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Secret Swiss Holocaust-era Lifesaving El Salvador Citizenship Certificates

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A FORGOTTEN SUITCASE: THE MANTELLO RESCUE MISSION

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-Mantello used his diplomatic position to issue documents identifying thousands of European Jews as citizens of El Salvador. He sent notarized copies of these certificates into occupied Europe, in the hope of saving the holders from the Nazis.

George Mandel-Mantello, donated the original certificates to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum after they were found.

When did George Mandel-Mantello begin distributing the certificates?

In 1942, Jewish friends in Switzerland began to ask Mandel-Mantello, each providing data and photographs of the people they wanted to try to save.

Where were the certificates sent?

Copies of the certificates were sent by diplomatic courier throughout wartime Europe. They were sent to almost every country in occupied Europe, some even to French internment camps, Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, and Auschwitz in Poland. After the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944, the production of certificates accelerated. In total, Mandel-Mantello may have issued as many as five thousand certificates, many with the names and photographs of several family members. Enrico Mandel-Mantello has donated more than one thousand originals to the Museum. He also donated to the Museum a copy of the Auschwitz Protocol.

Did everyone who received a certificate survive?

Many people who received certificates survived. Some went to Switzerland; others were sent to a special camp in Bergen-Belsen for foreign nationals. Some certificates spared the holders from deportation. However, certificates frequently arrived too late, including those sent to Mandel-Mantello’s own parents. In other cases the Germans did not accept them. The Museum hopes through continued research to learn exactly how many people were saved through these certificates.

How did the certificates survive?

After printing each “official” certificate of citizenship, Mandel-Mantello made a notarized copy (Photostat) that he sent into occupied Europe by diplomatic pouch or the underground Jewish courier system. The originals remained with him in Switzerland, accounting for their near pristine condition.

What is the connection between Mandel-Mantello and the Auschwitz Protocol?

In April 1944, two Slovakian Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz and wrote a report providing some of the first reliable eyewitness accounts of the camp. Romanian diplomat Florian Manoliu, who was assisting Mandel-Mantello recopied it, translated it, distributed it to Swiss Protestant clergy, and launched a worldwide press campaign condemning Nazi atrocities.

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