San Francisco — The government of Portugal has decided to recognize the heroism of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who helped save the lives of an estimated 30,000 refugees fleeing Nazi persecution at the beginning of World War II. Dr. Mendes, who died in 1954, issued transit visas in 1940 to the refugees -- including some 10,000 to 15,000 Jews -- in defiance of the orders of the fascist government of Antonio Salazar.
A campaign has been waged over the past five months to get the Portuguese government to honor Mendes. On Sept. 12, US Rep. Tony Coelho (D) of California, a Portuguese-American, received a phone call from Portuguese Prime Minister Cavaco Silva, who said that the government would issue a medal of honor to the Mendes family.
The recent announcement caps a 41-year effort to clear Mendes's name. In 1945, Mendes himself spoke before the Portuguese national assembly but was refused reinstatement in the foreign service.
After the overthrow of fascism in Portugal in 1974, the government commissioned former ambassador Nuno de Bessa Lopes to investigate the Mendes affair. Dr. Lopes wrote a report, but it was immediately suppressed.
The Portuguese government is expected to award the medal in a public ceremony sometime later this year.
In the US, the Mendes family reacted joyfully to the decision of the Portuguese government. John Abranches, of Dublin, Calif., the youngest son of Mendes, termed it ``a turning point'' in their efforts.