Press Release

ADL Honors Salvadoran Diplomat Who Saved European Jews During the Holocaust

New York, NY, February 14, 2012 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) posthumously honored Colonel José Arturo Castellanos Contreras, a Salvadoran diplomat who during the Holocaust saved tens of thousands of European Jews by issuing documents identifying them as citizens of El Salvador.

The ADL Jan Karski Courage to Care Award, established in 1987 to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era, was presented February 10 to Colonel Castellanos' daughter, Frieda Castellanos de García, at the League's National Executive Committee Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida. 

"Colonel Castellanos' ingenuity and risk-taking made it possible for tens of thousands of Jews to survive when millions of others all over Europe did not," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. "A man of courage, compassion, and conscience, he risked everything to give the most magnificent gift one human can give to another, the gift of life. There will never be enough words to thank him for this incredible, selfless act."

Born in 1893 in El Salvador, Colonel Castellanos spent more than 26 years in the Salvadoran military, eventually achieving the rank of Second Chief of the General Staff of the Army of the Republic. He then served as Salvadoran Consul General in Liverpool, England; Hamburg, Germany; and Geneva, Switzerland.

While in Switzerland during World War II, Colonel Castellanos befriended George Mandel, a Hungarian Jewish businessman. Colonel Castellanos appointed his friend, who adopted the more Spanish-sounding name of George Mandel-Mantello, to serve as the Consulate's First Secretary, a fictitious title. 

With the consent of Colonel Castellanos, Mr. Mandel-Mantello 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 had become a mass production.

Eventually, Colonel Castellanos realized that he could not issue these documents quickly enough to save most Jews. So he and Mr. 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," 30,000-50,000 Jews were saved.

The heroic efforts of Colonel Castellanos, who died in San Salvador in 1977, only became known a few years ago when a women found a mysterious suitcase in her basement in Geneva containing thousands of these certificates. 

"These stories have to be told," Ms. Castellanos de García said in accepting the award on behalf of her father.  "Some leaders of the world are denying the history of the Holocaust.  The only way that we can avoid another horror of the Holocaust is by letting people know that it really existed.  So I thank you so much for this honor."

In 1987, ADL created a unique award to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era. The award was recently renamed in honor of one of its first recipients, Jan Karski, a Polish diplomat and righteous gentile who provided the West with one of the first eyewitness accounts of Hitler's Final Solution. 

The ADL Jan Karski Courage to Care Award is a plaque with bas-reliefs that was designed by noted sculptor Arbit Blatas and depicts the horrifying context – the Nazis' persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews – that served as a backdrop for the rescuers' exceptional deeds. The Courage to Care Award is made possible through a generous grant from Eileen Ludwig-Greenland.

Past recipients of the ADL Courage to Care Award include: Count János Esterházy, Horst Lantzsch, Irene Gut Opdyke, Gilberto Bosques Saldívar, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, Khaled Abdelwahhab, Ernst Leitz II, Mefail and Njazi Bicaku, Hiram Bingham IV, Sir Nicholas Winton, Konstantin Koslovsky, Jan and Miep Gies, Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Jan Karski, Selahattin Ulkumen, Chiune Sugihara, the French town of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, Emilie and Oskar Schindler, The Partisans of Riccione, Italy and Johanna Vos.