During World War II many people came to the aid of the Jewish people and assisted them in their escape from Nazi Germany. Of all the communities and factions that could come to the aid of these persecuted people, the diplomatic corps were best placed to help.
The threat to the Jewish people was highlighted at a meeting held at Evian-Les-Bains, France in July 1938. Diplomats from 32 countries discussed the threat to the Jewish people in Germany following the promulgation of anti-Semitic laws, as well as the repression and pogroms.
Refugees had started to flee from Germany, and though these issues were discussed at length, no formal resolution was adopted. The Dominican Republic agreed to accept refugees, and saved thousands of people, while all the other countries, including the USA, reserved their agreement.
Once war broke out many diplomats went against the instructions issued by their countries of origin and issued visas to the people fleeing Germany. The stories of Raoul Wallenberg from Sweden and Chiune Sugihara from Japan are very well known but they were not the only ones who gave assistance.
The El Salvadorian Consul General in Geneva, Colonel Arturo Castellanos, at the urging of his close friend and First Secretary George Mandel, himself a Hungarian Jew, issued more than thirteen thousand visas, passports and citizenship certificates to Hungarian Jews. He sent papers to Jews living in Budapest as well as creating safe houses in Switzerland.
This action saved the lives of some forty thousand Jewish people. The El Salvadorian Ambassador to Israel, Werner Romero, spoke of the work done by Castellanos at a pre-Holocaust Remembrance Day event held in Jerusalem. In an interview with The Media Line he praised the actions of Castellanos saying that initially he had been forbidden from aiding the Jewish people but later the El Salvadorian government had relented and allowed assistance to be offered.
He said in his interview, “I think a lot of the people and the diplomats then didn’t know what to do. Obviously, they had been approached by a lot of Jewish people seeking visas or ways to get out of their countries but I think a lot of diplomats in a lot of countries gave Hitler a chance or they just didn’t know how the whole thing was going to progress. But very quickly, I think most realized that something was wrong.”
Without the assistance and dedication of the diplomatic community, the death toll in Nazi Germany could have been that much more severe. In the end, the diplomats saved thousands of people.