The Founder of Permindex, George Mantello, Saved Thousands of Jews during the Holocaust...
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
George Mantello was the driving force behind Permindex/CMC, which was started in Basel, Switzerland. The goal was to build a world trade center but there was a lot of local opposition - Basel already had another industrial exhibition. Ultimately, the local authorities approved Permindex's plan, but they had to agree to build a hotel to go along with the trade center.
Ultimately, they could not find enough financing, and they moved the company to Italy. That's when they started CMC - Centro Mondiale Commerciale; it was necessary to operate as an Italian company rather than a Swiss corporation. Because of his expertise in international trade, Clay Shaw was asked [and he accepted] to be on the Board of Directors.
But, just who was George Mantello? He was born György Mandl to Jewish parents in Hungary. He manufactured textiles in Romania and escaped to Switzerland to avoid the Nazis.
James DiEugenio has this to say about George Mantello in his book Destiny Betrayed: (page 385)
"The Board of Directors [of Permindex] was made up of bankers who had been tied up with fascist governments, people who worked the Jewish refugee racket during World War II..."
He also republished the allegation in this more recent article from 2019. Joan Mellen used the term "Jewish refugee racket" on page 138 of her book A Farewell to Justice, and William Davy used the same term in his book Let Justice Be Done on page 97.
This allegations came from a paragraph in a Foreign Service Despatch from the American Consulate in Basel dated February 1, 1957:
But was this true? Here is an excerpt from another Despatch from April 9, 1958:
The attacks on Permindex and on George Mantello all stem from the socialist newspaper, the Arbeiter-Zeitung. As the Consulate noted, "none of of these charges have been proved."
Further reference to the Arbeiter-Zeitung was made in a Despatch from May 21, 1958:
So, we know from the Foreign Service Despatches that the allegations against Mantello were made by the socialist newspaper, but the Despatches do not corroborate the charges.
So, what really happened during the war?
George Mantello served as first secretary of El Salvador in Switzerland and gave out fifteen thousand Salvadorian citizenship papers to Jews during World War II. In 1944, he publicized the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, through the publication of a document called "The Auschwitz Protocol."
You can read the Auschwitz Protocol at the bottom of this post.
This led to the publication of over four hundred newspaper articles in 120 Swiss newspapers and was a contributing factor in stopping deportations.
For his great work for the Jewish people, Mantello received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University, he was awarded the 1989 Righteousness Award by the Holocaust Memorial Center in Michigan, and he was nominated for a Congressional Gold Medal in 1989. His partner in the El Salvadorean embassy, Jose Arturo Castellanos, was recognized posthumously by Yad Vashem on May 3, 2010, with the title Righteous Among the Nations.
Jose Arturo Castellanos
Even before the war began, when he was a Consul in Hamburg, Castellanos urged his government to allow German Jews to emigrate to El Salvador. In response, he received written instructions forbidding him from providing visas to Jews. During the war years, Castellanos, now a consul in Geneva, along with George Mantello, a Jewish man of Romanian origin, that Castellanos named first secretary of his Embassy, issued some 10,000 visas and false citizenship papers to more than 20,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, in particular Hungary. In many cases, the papers issued were good for 2,3 or 4 people, thus potentially saving the lives of thousands of Jews. Castellanos and Mantello did not take any payment for the papers. In May 2010, Castellanos was recognized as the first (and thus far only) Righteous Among the Nations from El Salvador.
So where did all the allegations against Mantello come from?
In May 1944, Mantello was arrested by Swiss authorities on the formal charge related to his black-market activities. He had purchased a thousand chronographs which were sent to New York for British Intelligence (they wanted them for fighter planes). But he was also questioned about the sale of Salvadorian papers. He was detained for sixteen days and was only released when he paid two thousand Swiss francs to cover any fines. John Winant, American Ambassador to the U.K., reported on the results of a State Department investigation in March 1944. He noted that "the consul of San Salvador [Mantello] has acted from humanitarian motives and has charged no fee at all."
After the war, the Jewish community of Geneva wrote to Mantello:
"It is impossible for us to adequately express our gratitude to you for the tremendous, altruistic work you have done, sparing neither your time nor your financial resources to come to the aid of the wretched victims of the Nazis. We can, however, bear witness to the fact that your help was entirely without personal motive. Not only have you declined any reimbursement for the innumerable papers you sent to us, but, in your life-saving mission, you have also spent considerable sums of your own money."
Still, rumors abounded about Mantello's supposed profiteering. He wrote to the Federation of Swiss Jewish Communities in September 1945 asking for a formal inquity. Three judges were named and witnesses were called to either testify or to send affidavits. Wilhelm Fischer, head of the Romanian World Jewish Congress, said that he sent thousands of names to Mantello and had spent over $20,000 cabling details to Mantello but that nothing was paid for the papers themselves. Rabbi Zvi Taubes, the chief Rabbi of Zurich, said that "Mantello always used to come to me with new plans for the rescue of European Jews ... Since he provided his Salvador papers free of charge, it was a great relief no longer to have to pay for the foreign passports and to be able to obtain as many as possible."
A sample of a citizenship papers issued by George Mantello
The inquiry ended on June 27, 1946, and complete exonerated Mantello. The judges concluded that "The Commission is of the contrary opinion that Mr. Mantello organized the entire operation solely for the purpose of assisting his endangered coreligionists in a totally selfless manner." [Emphasis in original.]
In the meantime, Mantello was denied entry visas to the UK and France. This was due to the ongoing harassment by Heinrich Rothmund, the antisemitic head of the Swiss Alien Police. In 1942, he had addressed a conference of cantonal immigration directors and said that "the Jew is not easily assimilated ... Nor must one forget that many of them pose a danger to our institutions, being used to conditions in which the Jewish instinct for business has a tendency to run free." At one point, Switzerland was ready to expel Mantello from the country, but in October 1948, the Swiss government lifted all restraints on his travel and closed the inquiry on his alleged black-market activities.
George Mantello died on April 25, 1992. Here is the notice from the New York Times:
James DiEugenio noticed my criticism of his term 'refugee protection racket' in my book, and commented on it in one of his review articles:
"In what is probably the only positive contribution by Litwin in his entire book, he appears to clear Permindex member George Mandel of being in the Jewish refugee racket. (Litwin, pp. 295–97) The problem with this is that Metta shows that Mandel was working with the Israeli spy service for years and years. (Metta, p. 114)
Had he been a serious researcher, he would have retracted the allegation without an irrelevant caveat.
There was nothing nefarious about Mantello working with Israeli intelligence – after all, few people knew as much as he did about Jewish refugees in Europe. It appears he cooperated with Asher Ben-Natan who worked for the intelligence service of the Israeli foreign ministry. One CIA document, dated November 1951, notes that “Ben Natan … is surrounding himself with former IIS personnel,” and the list included Mantello. This would seem to confirm the paragraph above that Mantello, by then, was separated “from their service.” Natan was deeply involved with the Jewish Brichah, an organization dedicated to bringing Jewish survivors to Israel.
"In April 1944, two Slovakian Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz and wrote a report providing some of the first reliable eyewitness accounts of the camp. Romanian diplomat Florian Manoliu, who was assisting George Mandel-Mantello in his rescue efforts, received a copy of the Protocol and immediately gave it to Mandel-Mantello in June. Mandel-Mantello received the copy of the Protocol on the same day he learned of the deportation of his own parents.
Recognizing the Protocol’s importance, Mandel-Mantello recopied it, translated it (he immediately hired students to translate the report into various languages), and organized a campaign to distribute the report to Swiss clergy, newspapers, and foreign diplomats."