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Members of the Jewish community and others in Utah remembered a Portuguese consul in France during World War II who saved the lives of several people who are now state residents and tens of thousands of other Jews trying to escape the Nazis.
Speakers on Sunday at Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Utah State Capitol Rotunda told about the exploits of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who was called an "unsung hero" for saving the lives of 30,000 Jews who faced possible extermination in Hitler's death camps.
One was Daniel Mattis, a University of Utah physics professor, who told a crowd of about 250 people that he was 7 years old when his family was forced to flee. They had visas for Brazil but needed some way to first get out of France.
Then someone told his father that the Portuguese consul was giving out visas in Bordeaux, France, and from him the family obtained visas for Portugal, then went to Brazil and eventually to the United States.
In 1980, Mattis said he and his wife, Noemi, a psychiatrist, moved to Utah. In 1996, the couple attended a show of slides and movies about "Unsung Heroes of World War II."
"One of them was Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the man who had saved our lives," said Mattis.
From there, a foundation was born to research the history of Sousa Mendes and his role in saving thousands of lives. An exhibition remembering Sousa Mendes is in place at the Marriott Library at the University of Utah through the end of this month.
A grandson of his now lives in Salt Lake City and was introduced at the ceremony. A foundation is trying to name and locate those whose lives Sousa Mendes saved and their descendants.
The Sunday ceremony included the lighting of six candles to commemorate the 6 million Jews murdered during World War II. The lighting was followed by a minute of silence.
Rabbi Benny Zippel, of the Congregation Bais Menchem/Chabad, referred in a prayer to the Jewish belief from "the first murder in history that an individual is a whole world."
"This is a potent message in the wake of the Holocaust," Zippel said. "Each individual of the 6 million Jews and beyond was a whole world. The Nazis did not just wipe out one-third of Jewry, the Nazis destroyed the world 6 million times."
Gov. Gary Herbert was on the program to read a proclamation but instead was represented by Mike Mower, his deputy chief of staff. The Utah Valley University Choir provided music for the event.
Ceremony • A ceremony to honor heroes of the Holocaust is set for Wednesday at the Hill Air Force Base Chapel with guest speakers Daniel and Noemi Mattis. A video at 9:40 a.m. will precede the 10 a.m. ceremony.
Exhibit • "These are my people! The story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes" is on display at the University of Utah's Marriott Library, 295 S. 1500 East, through May 29. It is free and open to the public.