Sunday, June 29, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
He was El Salvador's equivalent of Oskar Schindler, a man who was given a chance to do something about the Holocaust - and took it.
Now, six decades after José Castellanos helped to save 25,000 Jews by granting bogus nationality certificates, the story of the central American nation's consul general to Switzerland during the second world war has been rediscovered.
"The memory of our father is out of the desk, out of the drawers and on the table again," Frieda Garcia, one of the diplomat's daughters, told a news conference at El Salvador's embassy in Washington this week, amid calls for Castellanos to be honoured posthumously by Israel.
Castellanos, an army colonel, served as a diplomat in Liverpool and Hamburg before being posted to Geneva in 1942 where he befriended a Romanian Jew, Gyorgy Mandl.
To protect Mandl he appointed him to the fictitious post of first secretary and amended his name to the more Latino-sounding George Mandel-Mantello.
The two men set about issuing blank nationality certificates for Jews in German-occupied central Europe, especially Hungary.
To make them seem more authentic the documents, signed by Mantello, were stamped by other consulates in Geneva before being spirited over the border to grateful recipients who filled in their details.
The so-called "freedom papers" afforded protection against deportation to Nazi extermination camps and gave meaning to the name El Salvador, which means The Saviour.
Many of the documents were sent to Budapest where Carl Lutz, the Swiss vice-consul, provided sanctuary to thousands of Jews at an abandoned glass factory known as his "Glass House".
Neither Castellanos nor Mandl had the authority to issue the documents, and El Salvador had sided with the allies against Germany, but the papers offered some protection from Nazi round-ups.
It did not matter that few recipients would ever travel to their supposed homeland, a tiny country of rainforest and Pacific coast 6,000 miles away, wedged between Guatemala and Honduras, and that possibly few had even heard of it before.
Castellanos and Mandl persuaded suspicious Swiss and Hungarian officials that the documents were genuine and that there was indeed a sizeable Salvadorean diaspora in this corner of Europe.
The initiative evoked the efforts of Raul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, and Schindler, a German industrialist, who separately risked their lives and fortunes to save thousands of Jews.
After the war Castellanos lived a quiet life and played down his role, said Garcia. "He said whoever was in his place would have done the same. For him it was not heroic nor spectacular."
The writer Leon Uris tracked down the retired diplomat in 1972 and Castellanos gave a brief radio interview in 1976 but otherwise he remained anonymous and his contribution went unrecognised. He died in 1977, three years after Schindler's equally low-key passing.
Until now Latin America's best known role in the Nazi genocide was the "rat lines" which spirited wanted war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann to Argentina and Klaus Barbie to Bolivia.
Castellanos's story has been brought to light by a new documentary film called The Glass House, directed and produced by Brad and Leonor Marlowe, and a campaign in El Salvador by the foreign ministry and the country's small Jewish community.
"This is the story of a man with great courage who stood up against a system," Ricardo Moran Ferracuti, a Salvadorian official, told the Cox News Service. The campaign has urged Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum to confer the title Righteous Gentile on Castellanos.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
by Guy Browning
If you really wanted to hide the meaning of life, the best place would be in an instruction manual, tucked away under "Read this before you start". This would guarantee it would remain undiscovered for centuries.
The law is a set of instructions for living in our society. Lawyers are living proof that these instructions are seldom clear and rarely followed. The government continually issues instructions for everything on the basis that we are too stupid to work things out for ourselves. As we voted for them in the first place, they may be on to something.
People leave instructions in their wills. For many, this is the only time anybody will take any notice of their instructions on anything, and by then it's too late. Of course, you have to leave a certain sum of money for your instructions to be taken seriously.
Giving instructions is one of the most futile of all human endeavours. Telling someone, "Here's what you have to do" releases a chemical in their brain that automatically shuts down their capacity to hear, understand or remember anything you say afterwards. When you ask if they've understood your instructions, the answer "Yes" simply acknowledges you've stopped talking and they're ready to try it their own way.
Instructions are tiny pieces of cultural DNA. If you had to leave instructions for somebody else to lead your life instead of you, it would be interesting to see how few points you would need. Before trying, remember that feeding the cat is a six-part instruction.
Work emails are often instructions. Research shows that the likelihood of something happening as instructed recedes with every line of an email. People rarely read beyond 10 lines in an email and adding a PS is the communication equivalent of telling the west wind.
You learn driving from a driving instructor, not a driving teacher and certainly not a driving counsellor. Really important things are commanded, important things are instructed, quite important things are taught and inconsequential things are shared in an involving relevant dialogue. It would be really useful if there were a set of further instructions for each of the Ten Commandments, say, to show you how to follow them. Then again, no one would read them.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Friday, June 06, 2008
I know that lately I have been talking about the other side of the Moon – the side that is difficult to recognize is there. But there is this side of the Moon too – the one we usually see: light, shiny and optimistic. The very same full Moon I like so much and I always say is the silver mirror that reflects your genuine soul. The Moon that links us even when we are physically distant. And the one that helps me to keep my particular inner calendar.
And looking to a bright full moon I see…
I see you in hippy clothing, hanging around and catching my eye. I see your old car and the trips we did on it, visiting this and that, careless of the stress others were feeling, laughing at it… remember? “Man, you can’t talk to some of them this time of the year!”
I see you staying for first time and putting your eyes on water. I see a night of love and little pain – everything was new. And I see trees talking to us.
I see you going to the roof of the world and enjoying what you do - and I see myself in a happy summer, floating and smiling and not knowing why or, maybe, knowing exactly why.
I see you turning up at that cool café with worry in your eyes, and being by my side all the time when suddenly the future was uncertain and we didn’t know how my body would talk. And you cried when the man in white left the room, and you hugged me. You were crying out of joy. And then we all went for a coffee down the road, in celebration.
I see you in a warm windy evening, waiting for a chat, with emotion in your eyes. And later on, often in rainy but happy days, joking about “road to diversion” signs. And getting too worry when I was late from work.
I see you lying down in a towel, sunny summer beach day, with earphones and listening one of our favorite ballads. I see your face not knowing I’d see it again and then, I see your face again, half smiling half crying with emotion, closing the door behind you.
I see you in an amazingly blue sky and sunny days, with very cold nights but enjoying a lot under a thick duvet, starting again. And I see you by my side throwing flowers into the sea in that important day.
I see myself asking that there must be something strange, something strong and something good that keeps us together. Despite breaks, despite mistakes, despite painful decisions and despite depressions in both sides.
Although I know you are not perfect, no-one is, I see all this and much, much more of love and positive things. That’s why I am writing this – because I am in love with you as the first night we talked to the trees.
Because I like the Moon as it is – with all it’s faces, knowing that the perfect relationship is accepting our imperfections.