June 1940 — a refugee crisis of historic proportions. Paris is occupied. Millions of refugees fleeing the advancing Nazi troops rush to Bordeaux, in the South of France. A veritable sea of humanity comes seeking passage to England, Spain, Portugal, and, by these routes, to America.
An anxious crowd surrounds the Consulate of Portugal, an officially ‘neutral’ nation. The Portuguese Consul is a man named Aristides de Sousa Mendes. But Portugal’s Prime Minister Salazar has forbidden its diplomats to open Portugal’s borders to ‘undesirables’ –specifically Jews, refugees from occupied countries, and ‘stateless’ persons.
The Consul, plunged into a moral crisis, takes to his bed for three days. Should he disobey, and thus jeopardize his career and the safety of his family? When he emerges from his room his hair has turned white. But his face is calm as he announces his decision: he will issue visas to anyone who asks!
Sousa Mendes mobilizes the last few people remaining at the consulate to prepare visas night and day, signing thousands of passports. Pursued by the secret police, he continues to aid refugees at the Spanish border. It is estimated that he granted visas to as many as 30,000 people, 10,000 of them Jews.
He is recalled to Lisbon, and punished for his disobedience. After the war, he dies in poverty and disgrace.
This remarkable true story has been described by historians as ‘the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.’
Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Consul of Bordeaux…