Baruch Tenembaum
A Jewish "Gaucho" on the road of fraternity


>>> ARTICLES AND SPEECHES

 

- The untold story Switzerlandís finest hour.

This is the untold story of the most extraordinary rescue effort during the Holocaust:

The rescue of 140,000 Jews in Budapest. Most people, and even historians of this tragic period have never even heard of George Mantello, the Jewish diplomat who conducted his rescue efforts from the Salvadoran consulate in Geneva. They surely have no notion of how and why of all places, Switzerland should occupy such a prominent role. Didnít its government return thousands of Jewish refugees across the Swiss border into German hands? And, wasnít the International Red Cross, an arm of the Swiss government, extremely unhelpful to Jewish victims of Nazism, which it rationalized with a litany of legalist excuses? Yet, somehow, Dr. Kranzler, a noted Holocaust historian with nine books on rescue and rescue attempts during this tragic era, makes a superb case of proving the veracity of this riveting saga beyond the shadow of a doubt;

Before the war, George Mantello was a successful financier who had been the Honorary Salvadoran Consul for Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia. In 1942, he was appointed the First Secretary of the Salvadoran Consulate in Geneva, where he initiated two major rescue efforts, with the full support of his Consul General.

The first was the distribution, gratis, of thousands of Salvador Citizenship (and protective) papers to Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, without distinctions of any kind.

His second, and most important effort was to do the impossible: halt the trains from Hungary to Auschwitz, that carried 12,000 Jews to the gas chambers each day.

This he accomplished with the help of a Romanian diplomat who risked his life to bring the reports about the atrocities in Auschwitz and Hungary from a Jew hiding out in the Swiss compound in Budapest, who pointed out that from May 15th. to June 15th., 1944, 500,000 Hungarian Jews had been sent to their death. With trepidations, he awaited the final deportations from the capital itself. Tragically, all the Jewish Organizations in Switzerland had obtained copies of these atrocity reports six weeks earlier. These had been sent by Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl, head of the Slovak Jewish Underground, to which he attached the plea for the Allies to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz. While they all obtained Salvador papers from Mantello, they never bothered to show him these reports.

With the help of the British and American Intelligence, whom he had helped previously, and the moral leadership of several outstanding Swiss theologians, including Karl Barth, Emil Brunner end Paul Vogt, Mantello initiated and orchestrated a Swiss press and Church campaign that had no counterpart anywhere. The press resonated with over 120 newspapers and 400 bold articles (many front-page) condemning the Nazis, Auschwitz and Hungarian complicity. Likewise, every church, from the urban to the smallest village church, rang with fiery sermons on the same topic. Meanwhile, Mantello distributed copies of the summaries of the reports to all the embassies and foreign newspapers as well.

Within ten days, there arose the first public outcry by Roosevelt, the Pope, Churchill and the king of Sweden, who then dispatched Raoul Wallenberg to Budapest. Most amazing of all, under the moral leadership of their church leaders, thousands of Swiss women, workers and university students, conducted protests - demonstrations in the streets of the big cities against their own governmentís and the Red Crossí indifference to the fate of Hungarian Jewry. They even discarded the much-vaunted Swiss neutrality in this battle to save the Jews, with such headlines as, "There is No Neutrality when Confronted by Such Crimes," etc. After a week of such demonstrations, the Swiss government and Red Cross capitulated to the will of its people and started to protect Jews in Budapest, along with the now energized diplomats of Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and the papal nuncio. Despite Eichmannís constant attempts to complete the Final Solution in Hungary, the neutral diplomats now risked their lives to protect the surviving Jews.

It is a fascinating tale, full of irony, heroism, ingenuity, as well as treachery, brought to light by the authorís facile pen, in this fully documented, prize-winning work. He has also made the reader aware of the great debt Jews (and the world) owe to the tiny country of El Salvador, the Swiss people, and the diplomats of the other neutral countries, without whose full participation, no Jews in Budapest would have survived.