Sanz Briz, the angel of Budapest

During the Second World War Hitler was not the only leader of a totalitarian regime in Europe. Benito Mussolini ruled Italy, António de Oliveira Salazar ruled Portugal and Francisco Franco ruled Spain.

All these governments had the systematic violation of individual freedoms as well as racial, religious and political persecutions as common denominator.

Even though the intervention of the State in social and individual lives of citizens was permanent and oppressive, the bureaucratic machinery could not invade the minds of people of good will, convinced that the supreme values of life and freedom precede any political or ideological consideration.

Among these people, a crowd of anonymous benefactors, we can include Giovanni Palatucci, chief of Police in Fiume, Italy, murdered at the concentration camp of Dachau for saving Jews; Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese Consul to Bordeaux, savior of hundreds of thousands of refugees and denigrated by the dictatorship of his country until he died in indigence and, also, the person who was representative of Spain to Hungary, Angel Sanz Briz.

Sanz Briz (1910, Zaragoza) was a young diplomat of Franco’s government who fulfilled a mission as Charge D’affairs of Spain to Budapest between 1943 and 1944. What he did in that brief lapse of time was enough to be known in history as hero of mankind.

Without an order from his government, Sanz Briz used all possible resources to save thousands of people from being taken to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Birkenau. He worked in collaboration with Raoul Wallenberg, detained and disappeared in 1945 by the Soviet army; Apostolic Nuncio Angelo Rota, Swiss Consul Carl Lutz and many other diplomats who were part of a sort of underground network of rescue.

Among the most loyal collaborators was Jorge Perlasca, an Italian friend who self proclaimed Ambassador of Spain when Sanz Briz was forced to leave the mission at the end of 1944 and saved thousands from deportation to the extermination camps.

Working tirelessly and armed only with determination and courage, Sanz Briz issued thousands of letters of protection that guaranteed immunity to the bearers. When he was interrogated by pro nazi authorities or by Adolf Eichmann himself, in charge of the “Final Solution” in Hungary , he said that they were documents to be delivered only to Sepharadic Jews, whose right Franco’s government recognized to Spanish nationality.

”The two hundred units that had been granted to me I turned them into two hundred families; and the two hundred families multiplied indefinitely due to the simple procedure of not issuing a document or passport with a number higher than 200”, Sanz Briz would tell years later in the book ”Spain and the Jews”, by Federico Ysart.

Only a minority of the approximately 5200 Jews than San Brinz saved were of Spanish origin.

On October 16, 1994 a plaque in his memory was unveiled next to San Esteban Park, in one of the houses of Budapest that served as refugee to hundreds of Jews. In Spain his face and name illustrate a commemorative stamp of a collection dedicated to human rights.

It is worth mentioning the actions carried out on behalf of Jews by the attaché of the Spanish Embassy to Berlin, José Ruiz Santaella, shortly before Sanz Briz arrived in the capital.

These diplomats and others not as well known will be honored next March by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and the Embassy of Spain in Buenos Aires in a ceremony in which neither emotion nor joy that is felt when life is celebrated, will be absent.

* Founder of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation