The EJC held an event honouring the Portuguese Righteous Among the Nations Aristides De Sousa Mendes together with the Portuguese Socialist Party Delegation to the European Parliament at Cinema Galleries in Brussels.
The event entitled “Tribute to Aristides de Sousa Mendes. L’Heritage d’Aristides” followed a decision by the Portuguese Parliament to grant Aristides de Sousa Mendes National Pantheon honours on June 9 2020, and a ceremony in Lisbon as his tomb was placed alongside other celebrated figures from Portuguese history on October 19 2021.
EJC Executive Vice President and CEO Raya Kalenova delivered remarks at the event on behalf of the EJC. She was joined by the President of the Portuguese Socialist Delegation in the European Parliament MEP Carlos Zorrinho, the President of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament MEP Iratxe García-Perez, MEP Isabel Santos, MEP Manuel Pizzarro and Hilda de Vleeschauwer, a survivor saved by the actions of Mr. De Sousa Mendes.
During her remarks, Ms Kalenova stressed the importance of the Righteous Among the Nations to the Jewish people and the value of learning from their stories.
“For the members of our Jewish communities, many of whom are survivors and descendants of survivors of the Holocaust, the greatest tragedy in our European history, the Righteous Among the Nations and their deeds are very close to our hearts. Even more so, it is through their courage and heroism that many of us are in this world. And the most courageous thing about their stories is to do the right thing regardless of personal cost.”
“Aristides de Sousa Mendes acted in a climate of fear, indifference, denunciation & collaboration with Nazism, at a time when the Nazi victory seemed unstoppable. Most of the Jews who in 1940 managed to cross the Pyrenees to the border with Portugal did so thanks to Sousa Mendes”
“The legacy of Aristides de Sousa Mendes is that courage and respect for the sanctity of human life must prevail in the face of adversity. It is up to all of us to follow our conscience and stand up against injustice, against antisemitism, racism and all forms of hatred.”
The event concluded with a screening of the documentary “The Legacy of Aristides” (2020) by Patrick Séraudie, which explores the acts of resistance and the subsequent retribution exacted upon Sousa Mendes by the Portuguese government for his heroic acts.
As the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux in 1940, Sousa Mendes found himself continually more restricted by the policies of Portugal’s dictator Salazar. When the Portuguese government denied visas to the swelling number of refugees entering Portugal because of their religion and perceived race, Sousa Mendes began his first acts of disobedience.
Over a period of six months, and following his own conscience, Sousa Mendes signed thousands of visas that spared the lives of an estimated 30.000 people, including 10.000 ten thousand Jews.
The event was honoured by the presence of H.E. Amb. Emmanuel Nahshon, Ambassador of the State of Israel to the Kingdom of Belgium.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portugal's consul-general in Bordeaux, defied his government's instructions and issued visas to Jews to save them from the Nazis.
Today, the Portuguese Parliament will be granting National Pantheon honours to him. His heroism must never be forgotten. pic.twitter.com/DqBNAQT4EG
— European Jewish Congress (@eurojewcong) October 19, 2021