When El Salvador Saved Thousands Of Hungarian Jewish Refugees In World War II

When El Salvador Saved Thousands Of Hungarian Jewish Refugees In World War II
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Since El Salvador's bloody 12-year Civil War ended in 1992, we mainly see negative stories focused on the Salvadoran American community living in the United States, especially when it comes to issues related to gangs and violence, leading to stigmatization of an entire community.

Many young Salvadorans sometimes do not feel comfortable sharing or stating their national roots, especially since not many books related to the Salvadoran American experience have been published in the United States or adopted in public school districts.

Shining new light on forgotten World War II historical facts helps to create more knowledge and cultural pride, as well as a sense of importance and belonging for people struggling for recognition and acceptance.

One way to accomplish these goals is by teaching our young students historical stories that they can be proud of -- stories that have either been forgotten or ignored by the mainstream media.

Many of our current students do not know much about World War II and its significance. With this in mind, I felt compelled to share a story that has great significance to me, my family and my community, and it is one that I think our students will find fascinating. This story also provides an opportunity for teachers to share some historical facts that are usually omitted from the mainstream history curriculum.

As we remember the valiant battle against Hitler, we should also note an amazing act of courage which has not received the attention it deserves: How the government of El Salvador saved the lives of more than 50,000 Hungarian Jews.

Working through its consular office in Geneva, Switzerland, the Salvadoran government came up with a creative plan. It decided to issue Salvadoran citizenship papers to Hungarian Jews who would otherwise have been sent to Nazi death camps.

The authors of this plan were Salvadoran Consul Colonel José Arturo Castellanos and First Secretary/Honorary Consul George Mantello, who was of Jewish ancestry.

Mantello, whose birth name was Mandl, spoke no Spanish and had never set foot in El Salvador. But he had assisted Castellanos in business, and Castellanos more than returned the favor.

He gave Mantello his honorary position at the embassy, which Mantello was using to publicize Nazi atrocities when he came up with the idea of offering citizenship to Hungarian Jews. Castellanos embraced Mantello's efforts and then persuaded the Salvadoran government to give these destitute people citizenship papers and a way of escaping deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Salvadoran government officials then formally asked the Swiss government to accept this agreement and to obtain approval from the Hungarian government, which it did.

In Budapest, tens of thousands of Hungarians Jews were able to obtain Salvadoran citizenship papers free of charge. Thanks to Castellanos and Mantello, El Salvador was the only country that offered nationality rights to Hungarian Jews on a massive scale during the war.

Let us follow their example by assisting those within our own country who face deportation or oppression. We must always be humanitarians -- not just during the holidays or in times of crisis. Let us strive to be humane and compassionate to each other on a daily basis.

Of course, immigrants in the United States facing deportation are not nearly in the same kind of situation that Jews were in during World War II. But this example of reaching across nationalities and religions to assist fellow human beings in need is one that we can all take to heart.

Randy Jurado Ertll is the author of the bestselling non fiction book "Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience." Book link: https://www.amazon.com/Randy-Jurado-Ertll/e/B002R58VYI

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