Tuesday, July 15, 2008

a salvadoran savior

I've heard of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews during World War II before disappearing after being arrested by the Soviets. And I've heard about the Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who with his wife Yukiko defied orders from Tokyo and issued Japanese visas to Jews that enabled them to leave Nazi-dominated Europe; they are credited with saving perhaps 6000 lives.

But I had never heard of José Arturo Castellanos. Until I read this moving account. To summarize, Castellanos was a Salvadoran diplomat who served in several European capitals before and during the war. He became friends with a Hungarian Jew called George Mandel. After the situation of Jews in Europe became perilous because of Nazi domination, Castellanos issued papers making Mandel appear to be another diplomat from El Salvador. The two of them went on to issue thousands of passports to Jews - charging little or nothing - "proving" that they were Salvadoran citizens and therefore gaining protection from the Nazi thugs and the death camps. Castellanos and Mandel, and the Salvadoran consulate in Switzerland, in particular picked up the pace of issuing documents after the Nazis invaded Hungary and began rounding up that country's Jews.

And now El Salvador is campaigning to have Castellanos recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem.

Apparently, Castellanos didn't tell people after the war what he had done. When his daughter learned of his actions shortly before he died, she asked why he hadn't told anyone.

Castellanos said, "Because anybody in my position would have done the same thing."

Unfortunately, that is not true. But Castellanos is an inspiration, and scholars estimate he may have saved as many as 30,000 lives.


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