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PORTUGAL HONORS 'GREATEST' WWII HERO

Nazi troops were three days from Paris when Portugal's dictator delivered a stern command to his diplomatic corps: "Issue no visas to persons of impure blood, or to opponents of the Nazi government."

Defying the order, consul Aristides Sousa Mendes threw himself into a frantic, 72-hour visa-writing blitz.

On Friday, Portugal rewarded his defiance with a plaque to its "greatest hero of World War II" -- 55 years after Sousa Mendes was tossed from the Foreign Ministry and his 13 children had to flee into exile and poverty.

Scribbling around the clock at the Portuguese Consulate in Bordeaux with the help of two sons, by June 18, 1940, the consul had issued permits to 30,000 fleeing Jews, Poles, French resistance fighters and other refugees. He passed 500 of the impromptu visas from the bathroom window of the train that was to carry him home in custody of the Portuguese secret police.

The week-long commemoration was the fruit of a campaign by John Paul Sousa Mendes of Mesa, Ariz., who has fought to redeem his father's name in his native country. Aristides Sousa Mendes died in poverty in Lisbon in 1954.

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