Thursday, July 17, 2008

Salvadoran diplomats saved thousands of Jews from Holocaust

A lengthy article article in the Washington Post this week recounts events in history I have mentioned before, where Salvadoran diplomats during World War II were responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Jews from Nazi extermination camps:

On government business in Europe before the war, Castellanos meets George Mandel. The war starts. Castellanos is posted to a succession of European cities as a diplomat. With Nazi tanks overrunning the continent, Mandel, as a Jew, knows he's in peril and turns to his friend. Castellanos makes Mandel an honorary Salvadoran diplomat and gives him a Salvadoran passport. Mandel changes his name to Mandel-Mantello, to give it a more Latin ring. Castellanos issues Salvadoran visas to other European Jews.

By 1942, Castellanos becomes the Salvadoran General Consul in Geneva and appoints Mandel-Mantello the consulate's "first secretary," a fictitious title that does not exist in the Salvadoran diplomatic hierarchy.

Mandel-Mantello proposes to Castellanos that they issue Salvadoran documents to help Jews survive. They charge little or nothing, whereas the papers from some other Latin American countries are being sold for high prices....

The Nazis, strangely legalistic and bureaucratic in their own way, seem willing to accept the proposition that foreign citizens, even Jews, could be exempt from anti-Jewish edicts.

After their invasion of Hungary in 1944, the Nazis step up the systematic slaughter of Jews, deporting hundreds of thousands from the countryside to death camps, then focusing on the hundreds of thousands remaining in Budapest. Typists in Geneva churn out the Salvadoran papers. They ship them via couriers into Budapest. When photos or biographical information are unavailable, they send pre-signed papers for Jews to fill in themselves.

The Salvadoran government asks the Swiss, as neutral representatives in Budapest, to protect the new Salvadoran citizens. In international safe houses -- such as the famous Glass House, a former glass factory -- the Swiss harbor thousands of Jews who possess Salvadoran papers or similar documents....

Kranzler estimated that as many as 9,000-10,000 Salvadoran nationality papers were issued. Ferracuti, the Salvadoran diplomat-researcher, cites a document found in Holocaust archives in Haifa that reports more than 13,000 certificates were issued. Since each document could cover a family, Kranzler has guessed that 30,000 or more Jews could have been covered by the papers. (entire article).

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