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Saving Jews with Salvadoran Papers

Lawrence Bush
May 21, 2017

George Mandel-Mantello (1901-1992), a Jewish businessman from Bucharest who was appointed honorary consul for El Salvador in 1939 and used his status to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis, sent another diplomat and friend, Dr. Florian Manoliu, from Switzerland to Hungary to deliver papers for safe passage to Mandel-Mantello’s family on this date in 1944. Their effort came too late; his parents and dozens of relatives in the Hungarian countryside had been deported and would perish in Auschwitz. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, after El Salvador declared war on the Axis Powers, Mandel-Mantello was appointed as first secretary for the Salvadoran consulate in Geneva (and changed his name to Mantello to sound more Latin American). From there he began to issue Salvadoran nationality papers, which were “forwarded by diplomats and handed out secretly. Many hundreds of such documents were prepared individually and written on typewriters or even by hand. This was a time-consuming job, accomplished by Mantello, his assistant, Mathieu Muller, and a dedicated small team of five Swiss students.” With Dr. Manoliu, Mandel-Mantello also publicized, in defiance of wartime censorship, the Auschwitz Protocol, the report on the death camp by escapees Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, and for the first time “atrocities against the Jews of Europe made front-page news in the West. . . . On July 7, 1944, surprised by the extent of the international outcry,” Hungary’s dictator Admiral Horthy “ordered a stop to the deportations . . . The Jews of Budapest had an unexpected reprieve of three months.”

“Later, on October 15, the Nazis had Horthy overthrown and replaced by Ferenc Szalasi and his murderous Arrow Cross and Eichman was sent back to Budapest to finish his mission. Fortunately the publication of the Auschwitz Protocols by Mantello disrupted Eichman’s deportation schedule. This saved the lives of tens of thousands of people.” --Raoul Wallenberg Foundation

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.