Daily Israel Report

First "Righteous Gentile" from Ecuador to be Honored

Thursday: Yad Vashem will hold a ceremony posthumously honoring Dr. Manuel A. M. Borrero. His son will accept the medal and certificate of honor.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 6/21/2011, 7:41 PM / Last Update: 6/21/2011, 7:25 PM

Flash 90

 

This Thursday, Yad Vashem will hold a ceremony posthumously honoring Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero, of Ecuador, as Righteous Among the Nations. He is the first Ecuadorian to be so recognized by Yad Vashem. His son, Lennart Bjelke, will accept the medal and certificate of honor on his late father’s behalf.  
 
The event will take place in the presence of many guests, including the Ambassador of Ecuador in Israel, Raul Guillermo Bassante Ramirez, Ambassador of Sweden in Israel, Elinor Hammarskjöld, Mr. Enrique Munoz Larrea, a nephew of the deceased, as well as a survivor who was aided by the deceased. 

A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance will be held at 11:00, followed by the awarding of the medal and certificate in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. 

The Rescue Story
Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero was born in Cuenca, Ecuador in 1891 and was appointed Consul to Stockholm, Sweden in 1931.  In 1941, with the assistance of the Chilean Consulate, Dr. Munoz Borrero sent some 80 passports to Istanbul for distribution to Poles, most of whom were Jewish.  As a result, he was fired in January 1942, though the Ecuadorian sent no replacement. The Swedes did not confiscate the consulate archives, as requested by Ecuador, and so the seals and documents remained in Munoz Borrero's possession.  

Later, Jewish leaders in Sweden, including Rabbi Avraham Israel Jacobson and Hillel Storch, approached Dr. Munoz Borrero requesting that he issue Ecuadorian passports to Jews in occupied Europe, enabling them to benefit from the relative protection afforded to Latin-American citizens.  The alternative for these Jews was invariably the death camps.

Dr. Munoz Borrero agreed, and started to issue passports using lists he received from the Jewish leaders, despite the fact that he had been forbidden to use any consulate-related papers or equipment.  As a result, Dr. Munoz Borrero was questioned by the Swedish police, and came under the surveillance of the Swedish secret service.  His actions, in violation of his government's orders, also made it highly unlikely that he would ever be re-employed by his government.

In the final analysis, the Ecuadorian passports sent from Sweden to Poland did not save their new owners. One group of Jews with Latin-American citizenship, including those with Ecuadorian passports, was deported to Bergen Belsen, and  was murdered in October 1943.  A second group of Polish Jews with foreign passports, among them 10 with documents from Ecuador, was sent to the Vittel camp in France, but this proved to be only temporary, for in April 1944 they were deported to Auschwitz.

Some Ecuadorian passports issued by Dr. Munoz Borrero were sent to the Netherlands. These passports exempted their owners from wearing the yellow star, postponed deportation to camps in the East, and provided other protection from anti-Jewish legislation. Among the Jews who received these passports, 96 were deported to Bergen Belsen, where some died as a result of the horrific conditions there.

Several survivors, however, applied to Yad Vashem to recognize Dr. Munoz Borrero as Righteous Among the Nations - among them Betty Meyer, née Eichenhauser.  

One day, Betty and her mother, who had emigrated from Germany to Holland, received two Ecuadorian passports in their names. All they had to do was affix their photographs and sign. Thanks to those passports, Betty and her mother were spared deportation to the East. They were sent to Bergen Belsen, and from there, to Switzerland by train in January 1945 as part of a prisoner exchange. They thus survived the Holocaust.

On February 28, 2011, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem decided to award Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero the title of Righteous Among the Nations. For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations Program, click here