JERUSALEM – Israel’s Holocaust memorial on Tuesday added a Salvadoran diplomat to its list of gentiles who risked their lives to help save Jews during World War II.
Col. Jose Arturo Castellanos defied his government by issuing thousands of visas and fake documents to as many as 40,000 Jews, helping many escape death at the hands of the Nazis.
Castellanos was the first Salvadoran to be added to the Yad Vashem memorial’s list of “Righteous Among the Nations.” Castellanos, who died in 1977, served as El Salvador’s consul general in Geneva in the 1940s. He and a Jewish colleague, George Mantello, often doled out the lifesaving documents without the knowledge of the Salvadoran government.
In the aftermath of World War II, in which the Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews, many survivors fled to Israel. Three Jews who were aided by Castellanos joined dozens of Salvadorans bearing their nation’s flag for Tuesday’s ceremony in Jerusalem.
Yitzhak Mayer, 83, was a Jewish teenager in Hungary when he and his family were given El Salvador citizenship papers. Amid oppression, the documents gave him a feeling of safety.
“Police would stop you, and if you were hiding, you were afraid that you will be detected and have to identify yourself,” Mayer said. “If you have a very official diplomatic document, it always helps.”