On October 4, 1944, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Felix de Lequerica wrote his ambassador to Budapest, Ángel Sanz-Briz, the following telegram: “I beg to extend protection to the greater number of persecuted Jews.” Thus Spain will save an undetermined number of Hungarian Jews, more than 5,000, during the worst year of persecution under German occupation.
In 1924, the government of General Primo de Rivera, within its policy of promoting Hispanity, gave Spanish nationality to Sephardic Jews, that is, the descendants of Spanish Jews expelled by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492. The measure was more propagandistic than anything else, but twenty years later it would have unexpected results. Throughout the year 1944, the Spanish embassy in Hungary, led by the ambassador Angel Sanz-Briz, arrives disturbing news: the Jews of Budapest are being deported in mass and rumored that they are sent to the death. Miguel Ángel Muguiro’s business manager and then Sanz-Briz contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, as a first step, decided to recover that old measure of the dictatorship: in the name of the Spanish of the Sephardi, The Spanish embassy begins to welcome Jews who are immediately provided with the corresponding nationality letter. From that moment, as nationals of a third country, his life is safe. Many of them will remain living in the embassy itself. When Sanz-Briz leaves Budapest, an Italian, Giorgio Perlasca, appointed consul of Spain, will continue his work. It is estimated that by this procedure at least 5,200 Hungarian Jews were saved from deportation.
Sanz-Briz was not the only one: other Spanish embassies in Europe used the same procedure. Was it personal initiatives, isolated, or was Franco’s government behind the case? It is very difficult to know. From the documentation it is deduced that the Government, at least, was abreast and left to do. From 1943 – when the German occupation of the Vichy France – there is evidence that the Spanish legations protected the Sephardic Jews. It is hard to imagine that in a rigidly authoritarian regime like that of Franco, and more in those years and under those circumstances, an ambassador could act on his own in a matter that could perfectly trigger a major diplomatic crisis. On the other hand, the ambassadors protagonists have always said that acted with the knowledge of the government. Only from the 70’s began to recognize Spain for this work. And few.