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Aristides de Sousa Mendes
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    (July 19, 1885-April 3, 1954)
    Born in Cabanas de Viriato, Portugal
    Portuguese consul-general in Bordeaux, France (1938-40)
    In defiance of government orders, issued passports and visas to thousands of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and occupied Europe
    Punished by being suspended for a year on half pay
    He and his twin brother had different birthdays. (He was born just after midnight, his brother just before.)
    While consul in San Francisco, he banned notaries at the consulate from providing any services unless the local Portuguese-American community contributed to a charity he favored. The conflict eventually led to the US government revoking his consular privileges (1923).
    He suffered a nervous breakdown after his pregnant mistress confronted him and his family (June, 1940).
    A year after his wife’s death, he married his mistress (1949), alienating his children.
    When he ran into financial trouble, he wrote to some of the people he had helped during WWII and asked for money. (He got 30,000 escudos from Maurice de Rothschild.)
    The government of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar refused to acknowledge his achievements, so he remained little known in his country until decades after his death.
    There have been suggestions that the figures usually cited for the number of refugees he gave visas to – 30,000 people, 10,000 of them Jewish – were exaggerated, possibly by as much as a factor of ten.
    He said about his decision to issue visas to refugees without government approval, ‘I would rather stand with God and against man than with man and against God.’
    He was the first diplomat recognized as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Israel (1966).
    His punishment was posthumously reversed by a unanimous vote of Parliament (1988).
    Portuguese President Mario Soares called him ‘Portugal’s greatest hero of the 20th century.’

Credit: C. Fishel

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