This April and May, Falmouth Jewish Congregation will host two events that draw attention to the legacy of Portuguese diplomat and “Righteous Among the Nations,” Aristides de Sousa Mendes. On Sunday, April 27 at 7:00 P.M., members and the public are invited to a Yom HaShoah service that includes commemoration of the 50th anniversary since the rescue of almost 1,600 Torah scrolls collected in Prague by the Nazis. After World War II, the scrolls were sent to Westminster Synagogue in London and then distributed around the world. Falmouth Jewish Congregation has a beautiful sefer Torah from this collection.
Following the service, beginning at approximately 7:45 P.M., we will watch “Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story,” a French language feature film about the Portuguese Consul-General to Bordeaux who defied his government’s orders to save lives. In June 1940, when Nazi troops invaded France, Sousa Mendes issued transit visas for 30,000 people, including 10,000 Jews. As a result of his defiance, Sousa Mendes was severely punished, stripped of his diplomatic position and forbidden from earning a living. He had fifteen children, who were themselves blacklisted and prevented from attending university or finding meaningful work. In this way what was once an illustrious and well-respected family – one of the great families of Portugal – was crushed and destroyed. The family’s ancestral home, known as “Casa do Passal,” was repossessed by the bank and eventually sold to cover debts. The first recognition of his deeds came in 1966 from Israel, which declared Aristides de Sousa Mendes to be a “Righteous Among the Nations.” In 1986, the United States Congress issued a proclamation honoring his heroic act. Later he was finally recognized by Portugal, when its President Mario Soares apologized to the Sousa Mendes family and the Portuguese Parliament promoted him posthumously to the rank of Ambassador.
Learn more about the film at http://sousamendesfilm.org.
On Friday, May 9, we welcome Harry Oesterreicher, treasurer of the Sousa Mendes Foundation, who will speak about the foundation’s work to preserve the diplomat’s story and legacy and about his own family’s rescue by Sousa Mendes. Mr. Oesterreicher only learned of his father’s family story in recent years and has become active in the foundation’s work to educate about Sousa Mendes, recognized by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Among Gentiles.” His travelogue on a 2010 trip in honor of Aristedes de Sousa Mendes can be found at www.sousamendesvoyage.com. Learn about the Sousa Mendes Foundation at http://sousamendesfoundation.org.
This talk follows a regularly-scheduled Shabbat service that will run from 7:30 – 8:15 P.M. Both are open to the public. Those who wish to attend the talk only should plan to arrive at 8:15 P.M.
Both events will take place in the Falmouth Jewish Congregation’s Blanche & Joel D. Seifer Community Center, 7 Hatchville Road, E. Falmouth.