Amnesty founder dies
The man who founded Amnesty International after reading an article about the arrest and imprisonment of two Portuguese students under the Salazar dictatorship has died. Peter Benenson, aged 83, was so shocked that the students had been locked up for toasting freedom in a Lisbon café that he founded the international human rights organisation in 1961. Benenson, who died in London last week of pneumonia, started fighting for human rights as a child, during the 1930s, when he read about the horrific From page 1
stories that emerged from the Spanish Civil War and the persecution of the German Jews by the Nazis, following Kristalnacht in 1938.
Benenson originally intended Amnesty to be a one-year campaign and never dreamed, when he founded it, that it would go on to become the world’s largest independent human rights organisation with 1.8 million members worldwide.
Diplomat who disobeyed
dictator to be honoured
THE PORTUGUESE diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during World War II is to be honoured by the Portuguese State. Aristides de Sousa Mendes was sacked and disgraced by dictator Salazar, after issuing 30,000 exit visas for Portugal when he was Consul General in the French City of Bordeaux.
Now, his home is to be turned into a museum dedicated to human rights, in recognition of the part he played in saving ‘his’ Jews from the Nazi death camps in Poland. The Portuguese ‘Oskar Schindler’ issued the visas over three days and nights, breaking his government’s rules.
According to Holocaust historians, 10,000 visas were stamped allowing Jews to enter neutral Portugal, among them were famous names such as writer Charles Oulmont, pianist Norbert Gingold and non-Jew Otto von Hapsburg, the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, whom Hitler hated for his outspoken opposition to the Nazis ‘Anchluss’ and annexation of Austria in 1938. “I will not condone murder, so I disobey and will continue to disobey Salazar,” Sousa Mendes said at the time. He was recalled to Lisbon, fired from the diplomatic service and refused his pension. He died in poverty in 1954.
The museum will be installed in the soon-to-be refurbished Sousa Mendes Villa in Cabana de Viriato, 300km from Lisbon.
Maria Barroso, wife of former President of the Republic, Mário Soares, leads the Sousa Mendes Foundation. She said: “We will turn the villa into a meeting place and museum dedicated to the diplomat’s actions.” However, finding the necessary funds could still prove an obstacle to the foundation’s plans. The diplomat’s grandson, António Sousa Mendes, said there have been promises of funding, but they have not materialised.
In 1988, the Socialist Foreign Minister, Jaime Gama, had Sousa Mendes reinstated to the diplomatic corps posthumously, while, in 1989, the government awarded him the Order of Liberty medal and, in 1994, Mário Soares unveiled a bust of the diplomat in Bordeaux. C.G.