May 15, 2007

El Salvador to seek recognition for diplomat who helped save Jews from Holocaust


The Salvadoran government said Monday it will seek a posthumous medal for diplomat Jose Arturo Castellanos, who gave citizenship certificates to as many as 40,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

The ”Righteous Among the Nations” recognition is awarded by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, to non-Jews who helped Jews escape death in Nazi-controlled Europe during World War II.

The honor includes being listed on the Wall of Honor at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and has been given to 21,758 people. But few may have saved as many lives as Castellanos, who was the Salvadoran Consul General in Geneva, Switzerland, in the early 1940s.

Representing a tiny country almost half a world away, Castellanos authorized Salvadoran citizenship papers to Jews throughout Europe, making it harder for the Nazis to deport them for execution.

Assistant Foreign Minister Eduardo Calix told a news conference Monday that a two-year investigation helped establish the facts surrounding the efforts by Castellanos, who died at age 86 in his homeland in 1977.

Foreign Minister Francisco Lainez, who is visiting Jerusalem for three days, will deliver the report to Yad Vashem officials.

Castellanos is also listed as one of the diplomats who acted as a ”savior” to Jews by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, named after a Swedish diplomat missing since January 1945 after saving tens of thousands of Jews.

The Yad Vashem title is granted by the authority’s public committee, led by a retired Supreme Court judge. Castellanos would be the first Salvadoran to receive it.