Hulu's 'We Were the Lucky Ones' Introduces Us to Brazilian Holocaust Hero Ambassador Souza Dantas – Kveller
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Hulu’s ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Introduces Us to Brazilian Holocaust Hero Ambassador Souza Dantas

The true story of Luis Martins de Souza Dantas and the SS Alsina is one worth remembering.

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Hulu’s “We Were the Lucky Ones” is a rare Holocaust show in that it really focuses on the heroism and the tenacity of Jewish characters fighting for their own survival. We witness this narrative through the eyes of the Polish Jewish Kurc family and an all-star cast featuring Joey King, Logan Lerman and the best talent Israel has to offer, from Lior Ashkenazi to Michael Aloni.

But while the show definitely prioritizes its Jewish characters and their stories, these characters sometimes rely on non-Jewish allies for their survival. Specifically, in the second episode of the show, Addy (the character based on “We Were the Lucky Ones” author Georgia Hunter’s own grandfather and played by Logan Lerman) asks for help from a Brazilian politician who was dubbed by Yad Vashem “Righteous Among Nations” for his work helping Jewish refugees escape Europe. His name was Luis Martins de Souza Dantas — or as he is referred to in the show, Ambassador Dantas — and he’s played by Swiss actor Raul Fernandes, who has had small roles in shows like “Bridgerton” and “Masters of the Air.”

Souza Dantas was a diplomat working in Vichy France who helped save hundreds of Jews and other refugees by forging diplomatic visas, backdating them and omitting their carrier’s Jewish identities. The visas were mostly handwritten by Souza Dantas himself, in French, to aid with the local authorities.

In the show, Addy, stranded in France while his family is in Poland, discusses rumors about Souza Dantas with fellow Jews waiting for visas at the local American embassy. After being rejected by the Brazilian embassy itself, he waits at Dantas’ residence and approaches him when he returns from work.

He tells Dantas that he’s an electrical engineer by trade, and when Dantas tells him he should go to the embassy, Addy replies: “I am not sure your embassy is interested in welcoming people like myself,” — meaning of course, Jews. The Brazillian government at the time, then led by President Vargas, had issued a secret circular instructing consuls around Europe to not allow people of Semitic origins into the country.

In the show, Dantas inquires about Addy’s family in Radom, Poland, and after reminding him that Rio is “a world away,” urges Addy to leave his passport with him. He also tells Addy about a ship, the Alsina, that is leaving from Marseilles to Rio — the last one planned to lead refugees to the Latin American country. “You should make sure you’re on it,” Dantas says.

As well as helping with visas, Dantas also helped rescue Jews on the Alsina (who were stopped and held up in Casablanca) make it to Rio.

Dantas did get in trouble with his government for the forgeries and was brought to trial for his “irregular” actions by President Vargas. But in the end, he was not convicted based on a technicality.

In the episode, Addy tries to give Dantas money for his help — but the diplomat refuses. That was true about Dantas in history, too: he did not do his work for money. One of the recipients of his help who tried to offer him a gift in gratitude recalls Souza Dantas suggesting that he donate it to the Red Cross.

Souza Dantas saved Jews of all socio-economic backgrounds, as well as people who weren’t Jewish but were accused of being communists or homosexuals. A Polish Brazilian theater director he saved him called him his own personal “Quixote.” Some have called him the Brazilian Schindler.

Dantas did what he did, risking his own livelihood and life, out of what he called a “Christian sense of mercy.” In a letter to a fellow diplomat, he wrote that “camps set up by the Nazis were like something out of Dante’s Inferno.”

One of the children Dantas helped save was Felix Rohatyn, a successful American financier who himself became the American ambassador to France in 1997. Rohatyn once said that if it were not for Dantas, “I would have ended as ashes in Auschwitz.”

In 2003,  the posthumous honor of Righteous Among Nations was bestowed on the former ambassador at an event in Yad Vashem. Brazilian Ambassador Sergio Moreira Lima and Raphael Zimetbaum, who survived the Holocaust thanks to Souza Dantas, were in attendance.

In total, Souza Dantas saved an estimated 800 people during the war. 425 of them were confirmed to be Jewish. He died in poverty in Paris in April 1954 on Good Friday. He had no children. Yet he helped keep scores of families together, alive.

The true story of Souza Dantas is one worth remembering, and it’s powerful that “We Were the Lucky Ones” chose to include his bravery and kindness amid the Jewish stories the show is telling.

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