MADRID (JTA) – In an unprecedented effort to trace their loved ones and share their stories, Spanish authorities are releasing a list of Hungarian Jews protected from the Nazis by a diplomat dubbed the “Spanish Schindler”.
Ángel Sanz Briz was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, in 1966 for using an ingenious legal maneuver to save more than 5,200 Jews from deportation to Auschwitz in 1944.
But even though his efforts saved five times as many Jews as Oskar Schindler’s, his story is much less known – in part because the fiercely anti-Israel Franco regime that ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975 , banned him from accepting Yad Vashem’s project. honor.
Now the Centro Sefarad-Israel – a Sephardic cultural institution that is part of the Spanish Foreign Ministry – is working to change that. With the support of the Spanish government archives, the group is releasing the names of the people it has protected, along with details about them, with the aim of locating their descendants and publicizing their stories.
Between June and December 1944, Sanz Briz, then a 32-year-old Spanish diplomat stationed in Hungary, did himself justice by creating false Spanish passports for thousands of Jews. Despite the fact that Hungary’s Jewish community was predominantly Ashkenazi, Sanz Briz and his assistants granted Spanish citizenship to Hungarian Jews on the basis of a long-expired 1924 Spanish law that extended citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.
Sanz Briz went to great lengths to ensure that hundreds of Hungarian families were placed under the protection of Spain. As the Nazis moved closer to the city’s Jews, the Spanish diplomat rented 11 apartment buildings to house around 5,000 people. He placed the Spanish flag on the buildings, passing them off as official properties of the Spanish legation, assuring the authorities would not seize them. He also hid families at the Spanish Embassy in Buda.
“For him, the principle of humanity prevailed over the principle of legality,” Miguel de Lucas, director of Centro Sefarad-Israel, told Spanish daily El País in a recent interview.
The publication of documents represents a historic step for Spain, as it is the first time that the General Archives of the Administration have made available to the public.
In addition to the list of rescued Jews, the Archives of the General Administration have made available a report written by Slovak Jews Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, two fugitives from Auschwitz who escaped on April 7, 1944, after passing through nearly two years in prison. The report, which was handed to Sanz Briz and then sent to Madrid, includes a sketch of the concentration camp. It became one of the most important pieces of evidence presented at the Nuremberg trials of 1945.
At the end of World War II, Sanz Briz resumed his diplomatic career. After leaving his post in Hungary in 1960, he was appointed Ambassador to Guatemala. In 1962, he was appointed Consul General in New York. He later became Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See and died on June 11, 1980, while on a diplomatic mission in Rome.
Hungary, whose Sanz Briz Jews helped, has already honored him. He was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 1994, and in 2015 a street in Budapest was renamed in his honor.
Centro Sefarad-Israel has set up an email address so that anyone who recognizes their name or that of a family member on the Sanz Briz lists can get in touch.