Photo Courtesy of Blanca Castellanos

Photo Courtesy of Blanca Castellanos

1891 – El Salvador, Central America

José Arturo Castellanos is born into a prominent military family.  Following in his father’s footsteps, he embarks on a brilliant career, quickly rising up the ranks and receiving the best military education in Europe during the early 1930’s.  An outspoken critic of the Salvadoran dictatorship of the time, Castellanos narrowly escapes an attempt on his life and in 1937 is sent on a series of diplomatic posts throughout Europe to keep him from causing political problems for the regime. 

 

1938 – Hamburg, Germany  

José Arturo Castellanos’ disapproval of both his country’s dictatorship and of the current wave of fascism sweeping through Europe, moves him to disobey his government’s orders.  He begins to issue Salvadoran visas and nationality papers to those wishing to escape the unbearable situation in Germany.

José Arturo Castellanos - 1930's Italy - Photo courtesy of René Boehm

José Arturo Castellanos - 1930's Italy - Photo courtesy of René Boehm

 

1942 – Geneva, Switzerland

Along with his “First Secretary” George Mandel-Mantello, José Arturo Castellanos begins one of the greatest rescue missions of WWII.  The operation known as the 'Salvadoran Action' distributes over 13,000 Salvadoran nationality papers delivered by a network of diplomatic couriers to Jews in Hungary, Romania, France, the Netherlands and Germany.  Each document has the power to save one family.

Original Salvadoran nationality certificate - courtesy of the United Sates Holocaust Memorial Museum

Original Salvadoran nationality certificate - courtesy of the United Sates Holocaust Memorial Museum


The Salvadoran government showed compassion in the face of injustice. Their courage in nazi occupied Hungary, serves as an example of selflessness. I am confident their actions will remain an inspiration for generations to come.
— President Bill Clinton

 

2005 – Geneva, Switzerland

 Despite the weight of his great deeds, Col. Castellanos dwelt in the shadows of obscurity until 2005 when in a strange episode from the pages of a detective novel, a suitcase with over 1,000 of the original Salvadoran certificates is unearthed from a dusty basement in Geneva. The life-saving nationality documents make their way to the vaults of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC where researchers and scholars study their every detail to shed light on the massive scale and complicated mechanics of the Salvadoran rescue mission.

 

2010 – Jerusalem, Israel

Thanks to overwhelming evidence and efforts by the Salvadoran government and the Salvadoran Jewish community, José Arturo Castellanos is recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the world centre for holocaust research in Jerusalem.  This honour is reserved for rescuers like Raul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler whose heroic efforts have been well documented.  José Arturo Castellanos however, died in 1977 in obscurity in his country of El Salvador.


The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
— Edmund Burke

Read the Castellanos Righteous Among the Nations Rescue Story by Yad Vashem