My Sister's Eyes - Curricular Unit
Prepared by Jane Robins Denny, Olivia Mattis and Joan Arnay Halperin
Why did the Krakowiak family become refugees? What were they escaping, and what were they hoping to find?
How is Aristides de Sousa Mendes an exemplar of moral courage? In what way did Rabbi Chaim Kruger act as a catalyst for the heroic action of Aristides de Sousa Mendes?
What is Yad Vashem, and what is their Righteous Among the Nations program? How can those awarded this recognition serve as a model to inspire people today?
In 1925, Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf, an antisemitic manifesto that outlined his political ideology and future plans for Germany. In January 1933, he was appointed as Chancellor of Germany and then consolidated his power through a series of strategic events such as the Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht. After the latter event, life for Jews in Germany and Austria became untenable. The result was a global refugee crisis, as Jews in large numbers attempted to flee the worsening conditions. In March of 1939, the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. In September of that year, they invaded Poland, and World War II began.
On Friday, May 10, 1940 the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in a blitzkrieg, and then continued into France across the Maginot Line. Millions of people fled south to escape the bombs and the advancing troops. Many of those who fled were refugees for the second time, having left Germany, Austria, Poland, Russia, or elsewhere. As a result, the moral courage of individual diplomats became crucial to the future of these desperate people in a world that largely closed its doors. Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Consul General of Portugal stationed in Bordeaux, France, was one such hero. He defied his government’s official policy (Circular 14) by issuing visas for temporary safe haven in Portugal to thousands of refugees.