Thursday, October 28, 2004

ASM (and the Portie Pipeline)

Picture this. A restaurant, rather famous in Lisbon. Noisy, packed with people, filled with food smoke and smells and loud, gesticulating voices (yes, we do manage THAT). Gorgeous passion fruit mousse. A very friendly place, you’ll agree. But maybe an unlikely place to honour a man who was one of the greatest heroes this country ever saw, wouldn'y you say? And yet...

José Manuel Cabral was the President of the Portuguese Amnesty chapter then. He, alone, is enough for several posts. Zé Manel was bigger than life, metaphorically and literally. He was tremendously fat. TREMENDOUSLY. He drew people to him, he unified Amnesty and made it work like never before and never since. Amnesty was his home, his passion, his family almost. He was mad about whisky and ALL FOOD. Tuna was a much beloved friend. He smoked a disgusting pipe that left an unbearable pong in my car for days. He cursed like a whole ship of demented drunken copped-up-for-too-long sailors ALL THE TIME, occasionally creating new expressions that are still in use. We once had a meeting at the House of Timor-Lorosae and someone’s mother was present. Ladies in the room caused him to abstain from swearing but it was a Herculean task. He started fidgeting. And sweating. He looked... diminished. There we all sat and he was talking. He really became excited about what he was saying and ended the sentence with “and that’s why we really must support this bloody shit - a thousand apologies, my dear madam.” His way was unique and quite often unorthodox. He looked adorable when he had his beard trimmed and wore a lovely blue button-up shirt. He died on a pavement while I was in Israel when his heart rebelled against all that weight. I was mad about him. We all were.

So, Zé Manel-like, he decided to hold a session in honour of Aris*ides de Sou*a Men*es [sorry, am trying to avoid Portie searches, missing letters: T, S, D] in that restaurant. It’s a very Portie thing to do, restaurants. We sit, people sloooooooooowly arrive (Porties are NOT known for being punctual, sadly), we eat, we talk for hours, the sun rises. António de Monforte, ASM’s grandson was there (the family lives now all over the world since ASM was brutally kicked out of the country). Zé Manel gave him an engraved plaque in honour of his grandfather and said some words. António de Monforte accepted it and said some words. He was visibly moved. I was too. Much like yesterday, I was biting my bottom lip to stop me from crying (usually works). After a while he had to leave and I ran after him. I told him his grandfather was one of my heroes, one of those people I would most certainly have to meet if we could travel in time. I thanked him because I could not thank his granddad. I told him it had nothing to do with my Jewish connection. It doesn’t, for the most part. It mostly has to do with the fact that I am so proud to call him ours. I am in awe of such people, people who risk everything they have, their families, their lives to do what is right, what should be immediate and so often isn’t. I believe they are winged, like dragons. In the end we both cried a bit but it wasn’t soppy. It was grateful. For me, because I could say to his grandson some of what I’d love to say to him. For him, because his granddad had suffered very much, and the whole family with him, and their lives had been irrevocably changed so he could do what needed to be done and it was still worth it, we knew, we KNEW, someone will always know. ASM may be dead but he is not unsung nor will he ever be. [UPDATE: see another reason why.]

I miss those I love today, even those I've never met. I miss their greatness so much.


From the Yad Vashem site:

June 2000 marked the 60th anniversary of a massive rescue operation which took place in Bordeaux, France, and was orchestrated by ASM. He was born in 1895 into an aristocratic Portuguese family. His father was a Supreme Court judge. A. chose for himself a diplomatic career. After filling posts in various capitals (the United States and Europe), he became the Portuguese consul-general in Bordeaux, France. In May 1940, with the onset of the German invasion of France and the Low countries, thousands of refugees headed for Bordeaux, hoping to cross into Spain, in advance of the conquering German army. Included among the many who feared the wrath of the Nazis because of previous anti-Nazi political stances, were to be counted thousands of Jews who hoped to transit via Spain and Portugal, in the hope of reaching a safe haven across the seas, far from the Germans and their pronounced antisemitic policies. At this critical juncture, the Portuguese government, headed by dictator Antonio Salazar (who also filled in as Foreign Minister), forbade the issuance of Portuguese transit visas to all refugees, and particularly to Jews. This virtually also closed the Spanish border to the refugees. Against the grim background of France on the verge of collapse, and with the Germans within striking distance of Bordeaux, in mid-June 1940, Consul-General Mendes came face-to-face with the fleeing Jews, who pressured him to urgently issue them Portuguese transit visas. Rabbi Haim Kruger, one of the refugees, told Mendes: “If we should be trapped here, I don’t know what will happen to us.” The rabbi rejected Mendes’ initial offer to issue visas only to the rabbi and his family, insisting that visas also be issued to the thousands of Jews stranded on the streets of the city. After further reflection, Mendes reversed himself and decided to grant visas to all persons requesting it. “I sat with him a full day without food and sleep and helped him stamp thousands of passports with Portuguese visas,” Rabbi Kruger relates. To his staff, Mendes explained: “My government has denied all applications for visas to any refugees. But I cannot allow these people to die. Many are Jews and our constitution says that the religion, or politics, of a foreigner shall not be used to deny him refuge in Portugal. I have decided to follow this principle. I am going to issue a visa to anyone who asks for it – regardless of whether or not he can pay... Even if I am dismissed, I can only act as a Christian, as my conscience tells me.” It was an unseemly sight as people of all ages, including pregnant women and sick persons, waited in line to have their passports stamped with the Portuguese visa. The reaction of the Portuguese government was not long in waiting. Two emissaries were dispatched to accompany home the insubordinate diplomat. On their way to the Spanish border, the entourage stopped at the Portuguese consulate in Bayonne. Here too, Mendes, still the official representative of his country for this region, issued visas to fleeing Jewish refugees, again in violation of instructions from Lisbon. It is estimated that the number of visas issued by Mendes runs into the thousands. To his aides, he stated: “My desire is to be with God against man, rather than with man against God.”

