Auschwitz, the most infamous Nazi concentration camp, was liberated 74 years ago on 27th of January 1945, by Soviet troops. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered victims from all over occupied Europe to the camp's gas chambers where they were killed with the pesticide Zyklon B. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died.
Portugal's government remembered the victims and those men and women who prevented the extermination of people persecuted by the Nazi regime, reiterating Portugal's "firm commitment to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust, so that it does not happen again."
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Portuguese government stated that it joins "all those who refuse to forget and to pay homage to the victims of Nazi extermination and inhumanity."
Also mentioned were the "men and women who, through their courage and altruism, rescued thousands of Jews and other victims of Nazi hatred," noting the Portuguese diplomats Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Alberto Teixeira Branquinho and Carlos Sampaio Garrido, as well as Father Joaquim Carreira (see below).
Seventy-three years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the Government said that it is necessary to continue investing in education to keep alive the memory of those who suffered during the Holocaust.
It is also necessary to continue to invest "in the uncompromising defence of the dignity of all people and in the fight against hatred, intolerance, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and prejudice - this is a duty of all."
"As an observer member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Portugal reiterates its firm commitment to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive by helping it not to be repeated," read today's statement.
The Ombudsman, Maria Lúcia Amaral, noting that this date aims to "rememeber the millions of people killed and their suffering and preserve the memory of this event in world history."
Amaral recalls the victims suffered violation of their most basic rights, racism, persecution, annihilation of national, ethnic and religious communities and dehumanisation," during the Holocaust.
Joaquim Carreira was born in 1908 in a village near Fátima, Portugal, a Christian pilgrimage site whose fame was based on apparitions of the Virgin Mary reportedly experienced by three shepherd children.
Carreira was ordained as a priest in 1931, but he also trained as a pilot and was known as Padre Aviador (the aviator father). In 1940 he moved to Italy and became the rector of the Pontificio Collegio Portoghese—the Pontifical Portuguese College—which housed Portuguese priests who studied in Italian universities.
When Italy was occupied by the Germans in September 1943, Carreira offered shelter to a number of people persecuted by the Nazis, including three members of the Cittone family: Elio, his father, Roberto, and his uncle, Isacco.
In the very detailed diary Carreira kept, he wrote: “I gave shelter and a roof to people who were persecuted based on inhuman laws.” Although Father Carreira hung a sign outside the building saying that it was church territory, the Germans conducted a search. All the fugitives were able to hide, and no one was found, but the Cittones were scared and decided to leave and find another hiding place. Elio Cittone said: “I will always be grateful to Padre Aviador, who saved my life.”
Carlos de Almeida Fonseca Sampaio Garrido (5 April 1883 – April 1960) was a Portuguese diplomat credited with saving the lives of approximately 1,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary while serving as Portugal’s ambassador in Budapest between July and December 1944.
He served as Minister Plenipotentiary and acting Ambassador of Portugal in Budapest from 1939-44. Along with Teixeira Branquinho, (Portuguese Chargé d'Affaires in Budapest in 1944) Garrido rented houses and apartments to shelter and protect refugees from deportation and murder. They obtained permission from the Portuguese government to issue safe conduct passes to all persons who had relatives in Portugal, Brazil, or the Portuguese colonies or had a connection to Portugal. Garrido and Branquinho also established an office of the Portuguese Red Cross at the Portuguese legation to care for Jewish refugees. This was largely done in cooperation with the Portuguese Foreign Office and under Salazar’s direct supervision with the provision that these refugees would not try to get Portuguese citizenship.
On 23 April 1944 and following the German occupation of Hungary, the Portuguese ruler Salazar decided to order his ambassador to return to Lisbon and leave the chargé d'affaires, Teixeira Branquinho in his place. This recall was done in response to a request from Britain and the United States who wanted neutral countries to downgrade their diplomatic presence in Hungary.
Five days later, on 28 April 1944, at 5 a.m., the Hungarian political police raided the Ambassador's home arresting his guests. The Ambassador physically resisted the police and was also arrested but managed to have his guests released by invoking the extraterritorial legal rights of diplomatic legations. Five of the guests were members from the famous Gabor family. Magda Gabor, Hungarian-born actress and socialite, and the elder sister of Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, was reported to have been the secretary, fiancée and lover of Sampaio Garrido.
Jolie Gabor, mother of the Gabor sisters, never forgot Magda's influential connections with rescuing her: "For Magda's Portuguese Ambassador I thank God. It was this man who saved my life." Gabor's maternal grandmother and uncle Sebastian (Annette Lantos's father) chose to remain in Budapest feeling they "had a good place to hide". However, both were killed during an Allied bombing raid.
In 1945 he was appointed extraordinary envoy and minister plenipotentiary to Stockholm, Sweden. In 2006 the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation honored both Sampayo Garrido and his chargé d'affaires Carlos de Liz-Texeira Branquinho.
In 2010 he became the second Portuguese to be recognised as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem; Aristides de Sousa Mendes having been recognised in 1966.
