Dozens of students, faculty and staff spent their college hour in the Student Life Center on March 23 taking in a free screening of the film “Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story.”
The film tells the true story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul stationed in Bordeaux, France during World War II. When the Nazis invaded in 1940, Sousa Mendes defied the orders of his government by illegally granting visas to an estimated 30,000 refugees, including approximately 10,000 Jews.
Historians have called the act the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of Sousa Mendes’ act, the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (Chhange), the Brookdale International Education Center, Brookdale’s Office of Student Life and Activities and the Sousa Mendes Foundation came together to offer two separate screenings of the film to students and the general public.
The public showing, held in the evening on March 23, was followed by an interactive discussion hosted by Joan Halperin, whose family was saved by Sousa Mendes’ act of disobedience.
“Aristides de Sousa Mendes acted with extraordinary moral courage in issuing lifesaving visas to many thousands of desperate souls. By a stroke of good fortune my family numbered among them,” said Halperin.
“We want to pay tribute to Sousa Mendes and help tell his story, so that future generations can neither deny nor forget what he did.”
Following the first screening, International Center Director Janice Thomas hosted a discussion with dozens of students from assistant professor Debbie Mura’s journalism classes and language instructor Raquel Rosa’s Portuguese classes.
Many expressed their shock at watching Sousa Mendes descend into a life of poverty and isolation after returning to Portugal, where his government stripped him of his title and barred him and his family from ever holding public office again.
According to the film, it was only decades later, after the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar came to an end, that Sousa Mendes was ever recognized for saving the lives of thousands of strangers.
“We’re so used to seeing heroes who succeed and then their lives are wonderful. But that’s not the case,” Mura said. “They often pay a serious price.”
Rosa agreed, adding that it is important to continue telling the story of men like Sousa Mendes, who did the right thing not for fame or fortune, but simply because it was the right thing to do.
“Sometimes you have to help others without expecting anything in return,” she said. “Sometimes you have to help others no matter what it costs you.”
More information on Sousa Mendes and the film is available here.