Following the start of the pogroms in Germany, which marked the true beginning of the Holocaust, some 9,000 refugees fled to Portugal. Fearing the rapid influx of refugees, the Portuguese government sent out Circular 14, which prohibited the distribution of visas to refugees that were viewed as potential threats to the nation’s security, namely those whose nationality is contested and Jewish people who had been expelled from their own country.
One man, Sousa Mendes, refused to comply with Circular 14, and over the course of the war would go on to give out 30,000 visas to refugees, 10,000 of whom were estimated to be Jewish. His efforts are considered the greatest rescue of Jewish refugees by any singular individual in Europe.
ABOUT VILAR FORMOSO, FRONTIER OF PEACE
The new museum “Vilar Formoso, Frontier of Peace” honoring the memory of Sousa Mendes opened in August 2017 in the Portuguese village of Vilar Formoso, on the border with Spain. This project was an initiative of the municipality of Almeida, Portugal in collaboration with USA partner, the Sousa Mendes Foundation.
This museum tells the dramatic true story of the Portuguese hero Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Among the lives saved were those of Hans and Margret Rey (authors of Curious George), Salvador and Gala Dali, the Habsburg family, the entire Belgian cabinet, and thousands of ordinary families. The museum tells three stories at once: that of Sousa Mendes, that of the refugees that he saved, and that of Portugal’s complex and ambiguous role during World War II. This museum is the first stop along Portugal’s new Rede de Judiaria – a cultural heritage initiative that spotlight’s Portugal’s Jewish history. The Rede de Judiaria focuses on several locations that were relevant to the two large chapters of Jewish history in Portugal: the Inquisition and World War II.
The refugees, armed with Sousa Mendes visas, were able to leave France through Spain and into Portugal. Their point of entry was the train station of the village of Vilar Formoso, where Portuguese authorities processed the refugees and assigned them to reside in towns and villages throughout the country while awaiting onward visas and ship passage.
The Bodhi Tree Foundation is proud to support a special gallery – “OBRIGADO PORTUGAL” in the newly opened Vilar Formoso, open to the public six days a week. This gallery honors the many families rescued from the Holocaust by Aristides de Sousa Mendes.