WASHINGTON (Sep. 18)
The Portuguese government has agreed to award a special posthumous Medal of Honor to a diplomat who saved some 30,000 Jews and others during World War II.
Rep. Tony Coelho (D. Cal.) reported that he brought up the issue of the diplomat, Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches, during a meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Cavaco Silva and Foreign Minister Pedro Pires de Mirando when they visited Washington last week.
Coelho and Rep. Henry Waxman (D. Cal.) led a Congressional effort to have Portugal recognize the diplomat’s efforts when he headed the Portuguese Consulate in Bordeaux in the south of France in 1940. Defying orders from the military government of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, de Sousa Mendes gave visas to Jews and others fleeing from the Nazi invasion of France, allowing them to escape to Portugal.
When Lisbon learned what he was doing, the diplomat was recalled and ousted from the diplomatic corps. He was forbidden to practice his profession of law or hold any other job and died in poverty in 1954.
The Congressmen acted after they learned that his children, who live in the United States, were trying to get their father proper recognition from the Portuguese government.