(JTA) — A Portuguese politician apologized for calling a Holocaust-era rescuer of Jews their “loan shark.”
Abel Matos Santos, the newly-elected vice president of the small, right-wing CDS People’s Party, made the apology last week in a statement after the Jewish Community of Lisbon protested his remarks following his appointment as the party’s number two leader.
In 2012, Matos Santos wrote on Facebook about Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a former Portuguese consul general who during the Holocaust disobeyed his superiors and issued thousands of visas to Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied France.
“[W]hy defend Sousa Mendes, who was a loan shark of Jews?” Matos Santos wrote.
Matos Santos said his word choice was “unfortunate,” but added that he believes his comment reflects an ongoing debate about de Sousa Mendes’ motives. Nevertheless, the debate is “completely irrelevant in light of the lives saved,” Matos Santos added.
“I’d like to sincerely apologize for the distress caused by words I wrote years ago, which were now opportunistically taken out of context,” Matos Santos wrote in an open letter he sent Friday to José Oulman Carp, the president of the Jewish Community in Lisbon.
Israel in 1966 recognized Sousa Mendes as a Righteous among the Nations, a title for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
In a statement last week condemning Matos Santos’ remark, the Jewish community called it “an offense to all Jews and non-Jews rescued” from the Nazis.