Upon his return to Portugal, Mendes was summarily dismissed from the diplomatic services and a disciplinary board also ordered the suspension of all retirement and severance benefits. He countered with appeals to the government, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly for a new hearing of his case – but to no avail. Bereft of any income, and with a family of 13 children to feed, Mendes was forced to sell his estate in Ca*anas de Viria*o [B, T]. When he died in 1954, he had been reduced to poverty. Two of his children were helped by the Jewish welfare organization Hias to relocate to the United States. In 1966, he was posthumously awarded the title of “Righteous Among the Nations,” by Yad Vashem, and a tree planted in his name in the Avenue of the Righteous. In 1987, President Mario Soares of Portugal awarded Mendes the Order of Liberty, and publicly apologized to his family for the injustice against the man perpetrated by the previous government. Finally, in March 1988, ASM was official restored to the diplomatic corps by unanimous vote in the Portuguese National Assembly. Recently, the Portuguese government decided to create a memorial and learning center in the name of Mendes, and ordered damages to be paid to his family. In 1988, Mendes was awarded the Israeli commemorative citizenship, and in 1998, his name and picture appeared, together with other diplomats recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous, on a special stamp issued by the Israel Philatelic service.

After his dismissal, Mendes reportedly told Rabbi Kruger (whom he met again in Lisbon): “If thousands of Jews can suffer because of one Catholic (i.e., Hitler), then surely it is permitted for one Catholic to suffer for so many Jews.” He added: “I could not have acted otherwise, and I therefore accept all that has befallen me with love.”

Copyright ©2004 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority


At 29/10/04 01:22, Blogger Dale said...

Hell, I'm in tears just reading about it.

At 29/10/04 06:16, Blogger brooksba said...


Again, much thanks for sharing this. I appreciate each and every post that is filled with such bravery and goodness.

I had never heard about Mendes before and I am thankful to have read this post and the work you found on the Yad Vashem site.

There is power in one. The power to change the course of thousands of lives and to change the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you. More people need to see this and understand what one man risked to help so many. I have added a new hero to my list of admired people.


At 29/10/04 14:11, Blogger notgeert said...


Though I'm not the first to say it, I'd like to thank you for the post on Mendes. He really is a hero, but it's very strange to live in Portugal and see so many people who don't know about him... one of the greatest Portuguese people in history.

When I was in Yad Vashem (I think it was in 1999) I visited his tree. I was glad to see that the stone I placed beside it was far from the first.

This summer I went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, where I proudly stood by the small memorial in Mendes' honour, telling my friends of the great man.

Oh well, I'm rambling... again. Thanks for spreading the word.
Sorry for calling you Nala ;)

At 29/10/04 15:31, Blogger The Lioness said...

Geerts: it is isn't it. The Porties and their selective reality. Good for you, Dutchboy - and for us. (It's ok, just don't repeat it. It's naff. ;))

At 29/10/04 21:31, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow again. I am very impressed with this. This is wonderful. Thank you for bring this personal touch to these men. I'm enjoying it greatly.

At 12/4/05 15:17, Blogger Yael K said...

Thank you Lioness! And can I just say that your writing, much like Lisa's, transports you to the place and the people you are writing about and makes the scene so vividly alive. You have a very real and rare talent!

At 13/4/05 11:54, Blogger Flávio said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Lioness. I am Portuguese and immensely proud of our consul in Bordeaux and his heroic actions. In fact, I'm presently writing an essay on the subject. Sadly, many of my countrymen still don't know who Mendes was and what he did. Nevertheless, things have improved A LITTLE BIT in the last years and there have been many tributes paid to this great hero.

