Board of Directors

  • Mariana Abrantes de Sousa
    Mariana Abrantes de Sousa is an economist who studied at UC Berkeley and Princeton University and a former investment bank officer in New York and Portugal. She has been involved as a volunteer in the movement to recognize Aristides de Sousa Mendes and to create a museum in his family home Casa do Passal, both in the US and Portugal since 1986, when she met his son John Paul Abranches in California. She was raised in Beijós, the village where the Sousa Mendes family lived and where Angelina and Aristides were married, but under the Salazar regime no one ever said anything about the "hero from next door." A dual Portuguese-US citizen, she is retired and living in Portugal.
  • Joan Arnay Halperin

    Joan Halperin, daughter and granddaughter of Sousa Mendes visa recipients, is a retired teacher in the New York City public schools.  She participated in the Sousa Mendes Foundation's 2013 and 2016 "Journey on the Road to Freedom" and gave testimony in the documentary film, With God Against Man. Joan is conversant in Polish, Hebrew, Italian and French and holds a Master's degree in TESOL from Adelphi University. She is the author of My Sister's Eyes:  A Family Chronicle of Rescue and Loss During World War II and co-author of the accompanying Curricular Unit.  She has served on the Board of the Sousa Mendes Foundation and as the Director of its Educational Initiatives Committee, on which she continues to serve as a member.  

  • Monique Rubens Krohn
    Vice-President and Secretary

    Monique Rubens Krohn is a writer and historian with a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.Litt from Oxford University. Her mother, grandparents and six other maternal relatives received visas from Aristides de Sousa Mendes in their escape from Paris and Brussels in 1940. Krohn has deep experience in the non-profit sector, both as an independent development consultant and within various organizations. She has worked as a reporter based at the United Nations, corporate communications manager in the pharmaceutical industry, editor, event planner, and in other capacities. For more than twenty years, she has been active in the New Jersey-based Heritage Trail Association, a non-profit historical society for which she has served as President and Executive Director. Krohn has been active in interviewing visa recipients for the Sousa Mendes Foundation since her participation in its 2016 "Journey on the Road to Freedom" trip.

  • Dr. Olivia Mattis
    President and COO
    Board President Dr. Olivia Mattis is an award-winning musicologist and author with a Ph.D. from Stanford University and a B.A. from Yale University. Twelve members of her paternal family were rescued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes as they escaped from Belgium in 1940; meanwhile, her maternal grandparents founded and led the Jewish Resistance there, while her mother was a hidden child. Mattis lectures widely, and delivered Keynote addresses at the 2011 Yom Hashoah commemoration of the City of Philadelphia and the 2014 Yom Hashoah commemoration of the City of Rochester. She has organized high-profile international conferences and music festivals that have received media coverage from Good Morning America and The New York Times. She is Contributing Editor of the Jewish genealogy and family history journal, Avotaynu Online and author of "Sousa Mendes's List — The Search for Survivors."
  • Dr. Mordecai Paldiel

    Dr. Mordecai Paldiel headed the Righteous Among the Nations Department at Yad Vashem from 1982-2007, and was himself rescued from the Holocaust by a Righteous Gentile. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at Temple University in the field of Religious and Holocaust studies. His books include The Path of the Righteous, Sheltering the Jews, Saving the Jews, Diplomat Heroes of the Holocaust, Saving One's Own: Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust and The Righteous Among the Nations. He currently teaches at Stern College and Drew University and serves as a consultant to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.

  • Leah Sills

    Leah Sills is a former librarian at the Riverdale Country School in Bronx, NY. She holds an M.S. Ed. from the College of New Rochelle and a B.A. from The University of Massachusetts (Amherst). Her father, Stefan Rozenfeld, as well as her grandparents, Abraham and Eugenia Rozenfeld, were rescued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes and received visas #961 and 962 in May of 1940 and later arrived in New York in July of 1940. Leah is a longtime resident of New Rochelle, NY. She is a community activist, serves on two local boards, and participates in the Sills Family Foundation. She is also an outdoor enthusiast.

