Portugal honoured today the diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes (1985-1954) in the presentation of an exhibition at the headquarters of the United Nations (UN) in New York dedicated to diplomats considered ‘Righteous Among the Nations’.
The exhibited at the UN headquarters, entitled ‘Beyond Duty’, pays tribute to the Portuguese Aristides de Sousa Mendes and seven other international diplomats, considered to be ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by the Holocaust Memorial Center, Yad Vashem, for helping to save thousands of Jews during World War II.
At the ceremony were heard speeches by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Portuguese diplomats Francisco Duarte Lopes, Portugal’s permanent representative to the UN and Maria de Fátima Mendes, Portugal’s consul general in New York and a relative of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
The event was organized jointly by the UN representative missions of Portugal, Israel and Peru to commemorate the international day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, which was marked on 27 January.
Holocaust survivors and family members of the victims were also present, including the spokesman for Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric, who was thrilled to honour the presence of the guests, including his mother, who was able to save himself. his family, as a child, with visas granted by the Portuguese Aristides de Sousa Mendes, to leave Europe for the United States of America.
In his speech, António Guterres highlighted the discrimination against minorities, anti-Semitism and hate crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred in the history of World War II, showing humanity’s capacity for indifference to suffering.
The UN Secretary-General said diplomats have a “moral duty to enforce the rule of law” and “democratic values” and to defend, “with compassion,” all human beings.
The international community must “keep fresh” the memory of the Holocaust, just like the memories the victims will never forget, said Guterres, urging that human rights and education institutions serve the Jewish community and the entire world population.
The ambassador of Portugal to the United Nations, Francisco Duarte Lopes, used the phrase of Aristides de Sousa Mendes – “I prefer to be with God against men, than with men against God” – to refer to a value that ” must be at the centre of all religions “of loving others as oneself.
Francisco Duarte Lopes spoke of the prevailing uncertainty about diplomacy, which can not predict “if we are ever faced with similar circumstances.”
The exhibition “Beyond Duty” is proof that in the face of hatred, there are values of tolerance and help that are imposed, which characterized the people remembered in the exhibition, said the permanent representative of Portugal to the UN.
Maria de Fátima Mendes, the Portuguese consul-general and granddaughter of a cousin of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, paid a public tribute during the ceremony, praising the “difficult choice between the duties of a diplomat and the personal duties of a human being”, to save thousands of people.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the first diplomat recognized by the Yad Vashem Center as’ Just Between the Nations’ in 1966, was consul in Bordeaux, France, having given visas to thousands of Jews who were trying to escape and thus took the decision to ‘disobey the explicit instructions of his government, “led by António de Oliveira Salazar, the second describes the exhibition.
“Around 15,000 to 20,000 Jewish refugees were able to enter Portugal and Jewish organizations in Lisbon, such as the Joint, HIAS-HICEM and the Jewish Agency facilitated the departure of the refugees. In 1943-1944, Portugal rescued several hundred Portuguese Jews from Greece and France, but did not help 4,303 Dutch Jews of Portuguese origin, who were consequently deported to extermination camps, “it can be read in one of the panels installed at the entrance of the UN headquarters.
The ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ is non-Jewish citizens officially recognized by Yad Vashem, the institution of the Israeli government, as heroes of the Holocaust, who helped save Jews from genocide.
Yad Vashem is the institution of the government of Israel constituted to honour the memory of the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Sampaio Garrido, José Brito Mendes and Joaquim Carreira are the four Portuguese distinguished by Yad Vashem, among more than 25 thousand names engraved in the Memorial of the Just, in Jerusalem.