In June 2020, the Portuguese Government launched the National Programme Never Forget – in Remembrance of the Holocaust to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and promote the safeguard of human rights.
The launch of the Never Forget Programme marked the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations and of the start of the Nuremberg trials, as well as the 80th anniversary of the courageous action by Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese Consul General in Bordeaux during the second world war. Disregarding governmental instructions, Aristides de Sousa Mendes issued thousands of Visas to countless refugees, many of them Jews, thus helping to rescue them from the risk of persecution by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. In recognition of his determination and decisive action, Aristides de Sousa Mendes was honored by Yad Vashem, in 1966, as Righteous among the Nations.
The Never Forget Programme evokes the tragic years of the second world war, the extermination of millions of Jews and the killing of countless other victims. And, through a wide range of initiatives, it promotes the consolidation and dissemination of information about the way this dramatic period was experienced in Portugal. The Programme gives special attention to the thousands of refugees who sought safety and protection in our country; and to the dramatic experience of hundreds of Portuguese victims who endured the horrors of the Nazi concentration system, because of their association with the resistance movement, as prisoners of war, or enslaved in labour camps of the Third Reich. Moreover, the Programme recognizes the Portuguese citizens who, putting their own safety at risk, undertook courageous actions to protect those in danger of persecution by the Nazi regime and its allies. Some were diplomats, like Aristides de Sousa Mendes, as well as Sampayo Garrido and Teixeira Branquinho; others, religious figures, as was the case of priest Joaquim Carreira, in Rome; still others, were anonymous citizens refusing to remain indifferent when the life of others was endangered, as was the case of José Brito Mendes, migrant worker in France.
Preserving history is key to prevent the memory of the Holocaust from being lost. But, as stressed by Elie Wiesel, “the rejection of memory becomes a divine curse, one that would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.” Indeed, preserving the memory of the past is key to prevent new risks from growing into the atrocities of the past. As we know only too well, the Holocaust did not start with gas chambers.
For this reason, the Never Forget Programme undertakes initiatives to help prevent the risk of discrimination or intolerance in today´s world. Risks such as those resulting from mounting antisemitic incidents endured by Jewish communities, in Europe and beyond. Risks encountered by millions of refugees and displaced persons, desperately trying to reach a safe haven to escape war or human rights violations, and yet often met with violence and hate speech. And risks associated with weak awareness of the Holocaust, paving the way to growing Holocaust denial or distortion attempts.
The implementation of the Never Forget Programme is pursued by an Inter-Ministerial Commission in close collaboration with a multi-stakeholder alliance of governmental and local authorities, research institutions, associations for Holocaust remembrance and education, cultural and civil society organizations, professional groups and regional and international organizations.
Since its opening in early 2021, the Holocaust Museum of Porto has been a close partner through its important exhibits and activities in the areas of education, professional training for educators, and support to research.
The Never Forget multi-stakeholder partnership has been crucial to accomplish significant results. This strong alliance with so many active and committed partners reassures us that the many initiatives that have been pursued so far will continue to be further advanced and reinforced for many years to come.
Thanks to this excellent collaboration, the Programme promoted educational and digital resources to support learning and teaching about the Holocaust. Capacity building programmes are now in place for educators, lawyers, diplomats, and public officials. Research has been further advanced, including on the Roma genocide and on the Portuguese forced labourer victims. A digital platform will be made available soon to enable easy and free access to information and to support researchers in their endeavors. Under the auspices of the Programme, significant conferences, exhibits and publications have been promoted to raise awareness and consolidate knowledge, including about the Portuguese victims and those who fought courageously to ensure the protection of imperiled populations. And a major process was set in motion at the local level, with municipalities and local authorities, to preserve our common past, support education and capacity building, and disseminate information amongst the public at large and the younger generations.
These important measures have been crucial to ensure we will never forget the atrocities of the past, the tragic experience of the victims, as well as the solidarity with refugees and the brave action of our Righteous.
And these initiatives will remain an inspiring reminder of our individual and collective responsibility to refuse apathy and indifference when manifestations of intolerance or discrimination occur.