Portuguese diplomat who saved thousands during the Holocaust honored with a place in Jerusalem

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(JTA) — A plaza in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood is named after Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who saved thousands of lives during the Holocaust but spent the rest of his life as a social outcast.

“This little corner of Jerusalem, the Eternal City, now bears the name of a hero,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion announced at a ceremony last week. “Think of the thousands of people who will pass through here every day. Many of them, perhaps, Jews who were saved through the bravery of Ambassador Sousa Mendes.

Sousa Mendes served as consul in Bordeaux in 1940 and issued visas to around 10,000 Jewish refugees when the Nazis took over Europe. Risking danger to himself and his family, Sousa Mendes saved around 30,000 people in total despite Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar’s “Circular 14” decree, which prohibited Portuguese diplomats from issuing visas to Jews.

Mendes was recognized by a monument in Lisbon in 2020 and a plane named after him in 2014, but his actions were not widely recognized during his lifetime. He was recalled to Lisbon during the war, blacklisted and then fell into poverty. The Jewish community in Lisbon fed him and his family in their community soup kitchen.

“He lost everything,” Olivia Mattis, president of the Sousa Mendes Foundation and descendant of one of those he rescued, told The Times of Israel.

Mendes was posthumously recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations – a title conferred on behalf of the State of Israel by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

“Paying homage to this man today is an opportunity to look within ourselves in search of values ​​of peace, love, humanity and compassion for one another,” said Jorge Cabral, Portuguese ambassador to Israel, during the naming ceremony of the square.

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