Alberto Carlos de Liz-Texeira Branquinho (27 January 1902 in Viseu, - 1973) was a Portuguese diplomat credited with saving the lives of 1,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust from Hungarian Fascists and the Nazis during the later stages of World War II, while serving as Portugal’s Chargé d'Affaires in Budapest in 1944.
Along with Sampaio Garrido, he rented houses and apartments to shelter and protect refugees from deportation and murder. They obtained permission from the Portuguese government to issue safe conducts to all persons who had relatives in Portugal, Brazil, or the Portuguese colonies or had the most remote connection to Portugal. Garrido and Branquinho also established an office of the Portuguese Red Cross at the Portuguese legation to care for Jewish refugees. This was largely done in cooperation with the Portuguese Foreign Office and under Salazar’s direct supervision with the provision that these refugees would not try to get Portuguese citizenship.
On 23 April 1944 and following the German occupation of Hungary, the Portuguese ruler António de Oliveira Salazar decided to order his ambassador to return to Lisbon and leave Teixeira Branquinho as the chargé d'affaires, in his place. Garrido's recall was done in response to a request from Britain and the United States who wanted neutral countries to downgrade their diplomatic presence in Hungary. In direct contact with Salazar Branquinho issued protective Passports to hundreds of Jewish families. Altogether about 1,000 lives were saved due to his actions. Branquinho was recalled to Lisbon on 30 October 1940.
After the war Branquinho continued to serve his country as a diplomat, in Washington, Jakarta, Paris, Caracas, Baghdad, Teheran and the Hague, where he acted with Ambassador’s credentials. He retired in 1966.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches GCC, OL (July 19, 1885 – April 3, 1954) - from the New York Times 27 Jan 2018
Anyone who has seen “Casablanca” knows the connection between Portugal and World War II refugees. But few know the story of the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who in 1940 saved tens of thousands of lives only to be punished for this heroism by his own government. As we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday, we should honor this man who engaged in what one historian called “perhaps the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.”
An aristocratic scion, Mr. Sousa Mendes entered the foreign service after law school and spent years on a whirlwind diplomatic tour taking him from Zanzibar to San Francisco before arriving in the south of France in 1938. Mr. Sousa Mendes was a bon vivant and excelled as a diplomatic host, entertaining luminaries famous across the world like Albert Einstein and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. But with his posting as consul-general in Bordeaux, things took a more serious turn.
As the winds of war swept across Europe, Portugal’s autocratic prime minister, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, was determined to maintain a strict neutrality. So in late 1939, a couple of months after the German invasion of Poland, the Portuguese Foreign Ministry issued its infamous Circular 14 to all embassies and consulates, announcing new regulations concerning categories of people who would not be issued visas without direct approval from the Foreign Ministry. Those “of undetermined, contested or disputed nationality” were excluded, as were those unlikely to be able to freely return to their home country or support themselves. One category was stark: “Jews expelled from the countries of their nationality.” Circular 14 covered the very refugees for whom passage was a matter of life and death.
Mr. Sousa Mendes resisted this order from the start. Then in May 1940, the Nazi blitzkrieg swept into France. Tens of thousands of people descended on Bordeaux by train, car, bicycle and even foot. Crowds formed at the Portuguese consulate. Mr. Sousa Mendes cabled Lisbon for instructions. The response: enforce Circular 14.
On June 17, Paris fell. Mr. Sousa Mendes became more and more tortured by what he saw. In front of the great synagogue of Bordeaux, he met Chaim Kruger, a young Polish rabbi with his family crowded along with thousands of Jews in the square. Mr. Sousa Mendes offered to help, but his request for visas for Mr. Kruger and his family was rejected. Mr. Sousa Mendes assured the rabbi he would do everything in his power to get the necessary papers.
“It’s not just me that needs help,” the rabbi told him, “but all my fellow Jews who are in danger of their lives.”
The words hit Mr. Sousa Mendes like a thunderbolt. For three days, he took to his bed in despair, according to a fine biography by Jose-Alain Fralon, “A Good Man in Evil Times: The Story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.” Then he emerged full of energy. “From now on I’m giving everyone visas,” the diplomat declared. “There will be no more nationalities, races or religion.”
“I cannot allow all you people to die,” he told the refugees.
Mr. Kruger collected the passports of the Jews in the square. Mr. Sousa Mendes signed them all. Indeed he reportedly proceeded to sign every visa put in front of him, setting up a veritable assembly line. His two sons along with other members of the family and Mr. Kruger prepared the passports and visas for signature, while his deputy, 32-year-old Jose Seabra, dutifully stamped them.
News quickly spread and the consulate was suddenly filled to capacity. The consul himself worked well into the night signing visas, his signature morphing from “Aristides de Sousa Mendes” to “Mendes” as his hand tired. Mr. Seabra desperately tried to maintain order, begging applicants to come only during normal hours. “Come back when the dictator is not here!” Mr. Sousa Mendes joked to them.