Advisory Council

  • Miguel Avila
    Miguel Valle Ávila is a photojournalist, columnist, and Assistant Editor of The Portuguese Tribune, as well as a Senior Director for a healthcare multinational. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree from San Jose State University and is the author of IV International Conference on the Holy Spirit Festas: A Photo Journal (Portuguese Heritage Publications, 2010). He serves as Co-Chair of the Portuguese Studies Program Advisory Board at San Jose State University. For decades an admirer of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, he coordinated the celebrations of the 70th Anniversary of his Act of Conscience with three events in 2010.
  • Dr. Michael Berenbaum
    Michael Berenbaum, Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and co-founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is one of the foremost Holocaust authorities in the world today. His books include A Promise to Remember: The Holocaust in the Words and Voices of Its Survivors; The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp; A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis and Witness to the Holocaust: An Illustrated Documentary History of the Holocaust in the Words of Its Victims, Perpetrators, and Bystanders. In film, his work as co-producer of One Survivor Remembers: The Gerda Weissman Klein Story was recognized with an Academy Award, an Emmy Award and the Cable Ace Award. He was the historical consultant on The Shoah Foundation's documentary The Last Days, which won an Academy Award for best feature-length documentary.
  • Inês Fialho Brandão

    Inês Fialho Brandão coordinates the Exiles Memorial Centre in Estoril, Portugal, which researches and interpretes the lives and memories of the refugees that passed through Portugal, 1933-45.  She received her M.A. in Near Eastern Studies/Museum Studies from New York University in 2003; and her M.A. History/History of Art from the University of Edinburgh in 2000. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in History at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her publications focus on museum ethics, practice, and collections: Multiple voices on art and Islam (editor); Collecting for the Res Publica (contributor); ‘What’s in Lisbon?’ Portuguese Sources in Nazi-era Provenance Research’ (Journal of Contemporary History); Jewish Legacies in Portugal (contributor). In 2020, the Association of Portuguese Museology recognised her work with the "Museum Person of the Year" Award. For 2021, she has four articles on museum education and "difficult histories."

  • João Crisóstomo
    João Crisóstomo is a humanitarian activist who has been a prime-mover in a variety of causes: the saving of the Stone Age engravings of Foz-Coa in Portugal (now designated a World Heritage Site); the struggle for the Independence of East Timor; and the recognition of three Holocaust rescuers: Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Luis Martins de Sousa Dantas, and Père Benoit. In 2000, following his involvement and contribution to the “Visas for Life” exhibit at the United Nations organized by Eric Saul and Rabbi David Baron, he was invited to join the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. João Crisóstomo has worked tirelessly for over 15 years to raise awareness and bring recognition to Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
  • Dr. Nathaniel Deutsch
    Dr. Nathaniel Deutsch is a Professor of History, the Co-Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, and the Director of the Institute for Humanities Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the son of the late Henri Zvi Deutsch, a Sousa Mendes visa recipient who was an important defender of the hero's memory and a prime-mover in the effort to have him recognized in Israel and worldwide. Deutsch has continued his father's efforts to honor the memory of Sousa Mendes through public speaking, and is developing an annual Sousa Mendes Lecture at his university.
  • Jane Friedman
    Jane Friedman, a veteran foreign correspondent, was until recently an editor at the Voice of America in Washington DC. Early in her career, she was a Newsweek correspondent in Paris followed by postings with CNN in Jerusalem and then Cairo. She has covered news overseas for The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Her father's family, from Antwerp, Belgium, received Portuguese visas in June 1940 thanks to the generosity of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Her forthcoming memoir is titled, The Diamond Dealer's Daughter.
  • Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell

    Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell is Professor and founder of the Master of Arts Program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and is an internationally recognized Holocaust educator. She is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Center on the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights and from 1980-2011 was the Director of the Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, both based at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Her books include Liturgies on the Holocaust: An Interfaith Anthology, The Genocidal Mind and Women in the Holocaust: Responses, Insights and Perspectives. 

  • Dr. Andrée Lotey
    Dr. Andrée Lotey holds a Ph.D in French Literature and teaches French language and literature at Université de Montréal.  As a professor at Université canadienne en France, she has organized art and literary tours in the Côte d’Azur and Provence regions of France. In addition to numerous newspaper and scholarly articles, she has written a screenplay revolving around Marc Chagall.  Thanks to a hidden suitcase, she discovered that her late father, Jacob Lotenberg, was saved by Aristides de Sousa Mendes.  She is currently writing a screenplay on this discovery, entitled The Green Suitcase.  Dr. Lotey is a former Board Member of the Sousa Mendes Foundation and is a frequent speaker on the Sousa Mendes story.
  • Gerald Mendes

    Gerald Mendes is the son of Luis-Filipe Mendes, one of the youngest children of Aristides and Angelina de Sousa Mendes. Gerald was born in Montreal and lives in France. He worked all his professional life as an Industrial Engineer, mostly in the pharmaceutical industry. Now retired, he continues to do professional training in the areas of Supply Chain and Logistics. He first learned of his grandfather’s action in 1967, after his father returned home from the ceremony in New York where the Yad Vashem medal was conferred. Gerald is a former Board member of the Sousa Mendes Foundation and has been promoting his grandfather’s legacy since the 1980s. He is a triathlete as well as a new grandfather to baby Jacob, born in 2020.

