Visas to Freedom: Aristides de Sousa Mendes and the Refugees of World War II

January 22, 2016 - March 6, 2016


LAMOTH is proud to announce the opening of Visas to Freedom: Aristides de Sousa Mendes and the Refugees of World War II, an exhibition of original visas, photographs and other artifacts, in partnership with the Sousa Mendes Foundation.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese Consul General stationed in Bordeaux, France, in 1940. His government had issued strict orders to all its diplomats, in a document called Circular 14, to deny visas to Jews and other refugees seeking to escape German-occupied Europe through Portugal. Sousa Mendes defied these orders and issued Portuguese visas to thousands of people in May and June of 1940 in an operation described by Israel's most distinguished Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer as “perhaps the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.” The rescued families ended up in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Israel, the United Kingdom and elsewhere across the globe and began new lives, while Sousa Mendes himself was put on trial by the Portuguese government for “disobedience” and was harshly punished. Some of the visa recipients were prominent, such as the artist Salvador Dalí and the authors of Curious George, Hans and Margret Rey. But most were ordinary families escaping the horrors of Nazi persecution.

The artifacts in LAMOTH's exhibit come from the Sousa Mendes family as well as families that survived thanks to the diplomat’s help, and are being loaned to LAMOTH by the Sousa Mendes Foundation and Sousa Mendes' grandson. The exhibition will tell the broad story of Sousa Mendes’s heroic actions while also highlighting his multiple ties to the State of California. Sousa Mendes served as Consul General of Portugal in San Francisco in the 1920’s, and two of his children were born in Berkeley. A number of visa recipients ended up in Los Angeles in the 1940’s and 50’s, including Rachel Rosenthal, founder of the dance company that bears her name, and the actor Hugo Haas. Several of his children moved to California in the 1960’s and lived there for the rest of their lives. In addition, the effort to have him recognized by the American and Portuguese governments began in California in the 1980’s with the help of House Majority Whip Tony Coelho (Central Valley), Pete Stark (Oakland), and Henry Waxman (Los Angeles) along with the organized Jewish community of the Greater East Bay. 

Events related to the exhibit include the following: