Colonel José Arturo Castellanos Contreras, 23 December 1893–18 June 1977

José Castellanos Contreras was a diplomat and Army colonel from El Salvador, a nation whose name fittingly means “The Savior.” Together with György Mandl, he saved up to 40,000 people.

Colonel Contreras was born in the San Vicente municipality, the son of a general. In the style of the Spanish-speaking world, his surname consisted of his father’s first family name followed by his mother’s first family name. (Really, this naming system isn’t as confusing as many non-Spanish-speakers think. In normal life, you only use your first two surnames, not all 64!)

In 1910, José entered the Escuela Politécnica Militar (Military Polytechnic School), and spent over 26 years as an active-duty serviceman. His final rank was that of Second Chief of the General Staff of the Army of the Republic. This high rank enabled him to become Salvadoran Consul General in Liverpool (1937), Hamburg (1938), and Geneva (1941–45).

While in Switzerland, he made the acquaintance of György Mandl, a Hungarian-born businessman who impressed upon him the seriousness of the situation facing European Jewry. Colonel Contreras gave his new friend the position of First Secretary to the Consul, and gave the Mandl family false papers of Salvadoran nationality, with the surname Mantello. Together, they issued false certificates of Salvadoran citizenship to people from Romania, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and the former Czechoslovakia. These papers enabled their bearers the right to protection from the International Red Cross, and, later, the Swiss Consul in Budapest.

Colonel Contreras has been honored by the Anti-Defamation League, Visas for Life, and the American Jewish Committee. He was named Righteous Among the Nations in 2010.

11 thoughts on “José Castellanos Contreras

  1. Thank you so much, Carrie-Ann, for choosing such an awe-inspiring theme for your A to Z Challenge. You’ve obviously done a prodigious amount of research, for the benefit of all your readers.


  2. I’ve never heard of him before, and I’m glad you posted about him. As someone above said, we know the names of the people who did the most harm, but not those who did the most good.


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