Initial victory for family of Aristides de Sousa Mendes in anti-defamation lawsuit

In court filing, defendants admit that Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a hero


On January 26, 2018, several grandchildren of the late Consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches filed an anti-defamation complaint with the Civil Judicial Court of Lisbon against the authors and publishers of several articles and books attacking the memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Consul of Portugal in Bordeaux in 1940 who was recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in 1966.


In a civil lawsuit, the publishing house TEXTO PRINCIPAL, and the individual authors DUARTE BRANQUINHO, CARLOS FERNANDES, MIGUEL MATTOS CHAVES and JOÃO JOSÉ BRANDÃO FERREIRA were cited for “offense to the memory of a dead person” and defamation against his living descendants, for having published misleading, defamatory, denigrating and antisemitic remarks, including the denial of historical facts, in various blogs, books and newspapers, alleging, among other things, that the late Consul had extorted money from the fleeing refugees in exchange for visas, that Jewish refugees were not in mortal danger in June of 1940 in Nazi-occupied France, and that the financial settlement paid by the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the descendants of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, as compensation for the persecution he suffered under Salazar’s regime, was illegally squandered.


In a court filing of early October 2018, the defendants responded to the lawsuit, conceding that Aristides de Sousa Mendes was indeed a hero and that no money was extorted in exchange for visas. Concerning the indemnity, the defendants now claim that they never alleged that the funds were misused but merely questioned the settlement itself.  Defendant CHAVES further claims that he resigned as editor of the newspaper DIABO in opposition to its Board of Directors who insisted on continuing with the defamation campaign.  Although this attempted retraction is an initial victory for the plaintiffs, the case will proceed to trial in the Portuguese courts.  The coming trial will most likely focus on whether or not the defendants alleged the above-mentioned false and defamatory statements and whether they had any serious reasons to believe that those false and defamatory statements were true.


The lawsuit contends that the defendants, who are all pro-Salazar (Portugal’s former dictator who determined that Sousa Mendes should be prosecuted and punished for his heroic action), were well aware of the internal disciplinary process carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MNE) in 1940, in which the extortion charge was deemed unfounded.  It further contends that they knew that the financial settlement paid to the descendants by the Portuguese government was duly accounted for in public documents and was applied in full towards the acquisition and rehabilitation of the late Consul’s house, the “Casa do Passal” located in Cabanas de Viriato, for the creation of a memorial museum dedicated to perpetuate the memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and the families he rescued.  The lawsuit contends that the defendants, in order to favor and convince others of an ideological opinion (the defense of Salazar’s regime), willfully and maliciously distorted historical facts, omitted others, and created a false and dishonorable image of the plaintiffs and their grandfather.


The plaintiffs, who are all grandchildren of the Consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches, were shocked and hurt by the defamatory publications which are misleading and confusing for the public. These grandchildren are from different countries and have all been involved in the rehabilitation of their grandfather’s memory as well as in the protection of the truth.  They are seeking public retraction and damages.  The plaintiffs are Sheila Abranches, USA, Gerald de Sousa Mendes, France, Aristides Manuel de Alpoim de Sousa Mendes, Portugal, and Antonio Pedro de Moncada Sousa Mendes, Portugal.  They are represented by attorney Afonso Duarte of the Lisbon-based firm Rui Pinto Duarte & Associados.


The Sousa Mendes Foundation hails this anti-defamation lawsuit as a milestone in the process of rehabilitating the memory of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and of preserving the legacy of his moral courage.