RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — An army colonel and diplomat from El Salvador who helped save tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi persecution during World War II by providing them with false Salvadoran identity papers was honored in Germany.
The tribute to Jose Arturo Castellanos, who served as El Salvador’s consul general in Geneva, was held last week by Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Relations and the Berlin Jewish Center, the Elsalvador.com news portal reported.
The film ‘The Rescue,” which documents Castellanos’ little-known but heroic acts during the Holocaust, was screened to the audience, which included El Salvador’s ambassador in Germany, José Atilio Benitez Parada.
Yad Vashem representative Sandra Witte said that Castellanos, who was recognized posthumously as Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust memorial and museum in 2010, is a distinguished icon among all saviors.
“We can say that very few are like Jose Castellanos or Raoul Wallenberg, who have saved several thousands. And it happened in times that they say there was no margin for action and nothing could have been done. Castellanos proved something can be done,” Witte said.
Felix Klein, a German foreign affairs diplomat, said Castellanos’ example shows that denying the Holocaust is inconsistent.
“If a diplomat from a foreign country could be aware, many Germans could be, too,” he said.
While in Switzerland during World War II, Castellanos befriended George Mandel, a Hungarian-Jewish businessman. Castellanos appointed his friend, who adopted the more Spanish- or Italian-sounding name of George Mandel-Mantello, to serve as the consulate’s first secretary, a fictitious title.
They issued passports or visas identifying thousands of European Jews as citizens of El Salvador to save the holders from the Nazis. In 1944, this relatively small-scale distribution of Salvadoran documents became almost a mass production.
Eventually Castellanos realized that he could not issue the documents quickly enough to save most Jews. So he and Mandel-Mantello secretly distributed more than 13,000 “certificates of Salvadoran citizenship” to Central European Jews, which allowed them to receive the protection of the International Red Cross and eventually the Swiss consul in Budapest. Due to these efforts, now called the “El Salvador Action,” at least 25,000 Jews were saved.