SOUSA MENDES FOUNDATION RECEIVES GRANT FROM THE CONFERENCE ON JEWISH MATERIAL CLAIMS AGAINST GERMANY
Monday, December 9, 2013.—The Sousa Mendes Foundation has been awarded a $25,000 grant by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also known as the Claims Conference, to pursue research on refugees fleeing Nazi-controlled Europe in 1940 for Portugal.
The Foundation is dedicated to honoring the memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who rescued thousands of refugees by issuing them Portuguese visas, enabling them to transit Spain and reach Portugal and freedom. Mr. Sousa Mendes, who was the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux, defied his government’s orders in issuing the visas. He was recalled to Lisbon, stripped of his diplomatic status and blacklisted. His act of conscience was characterized by the historian Yehuda Bauer as “perhaps the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.”
Founded in 2010, the Sousa Mendes Foundation is engaged in a worldwide search for recipients of these life-saving visas. It received the Claims Conference grant in support of this work.
“Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a courageous and sympathetic man who used his influential government position to save thousands of Jewish lives,” said Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman. “We proudly support an organization that was co-founded by descendants of the rescuer and those he rescued. What a testament to the circle of life.”
“Our efforts to research and document what happened to the visa recipients will be greatly enhanced by the grant we have been awarded by the Claims Conference,” said Louis-Philippe Mendes, President of the Sousa Mendes Foundation and grandson of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. “Each one of these stories is further proof that the Holocaust is undeniable and that acts of rescue were necessary.”
An international team led by Dr. Olivia Mattis, co-founder of the Sousa Mendes Foundation, is conducting the Foundation’s research. The Foundation’s publishing and exhibition programs are also covered by the Claims Conference grant. In addition, the Foundation is raising funds for the creation of a Sousa Mendes Museum and Site of Conscience. The Sousa Mendes Foundation was named “Organization of the Year” in 2012 by The Portuguese Tribune.
In June 1940, as the Germans advanced south toward Bordeaux, many thousands of refugees crowded the street in front of the Portuguese consulate in that city. They were of many nationalities: mostly Belgian, French, Czech, German, Polish and Russian. The Consul was committed to helping every refugee who asked for a visa regardless of religion and nationality.
Most refugees who received the visas were able to reach Portugal and then final destinations in the United States, South America and elsewhere. Others were blocked from leaving French soil and subsequently found other escape routes, endured Nazi occupation, or were deported to concentration camps. The Sousa Mendes Foundation aims to find these families wherever they ended up and document their fate.
Sousa Mendes died in 1954 in poverty and disgrace. In 1966, he was among the first to be awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust authority. He was reinstated in Portugal’s diplomatic corps by an act of parliament in 1987.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) represents world Jewry in negotiating compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. The Claims Conference administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property, and allocates monies to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and that preserve the memory and lessons of the Shoah.
For more information please contact Jane Friedman, Director of Media Relations, Sousa Mendes Foundation at: firstname.lastname@example.org.