From the testimony of Cesar Mendes, Sousa Mendes’ nephew
I decided to join my uncle. Later on when I arrived in Bordeaux and approached the consulate of Portugal I noticed immediately that a large crowd of refugees was heading that way. The closer I got to the consulate, the larger the crowd. They wanted desperately to get visas to go to Portugal.
Since 10 May 1940 until the occupation of the city by the Germans, the dining room, the drawing room, and the consul’s offices were at the disposal of the refugees – dozens of them of both sexes, all ages, and mainly old and sick people. They were coming and going; pregnant women who did not feel well and people who had seen their relatives die on the highways killed by airplane machine gun fire. They slept on chairs, on the floor, on the rugs. The situation was out of control. Even the consul’s offices were crowded with dozens of refugees who were dead-tired because they had waited for days and nights on the street, on the stairways, and finally in the offices. They did not eat or drink for fear of losing their places in the line. They looked distraught; they had not washed or changed their clothes or shaved. Most of them had nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
The incidents took such proportions that it was imperative to ask the army to preserve the order. In each room and in each office there was a soldier. These soldiers were under the orders of a sergeant. At that time the chancellery was located on the first floor of a building in the Quai Louis XVIII. It is still located there today. The sidewalks, the front door, the large stairways that led to the chancery were crowded with hundreds of refugees who remained there night and day waiting for their turn. In the chancery, they worked all day long and part of the night. My uncle got ill, exhausted, and had to lie down. He considered the pros and cons and decided to give all facilities without distinction of nationality, race or religion and to bear all the consequences. He was impelled by a divine power (these were his own words) and gave orders to grant free visas to everybody.
As in Bayonne his orders were not obeyed by the consul, he decided to go there himself. The refugees there received him with great joy and renewed their hopes to be saved.
The consulate of Bayonne was under the jurisdiction of the consulate of Bordeaux. My uncle then drove to the frontier to help ‘in loco’ the refugees. From there he went on to San Sebastian to meet the ambassador of Portugal to Madrid who insulted him, but my uncle did not give up and continued his humanitarian action saving refugees until the end when he was called to Lisbon….”