  • Gabriele Nissim
    Gabriele Nissim is an Italian journalist, historian and essayist. He is the Chairman of the Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide Committee (GARIWO), that honors the Righteous of all genocides the world over. He is the author or co-author of Invisible Jews: Eastern European Holocaust Survivors from the Communist Era until Today, The Man who Stopped Hitler: The Story of Dimitar Peshev and The Tribunal of Good: The Story of Moshe Bejski. In 1998 the Bulgarian Parliament knighted him for discovering Dimitar Peshev, the savior of the Bulgarian Jews. In 2003 he won the critics' prize "Iliaria Alpi" for the TV documentary Il giudice dei Giusti. He was one of the founders of a museum devoted to Peshev in Bulgaria. He also promoted the creation of the Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide Committee in Milan, he created the first park dedicated to the victims of the gulag in the Valsesia Park of Milan and he spearheaded the creation of a memorial dedicated to the 1000 Italian victims of Soviet totalitarianism.
  • Luis Pires

    Luis Pires is the news editor of the Portuguese-American newspaper Luso-Americano and the author of the Portuguese book O Anjo de Bordéus about Aristides de Sousa Mendes, forthcoming in an English-language edition. He was a radio and television personality in Portugal before immigrating to the United States, where he has worked as a correspondent for Portuguese television and a news anchor for the Newark-based station SPT-TV. 

  • Adélio Simões
    Adélio Simões holds an MBA and is the Founder and CEO of Iberel Corporation. Born in Portugal during the Salazar regime and now living in the United States, he has been interested in the Sousa Mendes cause for many years.
  • Michael Spett
    Michael D. Spett is a retired New York City printer-publisher now residing in Florida. Born in Brussels, Belgium, he escaped with his family via France and Portugal. In 1986 the family's Portuguese visa, signed by Aristides de Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux, was reproduced in The Courage to Care, a book about the Righteous Gentiles that was designed and printed by his firm. This led to his participation in the Portuguese documentary film Le Consul proscrit and subsequently to the production of another Holocaust related book, The Yellow Star, the American translation of the highly regarded German photo-documentary volume, Der gelbe Stern.

Others on our Team

  • Ella Andriesse

    Ella Andriesse is a retired New York State attorney with a degree in International Public Law from Leiden University in the Netherlands. Six members of her family received visas in June of 1940 from Aristides de Sousa Mendes and traveled from Bayonne, France to Porto, Portugal on a sardine boat, the Milena.  She is a member of the Foundation's research team.  She conducts research and interviews on behalf of the Foundation and participated in the 2016 and 2017 Journey on the Road to Freedom pilgrimages.  She is documenting the 1940 journey of the Milena in preparation for an upcoming exhibition in Portugal.

  • Anton Evangelista
    Anton Evangelista is an award-winning New York-based filmmaker who has spearheaded the Foundation's project to capture the personal stories of the Sousa Mendes visa recipients on film.  A graduate of the High School of Art and Design in New York City, he founded his production company Comprehensive Films in 1994.  His directorial credits include Just Laugh!, a documentary on the healing effects of laughter featuring Regis Philbin and other celebrities, and Umberto E, a tribute to the filmmaker's father that tells a story of personal triumph, in which love and forgiveness serve as weapons of "revenge."  
  • Jeannette V. Cookie Fischer
    Liaison for Jewish and American Communities in Portugal

    Jeannette V. ("Cookie") Fischer has lived and worked globally as a teacher, trainer, coach, and consultant working on multilingual and transdisciplinary projects.  Born in Peru of European parents, she has lived and worked in the US, Asia, Europe, Mexico, South America, and Israel. Cookie’s mother, Ada van den Bergh Fischer, escaped from Bayonne on June 22, 1940 on a sardine schooner with a visa issued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Cookie has been involved with our Foundation since 2017, retracing her mother’s escape on the “Journey to the Road to Freedom,” a trip that follows the footsteps of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and the refugees he saved. She is the tour co-leader for the 2023 Journey and lives in Portugal.

