Sunday, June 24, 2018

Deborah Bernick on "Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story"

The Sousa Mendes Story
Defying unjust laws in order to save the lives of refugees.

By Deborah Bernick

On June 21st, I saw a remarkable film – “DISOBEDIENCE: The Sousa Mendes Story” --about the extraordinary Portuguese Consul in France in 1940 named Aristides de Sousa Mendes. The showing was sponsored by the Portuguese Embassy in DC. TRY TO SEE IT! (details below)
Sousa Mendes personally issued thousands of transit visas which allowed an estimated 30,000 refugees, including Jews and others, to escape Nazi-controlled France and enter Spain & Portugal in order to board boats to freedom in North and South America. It was the largest diplomatic rescue mission of World War II. Descendants alive today number in the tens of thousands.
For his acts of conscience, Sousa Mendes was horribly punished by the dictator of Portugal, Antonio Salazar. Why? Because he had disobeyed an authoritarian leader in order to save the lives of foreigners of all social classes & religious backgrounds. !!!
Those he saved included the creators of Curious George (Margaret and H.A. Rey), artist Salvador Dali, actor Robert Montgomery, several Rothschilds, and members of the Habsburg royalty of Austria. Also, the actor Michel Gill (House of Cards) and two actors in the film Casablanca (Marcel Dalio and Madeleine Lebeau). 
Sousa Mendes never regretted his actions, though he was stripped of his diplomatic status and died in poverty. Many of those he rescued never knew the name of their savior until Yad Vashem in Israel recognized him as Righteous Amongst the Nations in 1966. He was an unsung Portuguese Wallenberg or Schindler. 
In the past two decades, the government of Portugal has begun celebrating Aristides de Sousa Mendes as a national hero, and his family home is in the process of being restored. But his story needs to be told much more broadly in the US, Europe, and the Americas. It is especially relevant today -- as we confront governmental restrictions on potential immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented entrants. 
My friend Larry Jarvik accompanied me to the film. His Dutch-Jewish mother Lissy received a Portuguese transit visa as a 16-year old stranded in France with her family in 1940. Larry and his mom (now 94) retraced her 1940 journey from France to Portugal on a “Journey on the Road to Freedom” trip sponsored by the Sousa Mendes Foundation. This 11-day trip from Bordeaux to Lisbon is open to Holocaust educators (broadly defined) and visa recipient families. It will next be held in June-July 2019.…/
CHECK OUT THE 4-MINUTE TRAILER FOR THE FILM. It’s quite gripping!…/ You can arrange showings at your synagogue, church, community group, college, ethnic or professional organization. (2009, French, with English subtitles). 
For background, email:  
And if you know anyone whose parents or grandparents got out of Europe via ships from Portugal to the US, Brazil, Panama or anywhere else during WWII -- the Foundation is doing exciting research to track down Sousa Mendes-visa descendants. Many have been found via and articles in local newspapers.