"Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future" is the theme musicologist Olivia Mattis will discuss on Sunday, May 1, at 1 p.m., at 16th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Her keynote address is the centerpiece of the city-wide Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration, sponsored by the Memorial Committee for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Philadelphia.
In her role as co-founder of the Sousa Mendes Foundation, Mattis remembers and accepts responsibility for promoting the legacy of the selfless acts of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Righteous Gentile who helped members of her paternal family escape the horrors of the Holocaust.
In June, 1940, Sousa Mendes served as the Portuguese Consul General to Bordeaux, France. He issued 10,000 Portuguese visas that saved 30,000 Jews, enabling them to flee the Nazi occupation and travel to freedom. Seven members of Mattis' paternal family were rescued by Sousa Mendes from Brussels. Her maternal grandparents founded and led the Jewish Resistance there, while her mother was a hidden child.
Sousa Mendes paid dearly for his acts of conscience, which were in defiance of orders issued by Portuguese President Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, a Nazi-sympathizer, who ordered his diplomats to deny safe haven to refugees, including explicitly Jews, Russians, and other stateless persons.
Salazar stripped Sousa Mendes of his diplomatic position and forbade him to earn a living. He lost his home and died in poverty. The only help he received was from the Judaic Association of Lisbon, which fed him, his wife and their 15 children in its soup kitchen and paid their medical bills.
Mattis, a musicologist, who works in academic administration at Stony Brook University, has helped to bring attention to the heroism of Sousa Mendes. She has put together high-profile programs and music festivals to bring attention and funds to the Sousa Mendes Foundation, which plans to open a museum in the rescuer's honor.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will be in attendance at the Yom HaShoah program, which will also include a memorial candle lighting ceremony, laying of wreaths at the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, a performance by the Workmen's Circle Choir under the direction of Hazzan Naomi Hirsch and violin solos by Philip Kates of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
In case of rain, the ceremony will be moved to Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 North Broad Street. Any venue change will be announced on KYW NewsRadio.
For more information, call 215-832-0536.