A bipartisan resolution was introduced recently by Congressman Jim Costa to honor the life and legacy of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a distinguished Portuguese diplomat who saved the lives of nearly 30,000 people from the Holocaust. 

Costa, whose district includes Gustine, is co-chair of the Portuguese American Caucus. 

“Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a great hero of World War ll, and is believed to have conducted the largest rescue by a single individual during the Holocaust.” said Costa. “He followed his conscious and risked everything to save thousands of people. His act of heroism inspires us protect the dignity of others, especially those seeking refuge.”

Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches (July 18, 1885 – April 3, 1954) was the Portuguese consul stationed in Bordeaux, France during World War ll. Despite strict limitations on visa processing for refugees, Sousa Mendes issued nearly 30,000 Portuguese visas to French Jews and other vulnerable people fleeing Nazi persecution in 1940.   

In July 1940, the Government of Portugal under Oliveira Salazar responded by recalling Sousa Mendes and later dismissing him from active diplomatic service. He was also subjected to economic retribution and subsequent ostracism. 

In 1941, Sousa Mendes explained, “In truth, I disobeyed, but my disobedience does not dishonor me. I chose to defy an order that to me represented the persecution of true castaways who sought with all their strength to be saved from Hitler's wrath. Above the order, for me, was God's law, and that's the one I have always sought to adhere to without hesitation. The true lesson of Christianity is to love one's neighbor.”

In 1995, the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, posthumously bestowed Portugal’s highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Liberty, on Sousa Mendes. On Oct. 19, Sousa Mendes was laid to rest in the National Pantheon in Lisbon.