Mr. Sousa Mendes’s actions were brought to the attention of his superiors by an act of fantastic pettiness. An Englishwoman who had been asked to wait a few hours for an ordinary travel visa stormed out of the consulate and filed a complaint. The British Embassy in Lisbon duly complained to the Portuguese Foreign Ministry that Mr. Sousa Mendes was operating outside of normal business hours and falsely asserted that he was demanding fees for visas.
Mr. Salazar personally ordered Mr. Sousa Mendes to shut down, instructing his ambassador to France to investigate what was going on. Luckily, Mr. Sousa Mendes moved to the consulate he oversaw in Bayonne to continue his work. When the local vice consul arrived, he found Mr. Sousa Mendes ensconced at a desk where he spent three days granting visas.
In June 1940, an armistice between France and Germany was imminent, meaning the border would soon be sealed. It was a race against time. Mr. Salazar ordered that Mr. Sousa Mendes be stripped of his right to issue visas, even as Mr. Sousa Mendes made his way to Hendaye, near the Spanish border. There, Mr. Sousa Mendes explicitly defied the dictator’s orders, signing not only the passports thrust at him by desperate refugees, but also identity cards and random scraps of paper that, marked with his signature, allowed entrance to Portugal.
At the border itself, Mr. Sousa Mendes drove a caravan of refugees to a little-known crossing he often used to avoid traffic back to Lisbon. The Spanish border guards, who had no telephone, had not yet received word from Madrid that the border had been closed. “I’m the Portuguese consul. These people are with me,” Mr. Sousa Mendes told them and escorted the group over the border.
In July, Mr. Sousa Mendes returned to Portugal and the alarming news that Salazar had opened up disciplinary proceedings against him. “My aim was first and foremost humanitarian,” he explained in his response.
The Foreign Ministry concluded that Mr. Sousa Mendes had caused a situation that reflected very badly on Portugal in the eyes of the Spanish authorities and German occupying forces.
“Lives had to be saved, and families prevented from being split up,” Mr. Sousa Mendes said. “I also thought of the fate that would be in store for those people were they to fall into the hands of the enemy. Many of them were Jews who had already been hounded and who were trying to escape from the horror of further persecution.”
At Mr. Salazar’s behest, Mr. Sousa Mendes was removed from his consular position and rank and forced to retire without a pension. At age 55, his career was over.
Mr. Sousa Mendes spent the next decade shunned and in dire financial straits, hobbled by a stroke. Mr. Salazar, meanwhile, boasted of all the things that Portugal had done for those fleeing the Holocaust. “As regards the refugees, we did our duty, though it is a pity we could not do more,” he said, according to Mr. Fralon’s account.
Mr. Sousa Mendes died in obscurity in 1954, blackballed by the government and bombarded by creditors, reduced to being fed by a local Jewish soup kitchen.
“Was he a great man? Was he mad in showing so little instinct for self-preservation?” one of his sons asked. “The answer lies in all of us when we try to pass judgment on him. I am proud of the fact that I was lucky enough to have such a man as my father.”
Tens of thousands today are alive because of his courage.
Richard Hurowitz is an investor, writer and the publisher of The Octavian Report, a quarterly magazine of ideas.
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You dont know what you are talking about. Salazar didnt act like Franco, stalin, Pinochet. Only One politician was killed by the regime. That's it.
Salazar paid the debts and left tons of gold bars in the central bank.
Wasn't the camp liberated by the Americans? For my Oxford scholarship I actually interviewed the commander responsible after reading his book on the subject which was banned throughout the US and Europe until the mid eighties. (No less than four people had to sign a D notice to allow me to read the book.)
He was forced to hand over to the Russians.
"the Government said that it is necessary to continue investing in education to keep alive the memory of those who suffered during the Holocaust."
About time too. I trust that will include a full account of the 10 million Ukrainians, a quarter of the population, and it might also be a good idea to remind people not only how they died but what happened to rather a lot of the bodies.
And does anyone remember or care that the largest number killed at Auschwitz were Russian military? In the West I suppose they don't count.
As for Mr Sousa Mendes...“Was he a great man?" Sounds to me as if he was one of the best.
Wikipedia is NOT a proper source of information.
I can't talk about Palestine. When I was living in Egypt I was smuggled into one of the concentration camps. I get the shakes just thinking about it.
Please, please, Wikipedia is NOT a proper source of information. It is hopelessly inept.
I couldn't agree more Peter. It has never sat well with me supporting an illegal occupation...
When people begin to talk of racism and anti-Semitism, I think of the Palestinians who have been robbed of their land by the new state of Israel. And of how the international community does nothing about this flagrant injustice.
How many thousands of Portuguese families reading on this Remembrance Day about these WW2 heroes are asking themselves "Yes but what about my Father X, Uncle Y or Grandfather Z? Amongst so many others; they were found exterminated or severely damaged or "went missing" in their homeland Portugal - at the hands of fellow Portuguese. When will Portugal have a Remembrance Day for them?"