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Vol. 18, No. 2, 2019
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the latin schindlers



Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham and A New Yorker at Sea. His latest book, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor, is now available. For Nick's reviews, visit his website:

In an effort to reawaken memories of The Holocaust and to acquaint young readers with its scope, in past issues I have written several essays on the subject (c.f. the list following this piece). It is astounding that 75 years after WW II, the stories keep pouring out from unlikely areas and sources. A few months back I reviewed a film -- Above the Drowning Sea -- that recounted the rescue to Shanghai of some 20,000 Jews by a Chinaman. While researching some other press releases I recently came across similar stories relating the heroism of a Mexican and a Salvadoran – Jose Castellanos of El Salvador and Gilberto Saldivar of Mexico.

Born in 1893 in El Salvador, Jose Castellanos entered the military eventually rising to the rank of Colonel, and becoming the Second Chief of the General Staff of the Salvadoran army. According to Castellanos’ grandsons Alvaro and Boris Castellanos, who have researched their grandfather’s story and made a documentary about him titled The Rescue, he was posted abroad in 1938 because he expressed anti-fascist feelings in opposing El Salvador’s autocratic tyrant Gen. Maximiliano Martinez. Castellanos served as Salvadorian Consul General in England (1937), in Germany (1938), and in Geneva (1941-1945).

Ironically, Castellanos’ European posting by the Salvadorian fascist government would eventually save the lives of at least 25,000 Jews.

After witnessing Kristallnacht in 1938 and the movement of 30,000 Jews to concentration camps, Castellanos petitioned his government to issue visas to German Jews. Word came from El Salvador that he was forbidden to help. When he was posted to Geneva he decided to disobey orders. He initially helped a Hungarian Jewish businessman named Gyorgy Mandl by changing his name to the latinate George Mandel-Mantello and saving his family from deportation by naming him El Salvador’s First Secretary of the Geneva Consulate, a fictitious post and title that Col. Castellanos made up. Soon, he and his ‘First Secretary’ began issuing Salvadoran passports and visas to Jews all over Europe.

As the war progressed the duo realized that they couldn’t issue visas fast enough to save the many desperate Jews whose lives were in danger so they secretly distributed over 13,000 certificates of Salvadoran citizenship, each document protecting an entire family. Thus, thousands of European Jews with no connection to El Salvador suddenly became citizens of a tiny Central American country. Citizenship allowed the Jews to receive protection from the International Red Cross that guaranteed the rights of citizens of neutral countries during the war.

Castellanos amplified his life-saving efforts by enlisting help from Carl Lutz a Swiss Vice-Consul in Hungary thus frustrating Gestapo attempts there. It is estimated that his heroic efforts saved the lives of some 40,000 Jews.

After the war, Castellanos retired and lived a quiet life rarely talking about his war-time role. Were it not for a short radio interview, a brief reference by writer Leon Uris, and recent efforts by his grandchildren his heroism would have gone unnoticed. He died in I977.

Born in 1892, Gilberto Bosques Saldivar was a militant in the Mexican revolution, and a leftist legislator who eventually became a career diplomat. He served as Consul General to France (1939-1941). Fleeing the German occupation of Paris in May 1940, Saldivar was instructed by his government to set up a consulate in Vichy, France and he began to operate in Marseilles. Once the Nazis turned over control of governance to the Vichy government, Saldivar saw openings in this ersatz federation and began to help the oppressed. Immediately, he directed consular employees to issue visas to anybody who wanted to flee to Mexico. Under his auspices visas were issued to approximately 40,000 people mostly Jews and Spaniards. The Spaniards rescued were refugees from Francoist Spain after the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War in April 1939. The Jews came from all over Europe seeking refuge anywhere they could and some managed to secure temporary safety in southern France. Saldivar actually rented a castle and a summer holiday camp in Marseilles to house refugees under the protection of what he maintained was Mexican territory under international law.

In 1943, Saldivar, his family (wife and three children), and 40 consular staff members were arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Germany. He was released only after the Mexican government arranged a prisoner exchange that freed the Saldivars in return for German prisoners held in Mexico. After the war Saldivar served as Mexican ambassador to Portugal, Finland, Sweden and Cuba. His heroic efforts in rescuing some 40,000 people from Fascist extermination went unrecognized even among specialists in the history of Jewish rescuers until recently. There do exist some brief film clips of Salvidar’s activities on CNN Mexico and other YouTube sources.

The summaries above are only brief sketches of the scope of the efforts of these Latin heroes. It is amazing how so many stories of heroic virtue such as these lie buried while we continually see documentary television networks constantly showing miles of footage of Nazi vice and Hitler’s evil.

This pattern of course immediately calls to mind the age-old question why in the story-telling world is evil more popular than good. Thinkers from Aristotle to Freud and beyond have probed the depths of human consciousness for answers with complex and mostly unsatisfying theories. Stories of goodness, according to W.H. Auden are simply boring. He wryly remarked the Ten Commandments consist in observing human behaviour and then inserting a “not.”


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Yes Good and evil are never evenly acknowledged. But I am so gratified to hear of the thousands of Jews who escaped the wicked grasp of Hitler by the brave efforts of individuals unbeknownst to the world. Silently effective. Louise

By Nick Catalano:
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
Stains and Blemishes in Democracy
Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


Help Haiti
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
2016 Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 05-16st, (514) 844-2172
Lynda Renée: Chroniques Québécois - Blog
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
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