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Peru’s First Righteous Gentile Cited by Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem recognized its first Righteous Among the Nations from Peru.

Israel’s national Holocaust memorial on Thursday posthumously honored Jose Maria Barreto, a diplomat in Switzerland who used his position to attempt to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. A ceremony for Barreto will be held at a future date, Yad Vashem said in a statement.

As the consul general of Peru in Geneva, Barreto issued 27 Peruvian passports to 58 Jews, including 14 children, even though the government of Peru by 1938 had given instructions to its consulates in Europe not to issue visas to foreign immigrants — with an emphasis on barring Jews in particular.

Barreto was acting on the request of Abraham Silberschein, the head of RELICO, a Jewish relief organization in Switzerland funded by the World Jewish Congress, to issue Peruvian passports for Jews under German occupation.

Silberschein in a letter from August 1943 said, “Mr. Barreto, deeply moved by the suffering of millions of human beings in the occupied countries, wished to participate in helping to alleviate the plight of these innocent people, and decided to agree and provide us with a certain number of passports so that we could send them to different persons in the countries under German control. Mr. Barreto was convinced that by this highly humane deed he would save a number of people.”

That year, the Peruvian foreign minister canceled the passports and ordered the closure of the Peruvian consulate in Geneva. In addition, Barreto was fired and dismissed from Peru’s Foreign Ministry.

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