Stories of Compassion: Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Aristides20I

Eighty years ago, a middle-aged, mid-ranking diplomat sank into deep depression and watched his hair turn grey in days, as he saw the streets of Bordeaux filling with Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis.

As Portugal’s consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes faced a moral dilemma. Should he obey government orders or listen to his own conscience and supply Jews with the visas that would allow them to escape from advancing German forces?

Sousa Mendes’ remarkable response means he is remembered as a hero by survivors and descendants of the thousands he helped to flee.

But his initiative also spelt the end of a diplomatic career under Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, and the rest of his life was spent in penury.

Portugal finally granted official recognition to its disobedient diplomat on 9 June 2020, and parliament decided a monument in the National Pantheon should bear his name.

Honour

It was mid-June 1940 and Hitler’s forces were days from completing victory over France. Paris fell on 14 June and an armistice was signed just over a week later.

Portugal’s diplomatic corps was under strict instruction from the right-wing Salazar dictatorship that visas should be issued to refugee Jews and stateless people only with express permission from Lisbon.

For those thronging Bordeaux’s streets hoping to cross into Spain and escape Nazi persecution there was no time to wait….

In a letter dated 13 June 1940 Sousa Mendes wrote: “Here the situation is horrible, and I am in bed because of a strong nervous breakdown.”

“No-one really knows what went through his mind in those two or three days,” says Dr Paldiel, who ran the Righteous Among the Nations department at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre for 25 years.

“Some say the duty of a diplomat is to obey orders from above, even if those instructions are not moral…

Whatever did go through the diplomat’s mind, Sousa Mendes emerged on Monday 17 June with a new determination.

According to his son, Pedro Nuno de Sousa Mendes, “he strode out of his bedroom, flung open the door to the chancellery, and announced in a loud voice: ‘From now on I’m giving everyone visas. There will be no more nationalities, races or religions’.”

No-one knows for sure how many transit visas were issued, allowing refugees to pass from France into Spain and travel onward to Portugal. But estimates range between 10,000 and 30,000, and most sought to cross the Atlantic to a variety of American destinations.

Refugees

Salazar’s Portugal would later be praised for its role in allowing refugees to escape from Nazi occupation and repression, but Sousa Mendes was expelled from the diplomatic corps and left without a pension. This condemned him to live the rest of his life in the most absolute misery. Sousa Mendes survived thanks to a soup kitchen run by Lisbon’s Jewish community. In 1954 he died in obscurity, still disgraced in the eyes of Portugal’s government. His family home in Cabanas de Viriato fell into ruin, and remains so today.

“Sousa Mendes was mistreated by Salazar. He died in misery as a pauper, and his children emigrated to try to find a future somewhere else,” says Henri Dyner (one of the people saved by Sousa Mendes).

Henri’s family ended up in Brazil, before he moved to the US for professional reasons. But he remembers a man who had courage in his convictions.

“The way things are in the world today, we need more people prepared to stand up for what is right and take a stand.”


Let’s remember such heroes
and honour their compassion!

 

Over the years I collected a number of real stories of compassion from different time periods, cultures and geographic locations. Among them are:

I’m always looking for more stories of compassion, so if you know any, please share them via a comment. Thanks so much.

Compassion

Credits:

Who wants war?

http://www.theburningplatform.com//

It worked and still works the same…

 😦 

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THE END

#SpeakOut for Freedom

From http://www.sodahead.com

Now dreams
Are not available
To the dreamers,
Nor songs
To the singers.
In some lands
D
ark night
And cold steel
Prevail
But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Break
Its jail.

By Langston Hughes

Russia: “Speak out for Freedom” – show of solidarity against repression

Amnesty International has launched a Week of Action, from 6 to 12 October 2014, to show solidarity with independent voices in Russia who speak out against the pernicious creep of repression in the country.

To mark the start of the Week of Action Amnesty International is publishing a new briefing, Violation of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Russia, which focuses on the following areas of concern:

  • Independent media in Russia – journalists threatened, harassed, physically attacked and even murdered with impunity;
  • Non-governmental organizations smeared, fined and forced to close down for independent and critical work spuriously presented as “political activities” in the interests of foreign sponsors;
  • Protesters denied the right to express their views in public spaces; arrested and tried in unfair proceedings.

