The Film

Who Was Jose Aturo Castellanos Contreras - “Righteous Among the Gentiles?”


Colonel Jose Arturo Castellanos Contreras was and remains one of the most unlikely and perhaps the least known hero of the Holocaust. He was born into an upper middle class conservative Catholic family in El Salvador, a Spanish speaking Central American country. Choosing a military career he was expected to be conservative, Catholic, unquestioning of authority and in line with the prejudices of the 1930s which were sympathetic to Fascist Spain, Italy and Nazi Germany. Sympathy for the Jewish victims of these last two regimes was the last thing that Castellanos superiors expected of him.


Castellanos saw the oppression of the poor all around him, the subjugation of Central America’s indigenous people such as the Maya and the inequality of women. Despite his stellar family credentials, his military success and the loyalty of his soldiers, the powers that be saw him as a “trouble maker.” They thought they could get rid of him by giving him a diplomatic position as head of the El Salvadorian Consulate in Geneva in politically neutral Switzerland, so that he would be “out of their hair.”


Instead when he arrived in Europe he quickly befriended a Hungarian Jew, who told him about the Nazi plans of the “final solution” and provided him with forged Salvadorian identity papers. Together, they then turned the consulate into a secret printing press which provided documents that saved more than 50,000 Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis.

Castellanos is commemorated at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, yet very few people know about his heroic efforts to save so many persecuted and innocent men, women and children. Had he been alive today he would have told us to, “Save the Yazidi.”


For more information, please read the Quillette article by Geoffrey Clarfield: "Righteous Among the Nations: The Rescued Tribe of Colonel Jose Arturo Castellanos Contreras."

THE RESCUE: A Live Film Concerto by Alvaro and Boris Castellanos recently had a performance in New York City on March 14, 2019 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The video below shows dynamic excerpts from the performance and the documentary itself.