Thousands of Holocaust survivors and their descendants escaped the Nazis thanks to a Spanish diplomat nicknamed the “Angel of Budapest”; however, the late Ángel Sanz Briz is hardly known in Spain today.
His improvised heroic actions in 1944 prevented more than 5,000 Hungarian Jews from being deported to Auschwitz.
“He is a hero more important than Schindler,” says Eva Benatar. Her mother protected her when she was a barely a few weeks old, and also her brother, in one of the shelters established by Sanz Briz in Nazi-occupied Budapest.
Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who managed to save more than a thousand Jews from the Holocaust. His story was told in the Hollywood movie “Schindler’s List.”
After the Nazi invasion of March 19, 1944 – nicknamed Operation Margarethe – the main organizer of the Holocaust of the SS, Adolf Eichmann, moved to Budapest with a plan to eliminate approximately one million Jews from Hungary in record time.
Sanz Briz served in the embassy of Spain as commercial attaché, before being in charge of the mission in mid-1944, at the age of 33 years. He was one of a group of diplomats who decided to rescue the Hungarian Jews.
Kindertransport, the secret mission that saved 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazi holocaust
In a matter of weeks, the SS deported more than 400,000 Jews to Auschwitz.
Another humanitarian conspirator like the Spanish one became a well-known name: Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who issued “protection passports” and saved tens of thousands of Jews.
Wallenberg then disappeared; He was arrested by the Soviet forces that occupied Hungary and is believed to have died in a Soviet prison.
Why Sanz Briz took justice into his own hand
As reports grew about the growing Holocaust at Auschwitz and other sites of Nazi slaughter, Sanz Briz began to inform Franco’s fascist government in Spain of the terrible truth.
A key document he sent was the Vrba-Wetzler report, made by two Jewish fugitives from Auschwitz.
However, for several months he received no instructions from a regime that had initially supported Hitler in the war.
But he began to take justice into his own hands, falsifying consular documents to grant Spanish nationality to the refugees, on the basis of a Spanish law of 1924, which had lapsed many years ago, and which targeted Sephardic Jews. .
This, despite the fact that Hungary’s Jewish community was overwhelmingly Ashkenazi.
Jews were hid in the Spanish embassy in Buda and bribes were paid to local officials. Sanz Briz faced the dangers of the Nazi and Hungarian patrols of the fascist Cruz Flecha, as well as the Allied bombings, to house the Jews in danger.
“I managed to get the Hungarian government to authorize the protection of 200 Sephardic Jews by Spain, then convert those 200 units into 200 families, and those 200 families multiplied indefinitely by the simple procedure of not giving the Jews safe conduct in groups that surpassed 200, “wrote Sanz Briz in his report to the Spanish government from Bern, in December 1944.
“He added letters to each number, using the entire alphabet,” explains the diplomat’s son, Juan Carlos Sanz Briz.
“It was very unusual for him, he was usually very attached to the rules, diplomats should not issue false documents or put the national flag in buildings that are not part of the diplomatic mission.”
The final tally – tightly registered by Sanz Briz – shows that he granted 232 provisional passports to 352 people, 1,898 protection letters and 15 ordinary passports issued to 45 Sephardic Jews.
While the Nazis and the Hungarian fascists surrounded the Jews of the city, confining them and killing people in the streets, Sanz Briz rented 11 apartments to house the approximately 5,000 people he had placed under the protection of Spain.
In an interview in 2013 for Spanish public radio RNE, Jaime Vándor (recently deceased), who moved to Barcelona with his family after the war, he remembered the misery he lived in those Spanish shelters.
“We were 51 people living in a two and a half bedroom apartment, we were overcrowded, hungry and cold, infested with fleas, hygiene was atrocious, obviously, with so many people using a bathroom, but the worst was fear, fear of deportation”.
Sanz Briz left Budapest in November 1944, by order of his superiors in Madrid, who feared reprisals from the approaching Soviet army, due to Spain’s assistance to the Germans on the eastern front.
He devoted himself to a regular diplomatic career, and the Franco regime, strongly anti-Israel, did not allow him to receive in life the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations, granted by the Yad Vashem, the memorial center of the Holocaust of Israel.
He joined the ranks of the just in 1966.