The week of action coincides with the 8th anniversary of the murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, one of the all-time staunchest critics of the Kremlin and once a prominent free voice of the Russian media.

Freedom

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THE END

Travelling in time on the old moped

( Russia, 1990s )

* * *Photo by Dimych

We stopped for lunch not far from Balagoe – a small township located half way from St Petersburg to Moscow.

“Take care. There are lots of Gipsies living in this area. Don’t stare at them, otherwise they might think that you are ‘challenging’ them. They are very hot-blooded and quick to grab their knives and axes. A young lad from St. Petersburg was killed here last  year,” – said Ivan, unpacking the bag with our lunch.

“Why?”

“Well, this is a long story. Gypsy lads are not allowed to touch Gipsy girls until they marry them. They still have a tradition of hanging out bloodstained sheets after the first night, you see. And gipsy girls are not allowed to bare their bodies in public, even arms and legs. Only their faces can be seen. However before Gipsy lads settle with Gipsy girls they like having fun with local Russian girls, who are perceived as easily accessible. Look at the way Russian girls are dressed, exposing everything they possibly can. They like getting male attention, don’t they? Unfortunately they are playing with fire. As the result, from time to time Gipsy lads get into troubles with local Russian guys.”

“Gosh, sounds more like a story about wild beasts rather than human beings. And it is only 300 kilometers from St. Petersburg!!!”

Ivan was just about to take the last sandwich from the bag, when I quickly grabbed it and took a big bite.

“Well, we were much wilder ‘beasts’ in the past too. A few generations ago the bride’s virginity was a matter of communal importance in Russia and, until it had been confirmed, either by the finger of the matchmaker or by the presence of bloodstains on the sheets, the honour of her household would remain in doubt.” He gave me a wink.

“Yuck! This fact has never been mentioned in our school textbooks! I bet cows were treated nicer in those days than girls. At least, cows did not have fingers poked into their private parts.”

“And at the wedding feast guests sometimes acted as witnesses to the bride’s deflowering” – continued Ivan.

“What?!” – a peace of sandwich stuck in my mouth. “Right, I see. You are telling me all of this only because you want to get hold of this sandwich, don’t you? Don’t even hope – no matter what our ancestors did in the past, I am going to finish this sandwich.” I bravely took another bite and inspected my shabby jeans and short-sleeved top.

“Would you mind to take your shirt off?”

“Why?”

“Come on, take it off. Believe me, Gipsy lads won’t get into fight with me over your beautiful arms,” I put Ivan’s shirt on.

“Can I borrow your cap as well?”

“Go for it.”

I tucked my long hair under Ivan’s cap.

“Can I have a go at the steering wheel now?”

“Are you sure?” Ivan did not seem to trust my driving skills.

“Not, but just want to get a taste of it. Please.”

“All right. Just a little bit.”

We packed our bags and hopped onto Ivan’s moped. We did not get far, when suddenly the front wheel skidded and we both flew into the air.

“Ouch”, – something hot touched my leg.

“How are you?” – asked Ivan.

“Fine,” – I slowly got up off the ground, checking my bruised body.

“Look what you’ve done?” – Ivan was almost crying, inspecting his moped. I managed to pull out every single wire on it.

“And what on earth happened to you? Why did you drive it right into this heap of sand in the middle of the road?”

“I could not see it.”

“Why could not you see it?”

“Because I did not have my glasses on?”

“Where are your glasses then?”

“In my bag?”

“Why are they in your bag?”

“They did not look good with my new outfit.”

“What?” – Ivan gasped in disbelief.

“They did not look good with that cap.” …

( Photo by Sfa )

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THE END

 

 

The cruelest animal…

Cruelty
From https://www.azquotes.com/quote/355811


From http://izquotes.com/quote/285251

* * *

India
2014

A few days ago, two Indian girls were gang-raped and murdered after doing what half a billion women and girls are forced to do every day – go outdoors to try to find somewhere discreet to go to the toilet. Those two cousins were just 14 and 16 years old.

“The father, a 45-year-old agricultural laborer from a low-ranking caste, said in a telephone interview that the two girls were last seen alive on Tuesday evening in a mango orchard, in the company of a man named Pappu Yadav. (The man’s surname is the same as his caste.)

