Online Exhibition — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


Many certificates were sent to Jews who themselves took active roles in rescue and resistance operations in occupied Europe. This certificate was sent to Julien and Vivette Samuel, leaders of the Children’s Aid Society (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants; OSE) in France. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Enrico Mandel-Mantello

Around 2005, a woman found a mysterious suitcase in her basement in Geneva, Switzerland. Inside the suitcase were more than one thousand World War II-era certificates bearing the official seal of the Consulate of El Salvador. The certificates also featured the photographs of men, women, and children. What were these documents? Why were the decades-old official papers of a Central American nation lying forgotten in a Swiss basement? How many of these documents reached their intended recipients? Their history reveals one of the largest scale, yet least known, rescue attempts of the Holocaust.

George Mandel was a Hungarian Jewish businessman who befriended a Salvadoran diplomat, Colonel José Arturo Castellanos, in the years leading up to World War II. After Castellanos was named El Salvador’s Consul General in Geneva, he appointed Mandel, who had assumed a Spanish-sounding version of his last name, “Mantello,” to serve as the Consulate’s first secretary. Even in Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews who were citizens of or held…

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