And yes, you are absolutely right: we, the Portuguese, are never on time and we have great restaurants here.

For more on Aristides de Sousa Mendes, I recommend you read Fralon's excellent biography: A Good Man In Evil Times.

At 28/4/05 19:26, Anonymous janine said...

i must agree with flavio, i have just read a good man in evil times. what a sin it is that a man whom followed his conscience to die in such poverty. we will always remember aristides with much pride and for the ending of the above book says.whereas the memory of the dictator has faded away and is now reduced to a few lines in the history books, the memory of the man he hounded so vindictively is now honoured throughout the world.

At 5/5/05 02:12, Blogger Kristin said...

Thank you...I have read so much about the Holocaust but somehow had missed reading this incredible story. Thank you.

At 5/5/05 03:15, Blogger Eliyahu said...

Lioness, beautiful soul you, thanks for sharing with us this moving display of rightousness.

At 5/5/05 08:43, Blogger brooksba said...


It's just as beautiful reading it again and again. As before, I did appreciate this post. I miss you.


At 5/5/05 18:42, Blogger CarpeDM said...

I enjoyed reading this again. It's more powerful to me now that I've been to Portugal and may have walked down the same streets that he walked down.

I miss you. Hey, we've raised $3.59 for your trip to Minnesota. That's impressive, right?

At 9/6/05 10:48, Anonymous mas said...

see testimonial about Sousa Mendes
we need to remember his example every day

At 25/6/05 22:50, Blogger treppenwitz said...

Thank you again for sharing the link to this entry. I was very moved.

At 15/7/05 17:24, Anonymous said...

Today I stood at the display honoring Mendes at Yad Vashem, and I wept. My family received one of the 10,000 visas issues by Mendes in defiance of his orders from Portugal. His resolve to do what is right in the face of evil, at great personal cost, enable my family to escape Europe, to escape certain death. I am alive because of the bravery and decency and goodness of this man. Are there words of gratitude possible to express what I am feeling?

At 27/1/06 09:33, Blogger Micas10 said...

Sobre Sousa Mendes, favor acompanhar através do blog da aldeia de Angelina Sousa Mendes, Beijós XXI

Sousa Mendes museum project is moving ahead, but needs our help !

In 2005, the Foundation Aristides de Sousa Mendes achieved some important milestones and more are expected in 2006, with the help of all who wish to honour the heroic actions of Aristides e Angelina de Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux in 1940.

Ø The Sousa Mendes family mansion in Cabanas de Viriato, Carregal do Sal was classified as a Portuguese National Monument on 3-February-2005. It is owned by the Foundation which has plans to restore and transform into a museum.

Ø UNESCO honoured Aristides de Sousa Mendes as part of its 60th anniversary whose theme was Peace among Peoples, Dialog among Civilizations and Respect for Cultural Diversity with two concerts in Paris, on 11-May and 10-November 2005, part of the proceeds being donated to the Foundation.

Ø On 19-July-2005, the Foundation signed a Protocol with the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs under which it is to receive annual support for the development of the Museum and of a Center for the Study of Human Rights.

Ø Aristides de Sousa Mendes was honoured by PALCUS Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States, in Newark, New Jersey on 12-November-2005.

Ø The General Directorate for National Monuments (DGEMN) is elaborating a preliminary study for the restoration of the Sousa Mendes house and the creation of the museum.

The year of 2006 will be important for the development of the museum project and the necessary fund raising. The Sousa Mendes Foundation has a rich moral heritage in moral terms, but needs our material assistance to establish a fitting and living memorial of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and his exemplary and altruistic actions.

Donations to the Foundation are exempt from income tax in Portugal under the Lei do Mecenato, and may be made by money transfer or check sent by mail, together with name, address and tax number for the respective receipt to:

Fundação Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Rua Augusto Rosa, 66, 2Dto

1100-059 Lisboa, PORTUGAL

Tel: (351) 218 879 090

Bank: Montepio Geral

NIB 0036 0185 9910 005 22121

IBAN: PT50 0036 0185 9910 005 22121


At 27/1/06 16:01, Blogger Sandra Feliciano said...


Wonderfull post on ASM, congratulations!

You are also right on most things you say about "Porties", but just keep in mind one important detail: Porties do not have "a selective reality" because they want to, but because our suposedley "democratic" government is probably not so democratic as it seems to the outside world.

Fortunately, internet is changing this state of things, at least to the new generations. We can now dismiss the manipulated information that is served to us by the TV's and newspapers and sort it out on our own at different sources, to get a much clear and complete picture about reality.

Anyway, thank you for spreading the word. I am doing it too, in Portuguese language.



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