The father said a relative saw the girls with Mr. Yadav and two of Mr. Yadav’s brothers and that, for reasons he did not explain, the relative tried to intervene between Mr. Yadav and the girls. One of the Yadav brothers pulled out a pistol “and put it to the head of my cousin-brother,” the father said, using a common term in India for a close relative. “He got scared and ran away.”

When he heard what had happened, the father said, he went to the local police station and asked that Mr. Yadav’s house be searched. But the police officers, who are members of the Yadav caste, “took the side of the culprits,” the father said.”

The girls were members of the Dalit community, India’s lowest caste once known as the “Untouchables”.

violence-against-women-indiafrom Witch hunt in India

* * *

Russia
1800s

One old nobleman, along with a band of spongers, moved to his countryside estate and took to hunting with hounds. One day, a peasant boy (the nobleman had three thousand souls there) accidentally hit a hound from the landlord’s kennels in the leg with a stone. When he saw that his Nalet was limping, the landlord became incensed and asked, “Who injured the dog?”

The kennel attendants had to reveal the little boy’s identity. They produced the boy. He confessed.

In the morning, the landlord ordered preparations for the hunt in full complement. They went to the field and took their places near the forest, the hounds were let out, and the borzois were held on leads. There they brought the boy. The landlord ordered that the little boy be stripped of his clothes and set loose in the field to run. Then they let out the dogs from all the packs to chase him—literally to hunt him.

The borzois approached the little boy, sniffed at him, but did not touch him… His mother got there in time; she had run through the forest. She clasped her child in her arms. They dragged her back to the village and again set the dogs loose until the little boy was torn to pieces. The mother went insane and died within three days.

From ‘A life under Russian serfdom’


From http://eco-trophy.ru

However don’t put all the blame on men. As history shows, women in power are as cruel as men. Take as an example Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, commonly known as Saltichikha who made her infamous mark with the atrocious killings of her serfs, mostly women. She tortured children and pregnant women to death by beating them, breaking their bones, throwing them out of the house naked into the frost, pouring boiling water on their bodies and many other vicious and bloody tortures. She enjoyed torturing and mutilating her victims.

She didn’t make a habit of killing men – only three accidentally – although she tortured them in a different way. She killed the ones they loved. One of her serfs lost, one by one, three of his wives. .

Saltichikha was the epitome of boyar abuse of serfs in pre-reformation Russia. She pleaded guilty to the murder of at least 138 serfs at her estate, and the torture of many more. The name Saltychikha became a synonym for bestial treatment of the peasants.

darya-saltykova_1-t
Saltichikha

I wonder sometimes where such cruelty originates. Is there a template for cruelty laid down in the human brain? Is it something that is unique to our species? Why do human beings find pleasure in deliberately inflicting pain on other living things? And what can we do to stop it because…

“Not much we can do about that,” you might say.

I think we can. The stories presented in this post have one common theme: these cases are the product of certain beliefs (or memes) held in the society. The stories from Russia happened at the time, when surfs were not perceived as human beings – they were perceived as property and therefore their owners believed that they could do anything with them, including torturing and killing them. Russian writers and artists were the first to object that deeply ingrained belief. Book after book, painting after painting, they slowly changed that ‘meme’ and eventually serfdom, like slavery, has been abolished.

This clearly demonstrates that even the most deeply ingrained memes and beliefs can be changed. We just need to keep talking about such cases and spread positive beliefs to combat mind viruses and memes that cause cruelty and violence.

Don’t close your eyes to ‘Hell on Earth‘. As Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

sacredness

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THE END

Fat Cat in a Hat – What’s Wrong with that?

Lyrics

From MeetVille

Have you noticed how often people are blaming ‘those who are in charge’, ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ for all sorts of things? I had a few such comments on my blog in recent months, which made me think a bit more about that. Are all ‘bigwigs’ and ‘fat cats’ so bad?

