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October 21, 2013
Jewish and Portuguese communities honour Second World War diplomat and humanitarian with playground dedication
On Sunday, October 20, City of Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21 St. Paul's) and City staff joined representatives from Associação Cultural 25 de Abril, Leo Baeck Day School, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to unveil the newly designed Sousa Mendes Playground and plaque honouring Second World War diplomat and humanitarian Aristides de Sousa Mendes for his selfless act of issuing visas, enabling thousands to escape the Nazi invasion of France in June 1940.

"This memorial and naming of the playground serve as a reminder of the many and diverse stories that bring communities together in unexpected ways," said Councillor Mihevc. "Having this playground, a place of play and freedom, is a fitting tribute to a man who enabled so many to escape the Nazi war machine."

The newly designed Sousa Mendes Playground includes junior and senior play structures, an Apollo net climber, a sand box and a new wood chip safety surface. The plaque was donated through fundraising by the Labourers' International Union of North America Local 183 and installed in a paving wall, welcoming visitors to the playground.

"Local 183 is proud to have donated the plaque to honour the great Portuguese leader, Aristides de Sousa Mendes," said Jack Oliveira, Business Manager of the Labourers' International Union of North America Local 183. "Mendes showed tremendous courage and compassion by providing access to save the lives of more than 30,000 people. This was truly a heroic act of selflessness; he risked his life and career by disobeying the orders of his own government."

"The Portuguese community considers Sousa Mendes a truly courageous, compassionate Portuguese hero of all times, saving thousands of lives, ignoring his own," said Ligia Nobrega, President of Associação Cultural 25 de Abril. "It is a great honour to see him being recognized in this way."

The event was listed as a Holocaust Education Week activity and featured performances, a reception, interviews with visas recipients and Sousa Mendes family members, as well as screening of the film Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story.

"Mendes saved more lives than Oskar Schindler and his is not yet a household name," said Eric Petersiel, Head of School, The Leo Baeck Day School. "We hope that this honour will raise the profile of one who saved over 12,000 Jews and almost 30,000 people in total from oppression and certain death, despite direct orders not to do so. It is an incredible story with which every Canadian of Jewish, Portuguese or any descent, must be familiar."

The Sousa Mendes Playground is located in Arlington Parkette at 460 Arlington Ave.

Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.8 million people. Toronto's government is dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city. For information on non-emergency City services and programs, Toronto residents, businesses and visitors can dial 311, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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