LOS ANGELES, July 23 (JTA) — Members of a select club were commemorated at the Simon Wiesenthal Center last week to mark the opening of the exhibit “Visas for Life: The Righteous Diplomats.” The deceased honorees were five consular officials who paid with their professional careers for issuing life-saving visas and safe passes to a combined total of some 150,000 Jewish refugees during World War II, contrary to their governments’ orders. The exhibit of previously unpublished photographs and letters pays tribute to Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, Aristides de Sousa Mendes of Portugal, Chiune Sugihara of Japan, Hiram Bingham of the United States and Jan Zwartendijk of Holland. Sons of three of the diplomats were on hand to recognize their fathers’ courageous deeds during 1940, as desperate refugees sought to escape the Nazis. John Paul Abranches, son of Sousa Mendes, recalled the words of his father that “I would rather be with God against man, than with man against God.” While stationed in Bordeaux, France, Sousa Mendes and his family issued 30,000 visas during a three-day period. William Bingham spoke of his father, who, while stationed in Marseilles, France, was instrumental in getting to the United States such notables as Marc Chagall, the writer Heinrich Mann and 20 Jewish Nobel Prize winners. Hiroki Sugihara noted that his father was considered a “meshuggener” by colleagues for issuing visas to more than 10,000 Polish Jews while serving in Kaunas, Lithuania. Eric Saul, who created the exhibit, observed that these five diplomats must be counted among the 36 Righteous Men of each generation, whose merit, according to Jewish tradition, preserves the world. Saul regretted that “less than one percent of Jews know even the names of these five rescuers.”
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