José Castellanos Contreras

José Castellanos Contreras

José Arturo Castellanos Contreras (San Vicente, El Salvador, December 23, 1893 — San Salvador, June 18, 1977) was a Salvadoran army colonel and diplomat who, while working as El Salvador's Consul General for Geneva during World War II, and in conjunction with a Jewish-Hungarian businessman named György Mandl, helped save up to 40,000 Jews and Central Europeans from Nazi persecution by providing them with Political Asylum (Salvadoran nationality).[1]

Public life and achievementsEdit

Colonel Castellanos was born in the provincial city of San Vicente to General Adelino Castellanos and Isabel Contreras de Castellanos. Beginning in 1910, when he entered the Escuela Politécnica Militar (Military Polytechnic School), Coronel Castellanos would spend over 26 active years in the Salvadoran military, eventually achieving the rank of Second Chief of the General Staff of the Army of the Republic. Subsequently he would serve as Salvadoran Consul General in the following locations: Liverpool, England, 1937; Hamburg, Germany, 1938; Geneva, Switzerland, 1941–45.

It was during his time as consul in neutral Switzerland that Colonel Castellanos was approached by a Transylvanian-born Jewish businessman named György Mandl who reiterated to him the grave situation in which he, his family, and countless of his coreligionists found themselves. Castellanos, moved to help Mandl, gave him the ad hoc post of First Secretary to the Consul and had papers of Salvadoran nationality prepared for him and his family. Following a close call with the Gestapo in which the faux position and papers saved the family (who now bore the Italianate name of Mantello) from being sent to Auschwitz, Mandl (with Castellanos's consent) proceeded to secretly issue at least 13,000 "certificates of Salvadoran citizenship" to Central European Jews (principally through the Swiss Consular Office of Carl Lutz). The documents granted the bearers the right to seek and receive the protection of the International Red Cross and, eventually, of the Swiss Consul in Budapest; these guarantees, in effect, saved thousands of "Salvadorans" of Bulgarian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian extraction from Nazi depredations.

Colonel Castellanos' efforts on behalf of the Jews of Central Europe have been recognized at various times by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the group Visas For Life. In 1999 the Jerusalem City Council honored Castellanos' granddaughter on the occasion of the inauguration of El Salvador St. in the neighborhood of Givat Masua. In 1995 President Bill Clinton, in a letter to the Anti-Defamation League, paid tribute to Colonel Castellanos and other members of the Salvadoran diplomatic corps, for their efforts in saving thousands from Nazi extermination. Castellanos, who hardly ever spoke of his role as rescuer during World War II, was interviewed by writer Leon Uris on the subject in 1972. After the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Jewish Community of El Salvador have both asked (the "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority"), José Arturo Castellanos Contreras was recognized with the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem in 2010.[2]

Personal lifeEdit

Colonel Castellanos married Maria Schürmann, a native of Switzerland, with whom he had a daughter and two sons: Frieda, Paul Andree, and Jose Arturo Castellanos Jr. After the war, Castellanos lived a quiet life and played down his role.

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.

Colonel Castellanos' grandsons Alvaro Castellanos and Boris Castellanos composed and wrote THE RESCUE - A Live Film-Concerto (An Expanded Cinema Documentary work by Alvaro Castellanos and Boris Castellanos). ‘THE RESCUE - A Live Film-Concerto’ is a performative film experience that combines a 60-min documentary film with a live musical performance of its musical soundtrack - to recount the little-known story of 'Righteous' Colonel José Arturo Castellanos. Castellanos collaborated with his Jewish friend to save thousands of Jewish lives during the holocaust by issuing Salvadoran nationality certificates while working as a diplomat; putting his life and family at great risk. This ground-breaking Film-Concerto concept was developed by filmmakers Alvaro and Boris Castellanos, grandsons of Colonel Castellanos as an emotionally engaging and uplifting way to tell the story of their grandfather and as a pioneering narrative in holocaust education and commemoration of the 'Righteous among the nations'. (

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Call to honour El Salvador's rescuer of Jews after war role rediscovered, Rory Carroll, June 2008, The Guardian, retrieved 8 April 2015
  2. ^ José Castellanos Contreras – his activity to save Jews' lives during the Holocaust, at Yad Vashem website

External linksEdit