Courage and Conviction: Lessons from Aristides de Sousa Mendes and Dr. Henry Morgentaler

Yesterday, a captivated audience filled the Montreal Jewish Public Library’s auditorium to watch “Disobedience,” a film recounting the extraordinary life of Aristide de Sousa Mendes. Following the screening, attendees were treated to a poignant panel discussion featuring Louis Philippe Mendes, Aristide Sousa de Mendes’ grandson and a Montreal resident.

Louis-Philippe‘s reflections resonated deeply as he reminded us of Aristides de Sousa Mendes’ remarkable act of conscience — defying direct government orders with unwavering courage, moral integrity, unselfishness, and self-sacrifice. He issued visas to all refugees regardless of nationality, race, religion, or political opinions. The film vividly portrayed his heroic deeds, showcasing collaboration with his male secretary and Rabbi Kruger. Amidst the challenges, Aristide, a father of 14 children with a pregnant mistress, exemplified a moving and gripping story that transcends time—a universal lesson for humanity.

Simultaneously, I listened to Gian Gomeshi’s interview with Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, the son of the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a prominent advocate for abortion rights. Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s recent passing at the age of ninety prompted a global outpouring of interviews and reviews. Yet, Abraham Morgentaler’s insights offered a unique perspective on his father’s journey.

Henry Morgentaler, who faced antisemitism in Lodz, Poland, and survived the Nazi invasion, later advocated for medical abortions in Canada despite societal and legal challenges. Abraham Morgentaler shared poignant anecdotes, including his father instilling the belief that holding to one’s convictions is paramount, even when the world disagrees. Another cherished memory was his father, amidst family celebrations, serenading the family with Yiddish or Edith Piaf songs.

Even in poverty after his death, Aristides de Sousa Mendes’ inspiring story lives on thanks to the support of the Jewish community. His heirs, along with community members, are actively sharing his legacy. For more information, visit the Sousa Mendes Foundation website, and those interested can contact the foundation to watch the impactful film.