- George Mandel-Mantello (1903-1992), born Gyorgy Mandl, served as First Secretary of the El Salvadoran consulate in Geneva and used his position to issue thousands of Salvadoran citizenship papers to Jewish refugees in Nazi occupied Europe between 1942 and 1944 and initiate a publicity campaign to inform the world about the deportation of Hungarian Jews and the mass murder taking place at Auschwitz. He was the son of a well-to-do orthodox Jewish family from the town of Bistrita in Transylvania. After World War I, when Transylvania was annexed by Romania, he moved to Cluj and later to Budapest. Mandel was a successful manufacturer and financier, and in the 1930s met the Salvadoran diplomat, Col. Jose Arturo Castellanos. Castellanos provided him with a Salvadoran passport and appointed him in 1939 as honorary consul of the El Salvadoran Republic for Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Despite his diplomatic immunity, Mandel-Mantello was arrested by the Nazis in Belgrade in 1942. Soon afterwards, Castellanos, who had moved to Switzerland to become the Salvadoran Consul, created the post of First Secretary expressly for Mantello. On August 25, 1942, with the support and acquiesence of Col. Castellanos, Mandel-Mantello began issuing Salvadoran citizenship papers to Jewish refugees. Despite their questionable legality, the Nazis felt compelled to recognize these citizenship papers for fear of endangering German nationals living in Latin America. In response to the deluge of requests Mandel-Mantello received from desperate Jews throughout Europe, he expanded his operation, opening a separate office with his assistant, Mathieu Muller of the Agudat Israel, and a team of Swiss students. He worked with several Jewish organizations, which provided photos and personal information for the citizenship papers. Each certificate was copied and notarized. The notarized Photostats were then delivered to the occupied countries by Jewish couriers, Swiss mail and diplomats from neutral states. (The original certificates remained in Switzerland, and in 2009 Mantello's son Enrico donated over 1000 certificates to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.) Mandel-Mantello financed the operation himself and did not charge any processing fees. The certificates were sent to Jews in almost every country under Nazi occupation, and their efficacy varied country by country. Some Dutch Jews were sent to a special section of Bergen-Belsen rather than to Auschwitz or Sobibor by virtue of their certificates, and one Belgium Jew testified after the war that holders of these certificates were shielded from deportation. In other countries the certificates had little to no benefit, and frequently they arrived too late to be of use. The Salvadoran papers had their greatest impact in Hungary. On October 30, 1944, when the fascist Szalasi government recognized the Swiss legation as the official representative of the interests of El Salvador in Hungary, Mandel-Mantello sent hundreds of his blank citizenship papers to Swiss Consul Charles Lutz in Budapest, who, in turn, distributed them to Budapest Jews who were threatened with deportation. These papers were among the most prized of the protective documents being distributed by the neutral legations.
In December 1943, Mandel-Mantello succeeded in bringing his son Enrico (originally Imre) to Switzerland. His wife Iren survived the war in Budapest under the protection of Carl Lutz. In May 1944 the anti-Fascist Romanian diplomat Florian Manoliu traveled to Bistrita to hand-deliver Salvadoran certificates to Mantello's own parents and extended family. Tragically Manoliu arrived only a few days after the town's Jewish population and most of Mantello's extended family had been deported to Auschwitz.
In addition to issuing citizenship papers, Mandel-Mantello went to great lengths to publicize reports about the mass murder of European Jewry after receiving a copy of the "Auschwitz Protocols" from the head of the Palestine Office in Budapest in early June 1944 -- these were detailed reports about mass killings at Auschwitz that were based on information provided by escapees from the camp in the spring of 1944, and reports about the deportation of Hungarian Jewry. Though copies of the Protocols had been previously leaked to individuals in the West to little effect, Mandel-Mantello immediately hired students to translate and recopy the reports and then distributed copies to church leaders, diplomats, journalists and government officials. With the backing of prominent Protestant theologians like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and Paul Vogt, he launched a press campaign which for the first time broke through Swiss censorship regulations that prohibited the dissemination of reports of Nazi atrocities unless they were first published in another neutral country. During the early summer of 1944, more than 400 articles appeared in the Swiss press condemning German atrocities and Hungarian complicity. The press campaign generated protests by the Pope, President Roosevelt, British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, the King of Sweden and the International Red Cross, all of whom demanded that the Hungarian regent, Admiral Horthy, stop the deportations of Hungarian Jews.
In May 2010, Yad Vashem honored Col. Castellanos as Righteous Among the Nations.
[Sources: interviews with Enrico Mandel-Manteelo; Saul, Eric, "Visas for Life" exhibition, February 2000; Schneider, Alan, "B'nai B'rith World Center Marks Holocaust Memorial Day with Lecture on Little-known Rescue Effort," www.bnaibrith.org/worldcenter/news/yomhashoah050500.html]; Kranzler, David, The Man Who Stopped the Trains to Auschwitz, Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, 2000.]