Mendes, Aristides de Sousa

(1885-1954)
   Career Portuguese diplomat whose extraordinary assistance to Jewish and other refugees in 1940 France led to his career's ruin, but posthumous fame and recognition. A conventional member of Portugal's governing elite and devoutly Catholic, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was educated like his twin brother, who was also a diplomat, at Coimbra University. He entered Portugal's foreign service, consular track, in 1910 and served in a variety of posts in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. Less successful as a diplomat than his brother César, who briefly served as foreign minister and attained the rank of ambassador, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was assigned to be Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France, in 1938. When thousands of desperate refugees fleeing the German armies poured into Sousa Mendes's consulate in June 1940, Lisbon ordered him to cease signing visas to enter Portugal.
   Defying his superiors' orders, Sousa Mendes signed perhaps as many as 20,000-30,000 visas, after deciding not to charge fees to applicants. Because of his action in Bordeaux and at the Franco-Spanish frontier, where he also assisted refugees to escape the Nazi terror, Sousa Mendes was dismissed from his post and recalled to Lisbon. Following his suspension from service and the granting of a minuscule pension, the former diplomat and his family fell into poverty and obscurity. Through the efforts of his family and helpful foreign diplomats, Israel in 1967 declared Sousa Mendes a Hero of Conscience of World War II and a Righteous Gentile. In the 1980s, Portugal's government officially rehabilitated and recognized posthumously this obscure but heroic figure, and his deeds were celebrated in books, journals, newspaper articles, and TV films.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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