The writing prompts invite postcrossers to write about a different topic on their postcards’ messages every month. These are just suggestions though — if you already know what you want to write about, or the recipient gives you some pointers, that’s great too!
This month, let’s talk history.
I agonized over this prompt for a long time, no historical figure seeming quite right… and then a couple days ago over dinner, our friend Tiago (aka ogait) asked: “How about Aristides?” and suddenly I felt really stupid. But of course!
Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese consul in southern France when World War II broke out. Portugal was a neutral country and thus an appealing destination for the many people displaced by the war… but these were the dictatorship years. Fearing economic and political chaos, the authoritarian regime in power tightened the border controls and all consulates and embassies were issued strict orders to avoid giving out too many passports and transit visas.
But did Sousa Mendes care? No! He immediately disobeyed the order, on grounds that it was “an inhumane and racist directive”. Despite being officially reprimanded, he continued issuing thousands of visas to refugees who flocked to his embassy in Bordeaux. He was eventually called back to Lisbon, where he was trialed and suffered disciplinary punishments.
The regime took credit for receiving all those refugees, and history books of the time mention the benevolence of the dictator… but in reality, it was Sousa Mendes (and a few people like him) who disobeyed the law and made Portugal a safe haven for many. Alas,
they never made a movie about him(*), and his role in history was only recognized many decades later, when it was discovered that he had granted over 30,000 people safe passage to Portugal.
So… which historical character of your own country would you pick? We invite you to share something about a national historical figure in the postcards you send out this month.
(*) I stand corrected: Jéssica (aka J2404Pt) sent me a nice message to let me know they did make a movie about Aristides in 2011! It’s called the Consul of Bordeaux, and I’m off to the local library, to see if they have it there. Brilliant!