By Randy Jurado Ertll
Dec. 16 marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, where the Allied forces turned the tide against Hitler's evil forces in 1944.
Unfortunately, millions of Jews had already been murdered throughout Europe by then.
As we remember the valiant battle against Hitler, we also should note an amazing act of courage that has not received the attention it deserves: The government of El Salvador saved the lives of more than 40,000 Hungarian Jews that same year.
Working through its consular office in Geneva, the Salvadoran government came up with a creative plan. It decided to issue Salvadoran citizenship papers to Hungarian Jews who would otherwise have been sent to Nazi death camps.
The authors of this plan were Salvadoran Consul Col. Jose Arturo Castellanos and First Secretary/Honorary Consul George Mantello, who was of Jewish ancestry.
Mantello, whose original name was Mandl, spoke no Spanish and never set foot in El Salvador. But he had assisted Castellanos in business, and Castellanos more than returned the favor.
He gave Mantello his honorary position at the embassy. Mantello used it to publicize Nazi atrocities and then came up with the idea of offering citizenship to Hungarian Jews.
Castellanos embraced Mantello’s efforts and Castellanos convinced the Salvadoran government to go along.
In Budapest, tens of thousands of Hungarians Jews were able to obtain Salvadoran citizenship papers free of charge. These were crucial for escaping the Nazi concentration camps and certain death.
Thanks to Castellanos and Mantello, El Salvador was the only country that offered nationality rights to Hungarian Jews on a massive scale during World War II.
Castellanos and Mantello deserve to be remembered as heroes.
Let us follow their example by assisting those within our own country who face deportation or oppression.
Of course, immigrants in the United States facing deportation are not nearly in the same kind of situation that Jews were in during World War II.
But the example of reaching across nationalities and across religions to assist fellow human beings in need is one that we all can take to heart.
Randy Jurado Ertll is a native of Los Angeles. He is of Salvadoran, French and Hungarian descent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.