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Portuguese diplomat who saved Jews

culture, European politics

januari 21, 2022

This is the story of the Portuguese diplomat who saved thousands from the Nazis. As the German army marched through France, Aristides de Sousa Mendes faced a choice: obey his government or follow his conscience – and risk it all.

Image: Sandra Dionis
Text: Chanan Tigay

(Smithsonian Magazine) Translated with DeepL.

Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes was serving as consul general in France when the Nazis invaded the country.

It was the second week of June 1940, and Aristides de Sousa Mendes did not leave his room. Sousa Mendes, Consul General of Portugal in Bordeaux, France, lived in a large flat overlooking the Garonne River with his wife and several of their 14 children – all of whom were growing increasingly concerned.
An aristocrat and bon vivant, Sousa Mendes loved his family very much. He loved wine. He loved Portugal, and wrote a book glorifying this “land of dreams and poetry”. He loved to bellow popular French tunes, especially Rina Ketty’s “J’attendrai,” a tender love song that became a hymn to peace in the changing context of war. And Sousa Mendes loved his mistress, who was five months pregnant with his 15th child. He found something to laugh about, family members remember, even in the worst of times. But now, faced with the most devastating decision of his life, he had shut himself off. He refused to leave his room, not even to eat. “The situation here is terrible,” the 54-year-old diplomat wrote to his brother-in-law, “and I’m in bed having a serious nervous breakdown.”
The seeds for the collapse of Sousa Mendes had been sown a month earlier, when Hitler launched his invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940. Within weeks, millions of civilians were driven from their homes, desperate to stay ahead of the advancing German army. A Red Cross representative in Paris called it “the biggest civilian refugee problem in French history”. New York Times correspondent Lansing Warren, who was later arrested by the Nazis, telegraphed home: “There’s never been such a thing. In a country already filled with evacuees from the war zones, half the population of Paris is ambushed. region, much of Belgium, and ten to twelve departments of France, somewhere between 6 and 10 million people in total, along the roads in private cars, in lorries, on bicycles and on foot.”

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Portugal: Aging Alert!


januari 21, 2022


By: Ana Fernandes and Paulo Machado (The authors are affiliated with the Portuguese Demographics Association). Published on January 15, 2022, 8:38 AM

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In a few days, the Portuguese will go to the polls again to choose their national representative. It is about our collective future and we see it as our civic duty to mobilize citizens, starting with politicians, to tackle the critical demographic situation in our country. We believe that the demographic question in Portugal is based on phenomena of major influence: population ageing, emigration and rural depopulation and the growing existence of globalization for which we are not prepared.

These are the driving forces behind many of the social, economic and political problems we face. A society that does not renew itself in terms of population does not grow and… ages. Aging and dejuvenation started long ago in the most depopulated areas (with the depopulation of towns and cities in the interior).

They have had an impact on public services such as education (fewer students), health care (more users), social security (with more beneficiaries). Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find workers. This has repercussions on the economy: less production and therefore a fall in GDP.

In the cities, the sustainability of the historic centers is threatened by the aging population. That trend will not be reversed by better local housing. The need for labor in the most industrial areas and in many productive sectors (agriculture, tourism) is clearly increasing.

The worst way to approach the demographic question is to underestimate it and reduce it too rhetorically to yet another challenge, which is so common in political discourse. The trend towards an ever-lower birth rate and reversing emigration will not be possible with such measures as support for pharmacy expenses, education vouchers, IMI reductions or other palliative measures. The demographic issue has a systemic character, in which living conditions and other highly relevant subjective dimensions play a role. But it is also a cultural issue that has to do with how we see ourselves as a politically sovereign community with a vision of its own future.


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