12 June 2014
Yad Vashem has posthumously recognized Jose Maria Barreto of Peru as Righteous Among the Nations. This is the first Peruvian to be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Barreto served as a diplomat in Switzerland and used his position to attempt to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. A ceremony honoring Barreto will be held at a later date.
By 1938, the government of Peru had given instructions to all of its consulates in Europe not to issue visas to foreign immigrants, with an emphasis on barring Jews in particular. Abraham Silberschein, the head of RELICO, a Jewish relief organization in Switzerland funded by the World Jewish Congress, originally approached Jose Maria Barreto, the Consul General of Peru in Geneva, Switzerland asking him to issue Peruvian passports for Jews under German occupation. In the summer of 1943, the Swiss police asked for clarifications from the Peruvian Embassy to explain the issuing of a Peruvian passport to a German Jew by the name of Gunther Frank. Barreto responded in a letter to the Peruvian Ambassador that he had issued 27 Peruvian passports to 58 Jews (including 14 children) at the request of the "Intellectual Refugee Protection Committee" in order to save the lives of people in German concentration camps expected to be sent to death. After the incident came to the attention of the Peruvian Foreign Minister, the Ministry ordered the cancelation of the passports issued and closure of the Peruvian consulate in Geneva. In addition, Barreto was fired from his position and dismissed from Peru's Foreign Ministry.
In a letter written on August 27, 1943, Silberschein described Barreto's noble efforts: "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."
More information about the Righteous Among the Nations, including background, stories and the Database of the Righteous: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/index.asp