Saturday, November 17, 2012

Righteous Among the Nations – Luis Martins de Souza Dantas

by Leighton Gage

This is Getúlio Vargas, the dictator of Brazil between 1930 and 1945.

And this is Luis Martins de Souza Dantas, Brazil’s wartime ambassador to France. Souza Dantas was already serving in Paris when Vargas came to power.

And he was still there in May of 1940, when Hitler invaded the country.

In July of that year, the French government, under the new leadership of Marshall Petain, moved to Vichy.

Souza Dantas moved with it, and it was there, in March of 1943, that the Nazis broke into his office and arrested him.

But, in the intervening, 34 months, Souza Dantas, challenging two dictators at once, was able to save an estimated 800 people from extermination.

Here’s the story:

Vargas’s dictatorship, although nowhere near as brutal as that of Hitler’s, had a strict immigration policy. Diplomats had instructions not to issue visas to “undesirables”. And those “undesirables”, it was specifically stated, included Jews, Communists and Homosexuals.
Souza Dantas issued visas to them anyway.

And he instructed the Brazilian consuls in Cadiz, Casablanca, Paris, Marseilles and Lyon, all of whom reported to him, to do likewise.

When Jews started showing up in Brazilian ports in unprecedented numbers, Souza Dantas was severely reprimanded. He ignored the reprimand and continued to issue the visas.
But he began issuing them in his own hand, so as not to bring down the wrath of the authorities on any member of his staff.
On the 12th of December, 1940, when the flow of refugees still hadn’t stopped, he was ordered to stop issuing visas. Period. He got around that by backdating them, and he was still backdating them when the Nazis arrested him.   

I expect that, before you read this post, you’d never heard of Luis Martins de Souza Dantas.
You won’t find his name in any schoolbooks, even here in Brazil.
But there are many who owe their lives, and the lives of their offspring, to his courageous actions.
His reward? After the war, he was made to resign for insubordination.

On a personal note, Souza Dantas was the great uncle of Elisa Dormoy, my wife’s closest friend.
If he had lived long enough, I would have had the opportunity to shake his hand.
And one of the frustrations of my life is that he died before I got the chance to do it.

1 comment:

Carola Dunn said...

Good to know. I've read about other consuls doing the same thing but never before of Souza Dantas.