Passport with Life-Saving Visa Issued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Consul General for Portugal in Bordeaux, France
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a: ‘No. 3835’ ‘GOVERNMENT OF PALESTINE’ printed at top left corner with photograph of female at bottom left, signature below photograph. Multiple long strips of tape along seems. b: red wax seal with purple ribbon at top left.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:
Laura Glass and her daughter Mirjam received their visas from Aristides de Sousa Mendes, signed by his secretary José de Seabra, in Bordeaux on June 19, 1940. They had crossed the border into Spain December 27,1940 at Port-Bou exiting France at Cerbere. They entered Portugal December 31,1940, and arrived in Palestine May 31.
The Battle of France commenced May 10, 1940, the German blitzkrieg overwhelming Belgium, the Netherlands and France. Thousands of refugees, including Jews, streamed south in the hope of escaping France through the southern border into Spain, and then, hopefully armed with a life-saving transit visa, proceeding to Salazar’s Portugal, a neutral country. For Jews this journey would be a gateway to safety away from the clutches of Nazis and Milice collaborators bent on murdering them. From Portugal- if all went well-they could sail to the United States or South America or even Mandatory Palestine by ship. Some few desperate refugees might even attempt the harrowing, physically taxing remote mountain passes of the so-called Le Chemin de la Liberte’ or Freedom Trail, escaping by foot over the Pyrenees, the 300-mile border between France and Spain, negotiating the weather and rugged terrain to avoid deportation and death if discovered. The Salazar government was prepared to permit those passing through Portugal with transit visas to overseas destinations. The borders were closed, however, to those refugees-especially Jews and other stateless persons- without such visas “who could not freely return to their country of origin”. The Portuguese government had instructed its consular service accordingly in what is known as “Circular 14.”
Approximately 30,000 refugees -among them more than 10,000 Jews- were stranded in Bordeaux without the requisite visa. Belgian Rabbi Haim Kruger- himself a refugee -prevailed upon Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Consul General for Portugal in Bordeaux, to issue visas to the refugee Jews, but Mendes was initially reluctant to break the rules laid out in Circular 14. He willingly offered the life-saving visa to Rabbi Kruger and his family, but the Rabbi refused unless all the needy were served. That refusal created a crisis of conscience for Sousa Mendes, a devout Catholic. In this moment the Rabbi had inspired a sense of humanitarian responsibility, and De Sousa-Mendes ‘initial reluctance gave way to a fervid sense of duty and responsibility to all the needy.
Thus began the process of issuing visas for all in need regardless of the distinctions made in Circular 14, which would be tantamount to an outright defiance of the dictator Salazar. Assisted by family members, his secretary Jose de Seabra, Rabbi Kruger, and others, the visas were developed and handed to the refugees. There is a dispute about the exact number issued- numbers vary anywhere from the hundred’s to 10,000 to 30,000 in all. De Seabra himself participated in stamping and writing the visas, and believed that the number of visas issued was in the hundreds, while others believe that as many as 10, 000 were written for Jews alone. But not just Jews. Sousa Mendes saved the entire Habsburg family, including the crown prince and Empress. He created visas for the Belgian cabinet in exile. Thousands of Portuguese visas were created between June 17 and 19.
Sousa Mendes continued to issue passports even after the German army entered Bordeaux. When Jews fled to Bayonne and Hendaye he instructed the Portuguese consul in Bayonne to issue visas. And at Hendaye he conducted refugees himself across the border checkpoint on the Spanish frontier.
Sousa Mendes left Bordeaux on July 8 and returned to Lisbon. For his activities on behalf of refugees- in violation of the orders and policies of the Salazar government- he was summarily dismissed from the consular service and denied retirement benefits. He died in poverty in Lisbon in 1954. To the end both Da Sousa and Salazar were unrepentant. On October 18,1966 Yad Vashem recognized Aristides de Sousa Mendes as Righteous Among the Nations.
13 1/4 x 8 3/8"
Laura Glass, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Circular 14, Salazar Antonio
"Passport with Life-Saving Visa Issued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Consul General for Portugal in Bordeaux, France" (1940). Bulmash Family Holocaust Collection. 2022.1.19ab.