Wednesday, September 06, 2023


From the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, How Latin American Passports Were Used to Save Lives during the Holocaust, by Efraim Zadoff.

This is a bit different than most stories of diplomats issuing papers to Jews. In this case, even the Germans often knew that the papers were issued illegally (and indeed many Jews with these papers were sent to extermination camps.)  But the Nazis were keen on prisoner exchanges with the Allies and they sometimes used these Jews as bargaining chips to sweeten the terms of the swaps. 

As many as a thousand Jews were saved this way. And the diplomats who saved the Jews were almost all punished by their governments. 

The use of Latin American passports during the Holocaust has yet to receive the attention it warrants in Holocaust historiography. 

This article is based on a wider study aimed at shedding light on the identity of the individuals who served Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Chile (Samuel del Campo), Costa Rica, Ecuador (Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero), El Salvador (Arturo Castellanos), Guatemala, Honduras (Alfonse and Isabelle Bauer), Haiti (Johan Schluchin, J. Bruner), Paraguay (Rudolf Hügli), and Peru (José María Barreto and José Gambetta). These officials operated in a number of countries and under widely varying circumstances. Some were posted to Switzerland (Bern, Geneva, and Zurich), Sweden (Stockholm) or Portugal (Lisbon)—three European countries that maintained neutrality throughout the war. Others were situated in Axis-aligned Romania (Bucharest and Czernowitz) and Japan (Kobe) or in the Americas, in countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay, Costa Rica, and the United States. One operated out of German-occupied Poland. Most of these individuals risked and eventually lost their jobs for consciously taking action that ran counter to the instructions and policies of their superiors and of their own governments regarding the rescue of Jews during the war.

In some cases, these once-trusted diplomats were placed under surveillance and subjected to police interrogations in the countries in which they served. This diversity among the diplomats involved in the endeavor to save Jews with Latin American documents also characterized the individuals and entities behind that effort. In most cases, a broad group of Jewish activists with disparate orientations—Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Orthodox rabbis, Zionists and non-Zionists, officials of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), entrepreneurs and businessmen—led the struggle to get Latin American diplomats on board and obtain the required documents from them. Occasionally, non-Jewish individuals and officials, such as the Polish diplomatic team in Bern, cooperated in this effort and even actively supported it. The result was the rescue of many hundreds of Jews (probably over 1,000).

Three primary types of documents were used in such rescue efforts. The first was a passport, which indicated that the person named was a citizen of the country of issue. The Ecuadorian passport took the form of a hardbound traditional booklet, whereas those of Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, and Paraguay generally consisted of standard sheets of paper. Both contained a photo of the person or persons in whose name the passport was issued (sometimes such documents were issued to an entire family). In some cases, Jews received copies bearing notary certification, which lent additional credibility to the document; the original was stored in the archive of the organization that had sent it in case its retrieval became necessary.Footnote6

The second type of document used in this context was a certificate of protection, which indicated that its bearer enjoyed the protection of the country of issue, as in the case of documents issued by El Salvador and others by Paraguay.

The third type of document issued was known as a promesa (Spanish for “promise”), which, as reflected in its name, constituted a guarantee that when the bearer arrived at a consul of the state in question, he or she would be issued an immigration visa.

In all cases, both the diplomats who issued the documents and the Jews who received them were cognizant of the fact that they were not legal and unrecognized by the state in question and therefore could not be used for immigration purposes....The reason for securing such documents was that they provided a degree of protection for Jews by transforming them into the subjects of neutral or enemy states. ...Such documents were primarily used to help enable the Germans to hold hostages whom they could then swap for their compatriots held in Allied countries.

...The prisoner exchange between Germany and the Allied countries took place at the beginning of 1945. On January 21 of that year, a train left Bergen Belsen carrying 301 Jews holding Latin American passports. Before the train crossed the border into Switzerland, some Jews were removed due to their poor physical condition and were sent to the camps at Biberach and Wurzach in southern Germany. Some of the members of this group did not survive. Those who arrived in Switzerland underwent the required medical examinations and treatments, and were subsequently transferred by US hospital ship from the French port of Marseilles to the Jean d’Arc transit camp in Philippeville, Algeria.

The consuls serving in Sweden, Switzerland, and Romania who issued these documents were placed under surveillance and subjected to police interrogations in the countries in which they served. At the same time, upon receipt of information regarding the issuance of passports, the foreign ministries of the countries represented by the consuls decided to punish those diplomats by removing them from their positions in the foreign service.

Read the whole thing.

This is only a taste of a relatively unknown facet of the Holocaust. 

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