of Sousa Mendes was the final result of a very conscious act. According to the infamous Circular 14 from the Salazar government, Portuguese diplomats were required to seek confirmation from Lisbon before granting visas to specific groups of refugees. Among these groups were Jews fleeing persecution in Nazi-controlled Europe. However, instead of following this order, Sousa Mendes made the decision to grant thousands of visas to individuals and families fleeing their homes. This came at a high price to his own career as well as mental and physical well-being. In the summer of 1940, disciplinary proceedings against Sousa Mendes were begun, ending with his forced retirement and social blacklisting. His career was effectively over.
Only after his death were Sousa Mendes' actions officially recognized. In 1966, he was honored posthumously by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, and his position was restored by the Portuguese parliament in 1988.
IHRA Chair visits exhibition
On December 1, IHRA Chair Ambassador Georges Santer visited the exhibition with Jeannette “Cookie” Fischer, daughter of visa recipient Adèle van den Bergh and lender of her mother’s war diary, and Gerald Mendes, grandson of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Ella Andriesse and Mariana Abrantes de Sousa of the Sousa Mendes Foundation that has aided in the creation of the exhibition, and Olivia Mattis, President of the foundation, also accompanied Ambassador Santer.
The Sousa Mendes exhibition was created on the initiative of Ambassador Santer and has been curated by Corinne Schroeder of the National Archives of Luxembourg. The objects and documents displayed in the Aristides de Sousa Mendes exhibition have been graciously provided by the Portuguese government, the Sousa Mendes family, and numerous individual families rescued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes, including the Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg.
Learn more about the life and times of Sousa Mendes in the Exposition Aristides de Sousa Mendes at the National Archives of Luxembourg. The exhibition is open to all visitors until 22 February 2020, admission is free of charge and guided tours can be arranged.