Symposium: Portugal and The Jewish Refugee Crisis

For Immediate Release

Portugal and the Jewish Refugee Crisis of World War II
A Symposium/Film Screening
on Sunday, November 3, 2013 1:30-5:30 p.m.
Center for Jewish History

WHAT: A symposium about Portugal in the World War II era featuring the stories of refugees in Lisbon, a city of transit and intrigue, and Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who defied diplomatic orders to help rescue thousands of Jews. Leading scholars and experts discuss the plight of Jews who fled Nazi-occupied Europe into neutral Portugal. The program, which concludes with a showing of the 1994 film Lisbon: Harbour of Hope, is presented by the Center for Jewish History, Leo Baeck Institute, American Sephardi Federation, and the Sousa Mendes Foundation.
WHERE: The Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York City

Marion Kaplan, professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University, will speak about the day-to-day life of Jewish refugees in Lisbon during World War II, as well as the organizations that supported them.

Louis-Philippe Mendes, president, Sousa Mendes Foundation, and grandson of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, will speak about his family history and legacy.

Mordecai Paldiel, writer, former director, Department of the Righteous, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, and a leading scholar on the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust, will speak about Aristides de Sousa Mendes in the context of Holocaust rescue.

Margarida Ramalho, author of Lisbon: City During Wartime, speaking for the first time in New York City, will address the precarious political situation in Portugal during World War II.

Olivia Mattis, co-founder and past president, Sousa Mendes Foundation, and descendant of Jews who received visas, will act as moderator.


Sunday, November 3, 2013
1:30-3:30 p.m. Presentations followed by moderated conversation.
3:30-4:00 p.m. Refreshments
4:00-5:30 p.m. Film and discussion: Lisbon: Harbour of Hope


$20, general admission; $15, members of Center for Jewish History, Leo Baeck Institute, American Sephardi Federation, Sousa Mendes Foundation, seniors, students
Purchase tickets online at or by phone at 212-868-4444.
Sousa Mendes Foundation supporters and visa recipient families are eligible for the discounted rate. Enter ticket quantity in the line that says SMF Affiliate.

Tens of thousands of Jews fled Nazi-occupied Europe into neutral Portugal from June 1940 until the end of World War II. After harrowing journeys, many of these refugees found themselves in Lisbon. Situated at the edge of the Continent, it became a city of transit and intrigue, sheltering not only the refugees and the organizations that provided aid, but Allied and Axis coalitions, all of whom populated the cafes and public gathering places. Longing for loved ones left behind, harried and impoverished, the refugees stood on long lines begging for visas from any consulate that would listen, and awaited ship tickets to escape Europe. With others like them, they shared their worries, their previous lives, and their hopes, while fearing the Portuguese police that wanted them to move on, and marveling at the kindness of the Portuguese people. Among them, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a man whose moral courage issuing visas as Portuguese Consul-General stationed in Bordeaux won him the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

The Center for Jewish History is one of the foremost Jewish research and cultural institutions in the world, having served over one million people in more than 100 countries. It is home to five partner organizations—American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research—whose collections total more than 500,000 volumes and 100 million documents and include thousands of pieces of artwork, textiles, ritual objects, recordings, films and photographs. Taken as a whole, the collections span more than 700 years of history and comprise the largest and most comprehensive repository of the modern Jewish experience in the world.

The Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) is a research library and archive that contains the most significant collection of source material relating to the history of German-speaking Jewry, from its origins to its tragic destruction by the Nazis and continuing to the present day. Dating back almost 2,000 years, when Jews first settled along the Rhine, the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria, and other German-speaking areas of Europe had a history marked by individual as well as collective accomplishments. To appreciate the impact of German-speaking Jewry in modern times, one need only recall such names as Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Franz Kafka. Founded in 1955, the LBI was named for the rabbi who was the last leader of the Jewish community in Germany under the Nazis.

The American Sephardi Federation (ASF) was founded in 1973 and has worked to support, revitalize and strengthen American Sephardic communities. Sephardic House joined with ASF in 2002, creating one unified organization to preserve and support the rich cultural traditions, spirit and history of all Sephardic communities. ASF’s library and archives contain more than 8,500 cataloged books and thousands of archival documents, including materials from Spain, Portugal, the Middle East and North Africa. ASF has also amassed a collection of books and periodicals on Mizrahi Jews. Through its mission of preserving and promoting Sephardic heritage, ASF provides new and unparalleled insights into world cultures in which Sephardim have played a role.

Founded in 2010, the Sousa Mendes Foundation is dedicated to honoring the memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and to educating the public about refugees and rescue during the Holocaust. Named “Organization of the Year” in 2012 by The Portuguese Tribune, the Sousa Mendes Foundation is engaged in a worldwide search for families who escaped the Holocaust through Portugal. The Foundation has a twofold mission: raising funds for the creation of a Sousa Mendes Museum and Human Rights Center and sponsoring projects that teach the importance of moral courage in a civilized world.

Nicole Straus Public Relations
Nicole Straus, 631-369-2188, 917-744-1040,
Margery Newman, 212-475-0252,

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