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'Mexican Schindler' honored

Diplomat in France saved up to 40,000 during the Holocaust and spent a year as a captive of the Nazis.

December 01, 2008|Ari B. Bloomekatz | Bloomekatz is a Times staff writer.

Gilberto Bosques Saldivar has never been the subject of a major motion picture by Steven Spielberg. American history books seldom, if ever, mention his name, and he does not have his own Wikipedia page, in Spanish or English.

But the former Mexican diplomat, stationed in France during World War II, helped save as many as 40,000 Jews and other refugees from Nazi persecution.

"It is still a chapter of the Holocaust that has not been written," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "I believe that there are a lot of other cases that we do not know about that are surfacing little by little."

At a reception held in Saldivar's honor last month in Beverly Hills, the ADL presented his daughter with a posthumous Courage to Care Award, which was created in 1987 to recognize non-Jews who helped rescue and hide refugees during the Holocaust.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, December 03, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
"Mexican Schindler": An article in Monday's California section about Gilberto Bosques Saldivar, a Mexican diplomat stationed in France during World War II who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jews and other refugees trying to escape Europe during the Holocaust, should have referred to him as Bosques, not Saldivar, on second reference.

Foxman noted that, other than industrialist Oskar Schindler and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, most non-Jews who defied the Nazis and helped Jews during the Holocaust are not well-known.

Even Schindler's efforts were largely lost to history until Spielberg made the movie "Schindler's List."

Calling Saldivar the "Mexican Schindler," Foxman said, "Bosques' life is a shining example of human decency, moral courage and conviction, and his actions highlight the less well-known initiatives of Latin Americans who helped to save Jews during the Holocaust."

Foxman reflected on others who reached out to Jews in need. Their generosity, he said, is "difficult to comprehend because they frequently risked everything, including the lives of their families, to help people who, very often, they did not know at all. Difficult also because -- apart from their willingness to help others -- they do not seem to have had much in common. They were Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Evangelical, Baptist, Lutheran and also Muslim."

Foxman owes his own life to such a person.

"I stand here before you because of someone like Gilberto Bosques Saldívar," he said.

As a young boy in Poland during the war, Foxman was sheltered by a Catholic woman in an "overwhelmingly unfriendly" Europe.

"Were it not for her, I would not be alive today to bear witness," he said.

Foxman described Saldivar's efforts when he served as Mexican consul general in Marseilles in 1939: He rented two chateaux to house European Jews and other refugees, including leaders of the Spanish Republic, who were defeated in the Spanish Civil War by the Fascist forces of Francisco Franco.

In two years he issued about 40,000 visas and chartered ships to take Jews and other refugees to various African nations, where they then went on to Argentina, Mexico and Brazil.

Saldivar was arrested, along with his family and about 40 consular staff members, by the Germans in 1943 and was held for about a year near Bonn until Mexico reached an agreement with the Nazis for his release.

According to the ADL, in 1944 Saldivar wrote that he had implemented "a policy of help, of material and moral support to the heroic defenders of the Spanish Republic, to the relentless brave people who fought against Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Petain and Laval." (He was referring to Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval, French leaders who cooperated with the Nazis.)

Saldivar later served as an ambassador to Cuba, Finland, Portugal and Sweden.

He died in 1995 at the age of 103.

"This ceremony is one more symbol of human solidarity," his 83-year-old daughter, Laura Bosques Manjarrez, told a crowded ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, where the ADL was hosting its annual conference.

She accepted the award, she said, "with the deepest emotion and sincere gratitude for the recognition that you offer to my father, Gilberto Bosques, and [his] admirable colleagues, who in the most intense human drama" rescued those who were persecuted by the Nazis during World War II.

Los Angeles City Council members Wendy Greuel and Jack Weiss and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca were among several public officials who attended the lunch and reception for Saldivar.

His story, Greuel said, is a reminder that one person really can make a difference.

"I had never heard of him before," she said.

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Risking it all to rescue strangers

Some other winners of the Anti-Defamation League's Courage to Care Award, given to those who helped save Jews from Nazi persecution:

HIRAM (HARRY) BINGHAM IV

United States

A member of the U.S. diplomatic service, Bingham was posted in Marseilles, France, in 1939 and defied orders by granting more than 2,500 U.S. visas to Jews and other refugees, including artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst.

KHALED ABDELWAHHAB

Tunisia

Abdelwahhab helped save two dozen members of a Jewish family by hiding them for four months at his family's farm in the village of Tlelsa.

GIOVANNI PALATUCCI

Italy

Chief of police of Fiume, he issued thousands of visas and forged documents to refugees. He was accused of conspiracy in 1944 and deported to the concentration camp of Dachau, where he died.

KOSTAS NIKOLAOU

Greece

While the Nazis were deporting Athenian Jews, Nikolaou hid his childhood friend, Yitzhak Cohen; supplied his family with non-Jewish identity papers; and arranged for a ship to take them and six others to Palestine.

KONSTANTIN KOSLOVSKY

Belorussia

Koslovsky and other members of his family helped more than 500 Jews in the Novogrudek ghetto reach a Jewish partisan camp, partially by helping dig a 900-foot tunnel they used to escape.

Source: Anti-Defamation League.

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