LA Jews honor ex-diplomat who saved 10K from Holocaust

Julie Wiener

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Los Angeles Jews are celebrating the life and moral courage of a devout Catholic with the world premiere of an oratorio and an exhibit honoring the late diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes.

In 1940, Mendes, who was serving as Portugal’s consul general in Bordeaux, France, saved the lives of some 10,000 Jewish refugees by issuing entry visas to his country.

He did so in defiance of his government and paid for his humanitarian “disobedience” by losing his position and standing and dying in poverty. Descendants of Jews, and of some 20,000 non-Jews similarly saved by Sousa Mendes, will attend a series of special events organized by the Sousa Mendes Foundation and coordinated with International Holocaust Memorial Day.

On Sunday, the American Jewish University will host the world premiere of the oratorio “Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides,” composed by Neely Bruce and produced by Marilyn Ziering. The title’s “Circular 14” refers to an order issued by Portuguese wartime dictator Antonio Salazar to deny visas to all refugees seeking to escape Nazi-occupied Europe by way of Portugal.


“Aristides de Sousa Mendes was one of the genuine heroes of the Holocaust, a diplomat whose deeds made all the difference between life and death,” said Michael Berenbaum, director of the AJU’s Sigi Ziering Institute. “A musical presentation of the man provides us with a brilliant tool to understand human decency and to celebrate a man who acted with nobility and moral clarity.”

In parallel, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park will present a two-month long exhibition “Visas to Freedom: Aristides de Sousa Mendes and the Refugees of World War II.”

Mendes died in 1954 and 12 years later was named “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, said Olivia Mattis, president of the foundation bearing the diplomat’s name. Twelve members of her paternal family were saved through Sousa Mendes’ intercession.