Chapter 4:

"Will we get Transit Visas?"

In the film Irving said:

       

     “Through some luck, I got us transit visas through Spain to Portugal.  Then my Dad managed to get us transit visas from Portugal to Mexico. We’ve trekked over 1,000 kilometers and we must keep moving.”

In the film, Aristides de Sousa Mendes says:

     "I will obey my conscience and grant these Jews visas. As a Christian I do not have the right to let so many women, children and men die.
How can I choose not to help them because of an order that has been issued by the authorities?"

 The BIG PICTURE: 

Hitler was taking over Europe and it was a dangerous war situation. Jews were fleeing Europe at the time. 
Lisbon was one of the few ports that Jews could escape from and Christians as well.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux in 1940. The Portuguese dictatorship said “Don’t allow any refugees into Portugal, especially Jews that have been expelled from their country.” 

 

Portugal, officially neutral, yet unofficially pro-Hitler and under the dictatorial rule of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, issued a directive – the infamous “Circular 14″ – to all its diplomats to deny safe haven to refugees, including explicitly Jews, Russians, and stateless persons who could not freely return to their countries of origin.

 

Aristides de Sousa Mendes’s act of heroism consisted in choosing to defy these inhumane orders and follow his conscience instead. “I would rather stand with God against Man than with Man against God,” he declared. It is said that he may have saved up to 30,000 refugees, one-third being Jews.  Mendes' deeds were perhaps the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.

QUESTIONS:

  1. What might be some of the reasons why Sousa Mendes felt this way? Why wouldn’t everyone be feeling this way?

  2. Contrast the ideologies and responses of Sousa Mendes and Asst Secretary of State Breckinridge Long.

  3. Imagine a debate between Aristides de Sousa Mendes and Breckinridge Long. Give 3 arguments for each side of the debate and evaluate the successes/failures of these positions. 

  4. What can be learned from the film about how we respond to the refugee crisis today?

  5. What are some examples of refugees fleeing for fear of persecution? 

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

  1. Download a map of Europe.  Indicate the route from Brussels, Belgium to Lisbon, Portugal.