Seattle 24-May-2010

I was home for a week between trips, having just returned from New York state, and leaving for Atlanta in a few days.

I was sorting through messages sent to my old email address (it receives 100+ spam each day!) when I came across an unusual looking message, written in French, saying something about a trip to France to pay homage to Aristides de Sousa Mendes. The message had been sent over a week earlier, but I reponded as soon as I understood what it was about.


Sent: Friday, May 14, 2010 1:36 AM
Subject: Voyage en hommage à Aristides de Sousa Mendes


Je vous remercie de trouver ci-joint le pré-programme du Voyage en hommages à Aristides de Sousa Mendes, qui se tiendra à Paris, Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet et Hendaye du 21 au 26 juin.

A ce jour, et en attente d’autres confirmations, la délégation se composera d’environ 30 personnes.

Chargée de l’organisation du voyage, je vous serai reconnaissante de bien vouloir m’envoyer par retour:

- La confirmation de votre venue
Votre date et heure d’arrivée

- Etes-vous seul(e) ou accompagné(e)
Dans le cas où vous seriez accompagné, faudra-t-il prévoir une chambre double ou deux chambres

- Votre participation à
Paris : oui – non
Bordeaux : oui – non
Bayonne : oui – non
Hendaye : oui – non

- Les éléments d’identité des personnes participants au Voyage
Nom et prénom
Date et lieu de naissance

- Votre date et lieu de départ s’il est différent de celui que nous avons prévu c'est-à-dire TGV Hendaye- Paris le 26 juin à 14 h 01

- Et tous les renseignements que vous jugerez utiles de nous envoyer.

Le Comité national français se réjouit de vous accueillir et nous restons à votre disposition pour tout renseignement complémentaire.

Nous vous prions de croire, à nos sentiments les plus cordiaux.

Hellen Kaufmann
Pour le Comité national français en hommage à Aristides de Sousa Mendes


I used to translate the message, and then I looked up Aristides de Sousa Mendes on Wikipedia.

The article explains that he was the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France during the years 1939-40. He disobeyed the orders of the dictator Salazar, and issued visas to over 30,000 refugees so that they could escape the invasion of France by Nazi Germany. It was immediately evident to me that Aristides de Sousa Mendes had issued visas to my grandparents, Jacques and Kate Oesterreicher.

I have long known that my father, Arthur, and his parents (Jacques and Kate) had left Vienna and were in Paris until 1939. They came to Bordeaux at the end of that summer, went to Portugal in 1940, to Cuba in 1941, and finally emigrated to New York. I have my father's "fragmentary chronology" and original official documents to support these facts.

I wrote back to Hellen Kaufmann to get more information on the voyage -- she provided further details and confirmed that my grandparents received visas #816-817 on May 17, 1940. I was able to verify this through Museu Virtual Aristides de Sousa Mendes.

I came to the conclusion that Hellen found me through a Google search on my grandparents names, which would lead to the genealogy page assembled by my cousin Janos with contributions from my archives.

I had never heard of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, but once it became clear that he issued the visas that allowed my grandparents and father to escape, saving their lives and as a result my entire family, I immediately decided to join the delegation for the voyage. I would fly to Paris in just over three weeks!