Cat1From FuturityFirst

Stereotyping (i.e. putting people into groups and categories) is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:

  • the differences between groups
  • the similarities of things in the same group

Stereotyping

From Stereotyping

I never trusted faceless stereotypes and generalisations when people get assigned to a particular group on the basis of one characteristic or one of their identities. The group of ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ might in fact include very different people with varied life experiences, values, beliefs and views. Take, as an example, Sir Angus Tait, the founder of Tait Communications and The Tait Foundation that donated millions of dollars over the years to a variety of causes. As Michael Chick, Tait’s former CEO, said: “Angus was an immensely determined yet compassionate man, a great innovator and mentor for so many.” He might have been the ‘bigwig’ in his company but a truly admirable one.

angus-taitSir Angus Tait

The same in the past. Among wealthy people from the noble class there were some who cared about others and were trying very hard to push for changes in the society. In Russian history, there were Decembrists – noblemen united in an attempt to release their motherland from the chains of autocratic oppression, that was keeping Russia in poverty. There were hundreds of them, inspired by the constitutional governments of Western Europe. Members of the aristocracy, they were the first to rebel and attempt to overthrow the absolutist regime of the Tsar. However their uprising was a failure. They were condemned as criminals of the state. Five of them hanged, others incarcerated. More than a hundred sent into exile, sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in the mines of Siberia.

Decembrists’ wives followed their husbands into exile, leaving everything behind: their families, their children, their possessions, their lifestyle. One of these women – Maria Volkonskaya, the quintessence of class, a princess – had a newborn son.  All she wanted to take with her was her little baby – the Tsar did not allow her even that. They were never allowed to return…

If only the Decembrists won on that cold winter day and changed the course of Russian history – then, may be, there would have been no revolution, no civil war, no Stalin, no loss of millions of lives, no floods of blood, no tears and pain… 😦

‘The bigwigs’, ‘the fat cats’ – let’s try to see real people behind all these stereotypes. Some of them might be very bad, but a few might make us pleasantly surprised. 😉

6
From Think Rich, Look Poor

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THE END

The paradox of our time…

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have
taller buildings but shorter tempers,
wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints.
We spend more, but have less,
we buy more, but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families,
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense,
more knowledge, but less judgment,
more experts, yet more problems,
more medicine, but less wellness…

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life.
We’ve added years to life not life to years.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.
We conquered outer space but not inner space.
We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.
We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less.
We plan more, but accomplish less.
We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion,
big men and small character,
steep profits and shallow relationships…

Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.”

Dr.Bob Moorehead

Internet Hug
From tumblr.com

The Decline of Violence in History

“For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment that we can savor—and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightment that made it possible.”

(from “The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes” by Steven Pinker)

Religious writings: normative teachings vs. diverse cultural practices

“When dealing with the Islamic perspective of any topic, there should be a clear distinction between the normative teachings of Islam and the diverse cultural practices among Muslims, which may or may not be consistent with them.”

From Gender Equity in Islam

From One Chinese Muslimah

Core Islam Values

Family Life
The bonds between family is something that is extremely sacred. To illustrate that point the Prophet said that “no sin is more swiftly punished than oppression, and the breaking of family ties.” Also, the nature of the family in Islam is one that allows for everyone their specific roles and rights.

Humility
Often times during the life of Prophet Muhammed he would be sitting in the masjid with his companions. When others would walk in looking for him, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish him from the crowd because, unlike many rulers and kings of the time, the Prophet didn’t dress or speak in a way that was different or above those that were around him.

Generosity
The word for the charity given by Muslims yearly is Zakah and literally speaking, it means to purify and to make grow. These two definitions can be combined to conclude that giving from your wealth, no matter the size or your financial situation will not only purify your soul, but will put blessings in and increase your wealth as well.

Loving Your Neighbor
Islam isn’t just a religion that’s focused on only for one day–it’s a way of life, and because of that so many societal customs are emphasized. One prominent example is the importance of treating your neighbors right, no matter where they come from.

Trustworthiness
Trustworthiness is a trait that’s appreciated in all spectrums of society and is essential in order to promote community cohesiveness.

Holding Your Tongue
The idiom “if you don’t have anything nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all” spans countless cultures and times, and is an important aspect of Islam as well. Along with trying to speak the truth always, refraining from speaking bad can be just as noble.

Tolerance
As the world seems more to be heading to the extremes, it is important to learn and understand one another. Tolerance is an extremely important concept in Islam, whether it be understanding other races, religions, or customs.

Education
Whether it be seeking Islamic knowledge of secular knowledge, it’s important for Muslims to constantly be absorbing information. Many Muslims scholars throughout history are credited with inventing or discovering ideas that revolutionized the modern world, such as Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi and his work in algebra and the chemist Jabir Ibn Haiyan. Education in Islam is important for the Muslim to seek at all times in life, from the cradle to the grave.

( From Curious About Islam? )