  • Stuart Freedman

    Stuart Freedman serves on the Educational Initiatives Committee of the Sousa Mendes Foundation.  He was a high school teacher in Worcester, MA whose career spanned from AP American History, Sociology, and Psychology, to Special Ed.  A Vietnam War combat infantry veteran from 1965-66, he maintains a lifelong interest in World War II history, particularly the Holocaust and the Russian-German War. He is also passionate about American politics and since retiring leads a weekly Current Events Discussion Group.  He participated in the Sousa Mendes Foundation's 2019 Journey on the Road to Freedom tour.

  • Avi Losice

    Avi Losice is the Israeli representative of the Sousa Mendes Foundation.  He is a descendant of three generations who received June 1940 visas from Aristides de Sousa Mendes.  He was born and raised in Albany, NY.  Avi was educated at City University of New York and New York University in addition to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. He was an analyst and a manager at Standard & Poor’s and an Assistant Director at the US Securities and Exchange Commission.  Avi and his family have made Aliyah and reside in Jerusalem.  

  • Myra Bard Michaelson

    Myra Bard Michaelson serves on the Educational Initiatives Committee of the Sousa Mendes Foundation.  She is a graduate of McGill University and the University of British Columbia and has been working as an educator in a private Jewish Day school in Vancouver for the past 30 years.  She has been involved in Holocaust education for many years and chaperoned a March of the Living teen group to Poland and Israel several years ago. She uses Joan Halperin’s book My Sister's Eyes and curriculum (co-produced by the Sousa Mendes Foundation) with her Grade Six students in Jewish History studies.  She participated in the Foundation's 2019 Journey on the Road to Freedom tour.

  • Heidi Omlor
    Chair, Educational Initiatives Committee

    Heidi Omlor serves on the Educational Initiatives Committee of the Sousa Mendes Foundation.  She is a Holocaust educator at Ellsworth High School in Maine, and is obtaining her Ph.D. in Holocaust Studies at Gratz University.  She participated in the Sousa Mendes Foundation's 2019 Journey on the Road to Freedom tour and is the author of "Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches: Diplomat, Christian, Savior, Hero."

  • Luisa da Rocha

    Luisa da Rocha is a museology, museography, art and multimedia consultant, an exhibition curator and an artist. She was the curator and designer of the exhibition Aristides de Sousa Mendes -- Reasons of Humanity presented at General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Portugal from 2020-22. This exhibition was shown in 2023 in the Polytechnic of Lisbon. Luisa is the author of a graduate thesis titled "A Memory that Cannot be Forgotten: Aristides de Sousa Mendes' Reasons of Humanity."


  • Jackie Schwarz
    A native of London and resident of Antwerp, Belgium, Jackie Schwarz has worked as a gemologist and jewelry designer. Since 2005, she has conducted genealogical research in Belgian and European archives, with a primary focus on helping Jewish families discover lost personal histories. Seven members of her husband's family received Portuguese visas from Aristides de Sousa Mendes. A key member of the SMF research team, she investigates family links between the visa recipients and obtains their photographs, in order to put a face to every name.
  • Laura Seltzer-Duny

    Laura Seltzer-Duny is a member of the Educational Initiatives Committee of the Sousa Mendes Foundation. She is an award-winning PBS documentary and educational filmmaker who has a special interest in producing historical films featuring unsung heroes. Her most recent film, Nobody Wants Us is about a ship of Holocaust refugees escaping war-torn Europe and hoping to be allowed in the US. Many held lifesaving visas issued by Aristides de Sousa MendesLaura is based in the Washington, DC area and travels around the globe for causes she believes in.

  • Joanne Tuck

    Joanne Tuck serves on the Educational Initiatives Committee of the Sousa Mendes Foundation.  She taught "Facing History:  Holocaust and Human Behavior" at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston for 30 years.  For many years she served on the Teachers Advisory Board of the organization Facing History and Ourselves.  She is the author of An Educator’s Legacy: Reflections on Teaching Facing History and the Long Term Impact of the Facing History and Ourselves Elective Course at Wentworth Institute of Technology.  Joanne conducted research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for her paper, "Designers of Death Nazi Engineers During the Holocaust."  She participated in the Sousa Mendes Foundation's 2019 Journey on the Road to Freedom tour.

  • Ellen Widawsky
    Vice-Chair, Educational Initiatives Committee

    Ellen Widawsky serves on the Educational Initiatives Committee of the Sousa Mendes Foundation.  She is a Library/Media specialist in the Merrick Union Free School District in North Merrick, NY.  She has been teaching an Introduction to the Holocaust unit for several years.  She participated in the Sousa Mendes Foundation's 2019 Journey on the Road to Freedom tour.

The Sousa Mendes Foundation is a member of the Association of Holocaust Organizations and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.