09 December 2003
At a ceremony at Yad Vashem on December 10 at 12:30 PM, Yad Vashem will recognize the late Brazilian diplomat Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas as a Righteous Among the Nations. Dantas illegally granted Brazilian diplomatic visas to hundreds of Jews in France during the Holocaust, saving them from certain death. Among the participants will be Brazilian Ambassador Sergio Moreira Lima; a Holocaust survivor saved by Dantes, Raphael Zimetbaum; Director General of Yad Vashem, Iishai Amrami; and members of the Committee for the Righteous Among the Nations. Dantas’ Righteous Among the Nations certificate and medallion will be entrusted to Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, who will present it to the Dantas family at an official ceremony in Brazil.
Dantas served as Brazil’s ambassador to France during the Nazi occupation of Europe. In 1940, Dantas requested and received permission from the Brazilian foreign minister to issue immigration visas to a limited number of French citizens. Despite Brazil’s ban on immigration of Jews, he granted diplomatic visas to hundreds of Jews seeking to escape the Vichy regime, while taking great care to cover all evidence of their Jewishness. Dantas often forged the issue dates of the diplomatic visas, in order to predate the subsequent ban on their use. Dantas was fully aware of the severe illegality of his actions, and he did not request any compensation for the forgeries.
In 1941, Dantas intervened to save a passenger ship carrying a large number of Jews with his forged visas. Prevented by the British naval blockade from landing in Senegal for four months, the Alsina was forced to land in Casablanca. Dantas arranged for the then-expired visas to be renewed, thus enabling the Jews to escape unharmed to Rio de Janeiro.
Meanwhile, suspicions mounted against Dantas, and he was recalled to Brazil for disciplinary hearings. He was saved from trial by a technicality - namely, his status as a retiree during the period in which he forged the visas.
In recognition of his having saved Jews from perishing in the Holocaust at great personal risk, the Committee for the Righteous Among the Nations recently decided to recognize Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas as a Righteous Among the Nations.
A person recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations is awarded a specially minted medal bearing his name, a certificate of honor, and the privilege of his/her name being added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. The awards are distributed to the rescuers or their next of kin in ceremonies in Israel, or in their countries of residence through Israel's diplomatic representatives.