OPENING OF THE MEMORIAL TO REFUGEES AND TO PORTUGUESE CONSUL ARISTIDES DE SOUSA MENDES

09/12/2017
The Memorial to Refugees and to the Portuguese Consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes, in Vilar Formoso, was inaugurated on 26 August. It is a museum space that occupies two former railway warehouses.
 
The ceremony was presided over by the Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and was attended by numerous individuals, including the Mayor of Almeida, António Baptista Ribeiro, the director of IP Património, José Carlos Osório, and several Jewish families that are descendants of refugees given asylum in Portugal after fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.
 
"It is a museum to constantly remind us not to forget, not to resign ourselves, not to give up our struggle for the fundamental human values. This was the case of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. It has to be so with many, many more today and in the future. That’s the lesson of this museum,” said the Portuguese President who also recalled the attacks against lives and human rights, warning that "there is a risk that we consider this to be routine, to consider it normal to disrespect the dignity of people, to trivialize this horror".
 
"There is the risk that we become insensitive, in other words we become inhumane. And we cannot lose our humanity. Our struggle must be for the rights of people of flesh and blood, ... for peace and harmony and for the acceptance of others. (...) we cannot forget, we will not forget,” concluded Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in his speech to, among others, former refugees and their relatives and the relatives of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
In turn, the Mayor of Almeida, António Baptista Ribeiro, hopes that the new cultural facility "can serve as an example to those who visit it" and that “it is a catalyst of sustainable development" for Vilar Formoso.

A PLACE OF MANY STORIES

The project for the new museum, consisting of six nuclei and an investment of around 1.2 million euros, was an initiative of Almeida Municipal Council and is part of the Portuguese Jewish Network.
 
It occupies two old railway warehouses covering a floor area of about 500m2, which was the object of a sub-concession contract between IP Património and the building, located at Vilar Formoso Station and with Station Square forming its south/southwest boundary.
 
Of note is the excellent rehabilitation of the Covered Wharf, which maintained the original outline of the building and the aesthetic care throughout the memorial and in the renovation of the surrounding space.
 
In the two old warehouses, united as if by a twisted tunnel, six exhibition nuclei were installed on the themes “People like us", "The Beginning of the Nightmare", "The Voyage", "Vilar Formoso - Peace Border", “Around the Lands of Portugal” and “The Departure", which tell the experiences of thousands of people from the 1930s fleeing the Nazi troops and their uphill struggles to obtain visas, their arrival at Vilar Formoso by train or by car to their refuge in Portugal and, finally, the departure of many to other locations, especially in the New World.
 
The historian Margarida Magalhães Ramalho was responsible for the research about the refugees and coordination of all the contents of the museum. The architectural project of the museum was designed by the architect Luísa Pacheco Marques.
 
Between 17 and 19 June 1940, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Consul in Bordeaux, signed 30,000 visas to save people from concentration camps and the Nazi holocaust, contrary to orders of the Salazar government. This act by Aristides de Sousa Mendes led to him being expelled from the diplomatic staff. Many of these refugees from France and other European countries invaded by German troops entered Portugal through the border post at Vilar Formoso, where the people welcomed and shared the little food they had with the thousands of refugees during their early days in Portugal.
 
The new museum displays letters, photographs, films and other documents of the time, testimonies of people who passed through Vilar Formoso and the recorded testimony of refugees who are still alive or of their relatives.
 
The new museum displays letters, photographs, films and other documents of the time, testimonies of people who passed through Vilar Formoso and the recorded testimony of refugees who are still alive or of their relatives.