Bachelor of Law at the age of 21, Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas arrived at the post of ambassador in 1919, being responsible for the Brazilian representation in Rome. In 1922, he was appointed ambassador to Paris, where he remained for more than twenty years.
Responsible for the Brazilian diplomatic mission in France during World War II, Souza Dantas granted entry visa in Brazil to Jews, communists, homosexuals and other groups persecuted by the Nazis, saving about 800 people from extermination between June 1940 and January 1941.
Driven by what he later called “the most elementary feelings of Christian piety”, Souza Dantas risked his career and his life by opposing the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler and the orientation of the Brazilian immigration policy of “New State” Regime of President Getúlio Vargas.
The major obstacle for refugees was not to find a safe ship for the crossing of the Atlantic, but the visas required for entry into the countries of destination, as it was rare for an ambassador to grant authorization.
Souza Dantas issued the “irregular” visas of his own hand to foreigners, not requiring documents, certificates, fees, bank transfers, jewelry, declaration or attestation, unlike many diplomats at the time. Whoever could contact him was saved, regardless of ethnic origin. Many times, Souza Dantas was not limited to issuing visas, also providing documents of travel through friends in other diplomatic representations.
He was accused of granting irregular visas in an inquiry opened by the administrative department of the public service under Presidency Vargas. To Itamaraty, he defended himself by lying that, after the prohibition, he did not give “even one visa”. Disregarding express orders, he still saved dozens of people.
Qualified as a hero by Brazilian newspapers, his notoriety soon displeased President Vargas and the news about Souza Dantas fell in the censorship of “New State” Regime, being the diplomat out of evidence in Brazil. With the end of the “New State” Regime and the political influence of former Itamaraty comrades, Souza Dantas was invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to head the Brazilian delegation to the first United Nations General Assembly.
He moved to Paris and died poor and abandoned in 1954. The most valuable asset found in the hotel room where he lived was the gold cord with the medal of the Baron of Rio Branco.
In 2003, Souza Dantas was proclaimed “Righteous Among The Nations”, title awarded by the Holocaust Museum in Israel to non-Jews who risked the position, status and their own lives to help Nazi refugees and, indeed , saved lives.
The rescue of de Souza Dantas memory whose name has been erased from history by Brazilian political determinants was made by the historian Fabio Koifman in “Quixote in darkness”.