About Yad Vashem
First Ecuadorian Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations
Moving Ceremony Held at Yad Vashem
June 23, 2011
Yad Vashem recently held a ceremony to posthumously honor Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero of Ecuador as Righteous Among the Nations.
A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance was followed by an award ceremony in the Synagogue. Mr Lenart Bjelke accepted the medal and certificate of honor on behalf of his late father Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero. He thanked Yad Vashem for the award and said,
"It is a very great moment for us. We are honored to be here today, at Yad Vashem, and to represent my father Manuel"
Mr. Enrique Munoz Larrea, nephew of Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero was also presented with a certificate in honor of his late uncle. He gave an emotional address and stated that,
"It is a very high honor as a country and as a family. We are sure that Manuel would have done it 10,000 times again. God bless the people of Israel"
Betty Meyer a Holocaust survivor and one of the Jews helped by Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero during the Holocaust gave an account of her story and described how:
"My mother and I owe him our lives - he saved us"
Ambassador of Ecuador in Israel H.E. Raul Guillermo Bassante Ramirez then gave an address in which he stated that Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero "acted upon the greatest humanist principals, and did not wish for any honor and recognition... he is not only the pride of his friends and family here but also the whole Ecuadorian nation".
Mr Lenart Bjelke and Mr. Enrique Munoz Larrea then unveiled the inscription of Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero's name in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.
Dr. Munoz Borrero is the first Ecuadorian to be recognized as 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 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, Dr. Munoz Borrero was fired in January 1942 and the Ecuadorian government informed the Swedish government of his termination, although they did not send a replacement. The Swedes did not confiscate the consulate archives, as requested by Ecuador, 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 passports to Jews in occupied Europe so that they could benefit from the relative protection afforded to Latin-American citizens from deportation to 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 was under the surveillance of the Swedish secret service. The issue of these passports was contrary to the orders of the Ecuadorian government, thus making it unlikely that he would be ever be rehabilitated 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 - at the end of April 1944 they were deported to Auschwitz.
The Ecuadorian passports issued by Dr. Munoz Borrero were also 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. Of this group of Jews, 96 were deported to Bergen Belsen. Some died as a result of the horrific conditions there, but several survivors 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, thus surviving 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.