Don’t worry guys, our roof hasn’t collapsed! This mansion (Casa do Passal) belonged to a man called Aristides de Sousa Mendes and is located in the town of Cabanas de Viriato, which is in the Viseu district of Central Portugal. Although Mendes died in 1954, he still talked about and considered a hero of World War II. His mansion has been left to rot and fall into ruin for decades, but there have been plans by Mendes’ family to renovate the house into a museum. The ancestral home is now classed as a Portuguese National Monument and it is an incredible sight.
Have you seen Schindler’s List? If you need a comparison to get through this history lesson then think of Mendes as Schindler’s next door neighbour. Whatever I write here will not do Mendes’ story enough justice. I encourage you to visit a website dedicated to him for specific details: ‘Aristides de Sousa Mendes Foundation‘, which was where I got a lot of this information. During WW2 when many Jews were trying to flee Germany to avoid persecution and/or death from Hitler’s regime, Mendes was in a diplomatic position at the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France. His role was to sign and issue visas to those wanting to escape Germany and immigrate to another country, ie. Portugal.
Mendes had thousands of refuges turn up at the Portuguese consul after travelling through France. Their intention was to travel through Spain through to Portugal and then to Lisbon where they could then travel to anywhere in the world. But Mendes was under direct instructions to deny passage to refuges, specifically Jews and Russians. He disobeyed this directive and over just a few days he issued an estimated 30,000 visas to Jews and other persecuted individuals trying to escape Germany.
For this he was severely punished – he lost his job, was stripped of his pension, him and his whole family were blacklisted from ever earning a living again. Mendes’ own home was repossessed and sold by the bank to cover his debts. However, his remaining family bought the mansion back in 2001 and have been building up funds to have it renovated. Maybe we will give it a shot after finishing our house! Mendes is a hero because he sacrificed his wealth and his life by standing up against racism, genocide and immoral acts and in doing so saved the lives of thousands of individuals and their families.
UPDATE: In 2014, the Portuguese cultural centre injected €268,071 euros in a project to renovate the Mendes house. They managed to repair the roof and and have nearly completed the restoration.