Introduction

Introduction

Manuel Côrte-Real
President of the Diplomatic Institute
September 2000

We are gradually finding out about the actions of Portuguese diplomats placed in European countries during World War II who took steps to save the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees who were persecuted and threatened with imprisonment and death.

Entry visas into Portugal, from where they could embark to the American continent, was the only solution they could see to save their lives. Rich or poor, they were all alike in their despair and Portugal was the country that would lead them to salvation.

Going against the orders of the Portuguese government or stretching the strict selection criteria imposed regarding visas, the Portuguese diplomats recalled in this exhibition acted according to the dictates of their conscience and the generosity of their nature. Although the action of some diplomats, such as the paradigmatic case of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, and those of Sampaio Garrido and Teixeira Branquinho, is well known and widely documented, there must surely be others who took similar measures but so discreetly that they have yet to be singled out.

The mass of documents on this subject in the Historical and Diplomatic Archives of the Foreign Ministry has been carefully studied but huge numbers of documents have still to be examined and when they are they will surely unveil a few surprises.

The documents in this exhibition are sufficient proof, nevertheless, that at a moment of crisis that has no parallel in recent history, Portuguese diplomats acted with a great sense of professionalism and humanity.

I would like to thank Mrs. Maria Isabel Fevereiro, Head of the Historical and Diplomatic Archives, and Mrs. Manuela Franco, for their outstanding competence, dedication and interest in organizing and mounting this exhibition to which I wish the greatest success.

The caption of this poignant painting is in the Bible – the haunting sadness of the Jews' odysseys!