For the past month, residents of Cabanas de Viriato, a small town in central Portugal have been greeted by a strange site outside a dilapidated old mansion: frosted glass pavilions with 30,000 embossed signatures of Aristedes de Sousa Mendes, one of the mansion’s former residents.
Who exactly was Sousa Mendes, and what’s up with his signature? Eric Moed, the young New York-based architect who dreamed up the pop-up museum, would like you to know.
In the 1940s, Sousa Mendes was Portugal’s consul-general in Bordeaux, France. Though Portugal prohibited citizens from fleeing Hitler, Sousa Mendes granted visas anyway, even subsidizing those who could not afford the journey. He ultimately saved 30,000 people—10,000 of them Jews, 5 of them Moed’s ancestors. His feat is considered “the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.”
Sousa Mendes paid dearly for his deeds, but though he would die in obscurity and poverty, he stood by his actions, saying: “If thousands of Jews are suffering because of one Christian [Hitler], surely one Christian may suffer for so many Jews.”
Watch the first in Moed’s video series documenting the project:
Watch video testimony of Henri Deutsch, a visa recipient: