VAN ESSO, Naatje née CATS (Visa # 1300 – age 65)
VECHT, Aron/Harry (Visa # 1308 – age 24)
VECHT, Benno (Visa # 1302 – age 19)
VECHT, Bernardine (Visa # 1307 – age 27)
VECHT, Marguerite (Visa # 1309 – age 26)
VECHT, Mathilde (Visa # 1311 – age 52)
VECHT, Moses (Visa # 1310 – age 58)
VECHT, Sophia/Sientje née VAN ESSO (Visa # 1299 – age 39)
VECHT, Victor (Visa # 1301 – age 44)
The above visas were issued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux on June 11, 1940. Several of these had previously been explicitly denied by Salazar, the Portuguese head of state.
The VECHT family did not use the visas to cross into Portugal, but sailed to the United Kingdom on the vessel Madura. Some family members eventually settled in Australia. Nora FREUDMANN, sister of Moses and Victor VECHT, crossed into Portugal and may have been the recipient of a visa authorized by Sousa Mendes or his subordinates.
Testimonial of Irene Bluston
My name is Irene Bluston née Bryk and my maternal family name is VECHT. Until a few weeks ago I had never heard the name ‘Aristides de Sousa Mendes’ until my cousin Paul Freudman wrote to me about this absolutely amazing and courageous man and his heroic deed of issuing exit visas from war torn Europe, and in particular to Jews, contrary to his government’s orders.
My family, that is my mother Bernardine, her sister Marguerite, brother Harry, and their parents Mathilda (née Benveniste) and Moses had fled the day the Germans entered Belgium where they were living in Brussels. My mother was in fact due to marry my father Maurice on that very day. Together with my grandfather’s youngest brother Victor, his wife Sini and her mother, they all took their autos and started the long journey fleeing southwards, joining huge convoys of other refugees. Along the route many times they had to jump for their lives out of the car and hide in the ditches whilst the Luftwaffe strafed these long lines. Other times they took refuge in fields, barns or outhouses as allowed by kindly farmers, but the story as told to me by my mother was of a horrific journey of fear and terror of being killed or captured at any time. My mother and father had left each other without any knowledge that they would ever be reunited – but that is another whole story.
When they eventually came to Bordeaux, my mother, sister, brother and grandmother all had British passports – but my grandfather Moses did not have his. He was told he could not board the very last boat to England the ‘S.S Madura’. This ship had accommodation for only 200 people and only 8 lifeboats. Whilst sitting in the British consulate in despair, an Englishman who happened to be there said “Monty (that was the name he was called by many) what are you doing here?” and when he vouched that he knew my grandfather who had served with him in the Essex Regiment in the British Army in the first world war, in his regiment, they issued him with his precious British passport.
Vic meanwhile had obtained precious visas from the Portugese consulate. It was then learned that the Spanish frontier had been closed and that he must have decided to also join the others boarding the Madura crammed in with 2,000 souls. The story goes on as the accompanying ship was bombed and all aboard perished whilst the Madura had many, many times to perform ‘zig zag’ manouveres to avoid torpedoes which were launched at them.
My mother and father were reunited purely by a miraculous chance here in the UK – a one in a million fact that my father, who fled with no papers, had kept only the photo of my mother, his fiancée, and showed it to a volunteer visitor who was visiting displaced persons camps looking for Jews all over England and who of course recognised my mother his cousin – he reunited them, they got married here in London and with the bombs falling – the rest is history.
Now I know about Aristides de Sousa Mendes I know his intervention and bravery must certainly have played a crucial part in the fact that I am, thank G-d, able to relate some of what occurred to our family at that terrible time.
Testimonial of Alexandra Morris
Expressing myself here is quite difficult, I’m Australian, and in my and my parents lifetime we’ve only experienced peace and freedom from persecution. That I wouldn’t be here to appreciate it without the actions of one man, is almost beyond comprehension.
Tonight, as my kids run around the house, free and loved, I think how lucky we are, that there are people like Aristides de Sousa Mendes. It is a blessing from God, and his courageous, selfless actions have not only personally given me so much, but offer so much to a world where it seems self interest often override humanitarianism.
I will tell my kids the story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes when they are old enough to hear it, and we as a family will never forget all he gave us.