Passport with life-saving visa by Aristides de Sousa Mendes
Fall of France and the race to safety.
By 1940 the conditions for Jews in Europe were getting worse by the day. Be it in direct German control, axis countries or even in neighboring relatively safer places, Jews were being hunted or under threat. It was not safe. Europe was no longer the warm house they thought it was.
By the middle of 1940 it was already clear that France was doomed. Thousands of refugees were fleeing south, in an effort to find a way out of the country that was being overrun by the German army. In June the Germans were marching into Paris, and in the south the highways were clogged with women, children and the elderly.
French and non-French Jews were also desperately trying to find a way out and one of the methods was applying for foreign entry visas into neighboring or neutral countries. One such country was Portugal. Obtaining a visa was relatively easier for non-Jews since by 1938 the borders worldwide were shutting down with explicit orders not to issue them visas. The case for Portugal is not clear though some historians recon that the November 11th 1939 “circular 14” issued by Lisbon to all their missions abroad not to issue visas to those who cannot prove they are ONLY transiting through the country was not done specifically against the Jews but possibly because of economic reasons and to ease the financial burden on various institutions in the country. And when Aristides de Sousa Mendes began issuing visas to Jews, defying such a direct governmental decree, though it was unthinkable, he did so because of human reasons. By June of 1940 he had already issued score of visas and also false papers to various refugees, and now he was disobeying a direct decree as well.
The visa here was issued to German born Laura Glas and her small daughter Mirjam. They immigrated to Palestine in 1934 via a Polish passport and because they did not opt, yet, for the Mandate citizenship, which would have allowed them to hold a British passport, they were issued instead an Identity Certificate serial number PJ/10/540 in Jerusalem on May 1st. Such papers were issued also to stateless individuals who lived in the country but wanted to either leave permanently or for a specific journey with an option of returning as well. She obtained her Palestinian exit permit on May 2nd (exiting on the 9th) and transit visa for Italy on the 8th and entry visa to France at the same date, both consulates in Jerusalem. We know from her papers that her main destination was France, entering on the 11th at Modane, and she obtained all her visas that month, not realizing that days later the Germans would also invade.
A month later she would be in a race against time to obtain the exit visas out of the country, starting with visas from the Spanish & Portuguese consulates. The interesting visa was issued by the office of the famed righteous among the nations diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, having his secretary José Seabra sign it on June 19th. Though it is not hand signed personally by de Sousa, according to examination, the visa is considered as one issued on his behalf and registered as so:
Aristides de Sousa Mendes life-saving visa No. 2315
Mrs. Glas and her daughter were lucky to cross the border into Spain on December 27th at Port-Bou, exiting France from Cerbère. Laura entered Portugal, thanks to this courageous diplomat, on December 31st 1940 via Beirã-Marvão crossing. From there, in safety, she could continue on her way back to the Mandate. She made the astonishing round-the-world trip, past Cape of Good Hope, Mozambique, Sudan and Egypt in 1941, crossing into Palestine via Kantara crossing on May 21st.
Once again we are confronted with the acts of courageous individuals who put their lives and careers at risk in order to do the right thing…life is very precious, we all need to cherries it.
Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.