21 June 2011
On Thursday, June 23, 2011, Yad Vashem will hold a ceremony posthumously honoring Dr. Manuel Antonio Munoz Borrero, of Ecuador, as Righteous Among the Nations. His son, Lennart Bjelke, will accept the medal and certificate of honor on his late father’s behalf. The event will take place in the presence of the Ambassador of Ecuador in Israel H.E. Raul Guillermo Bassante Ramirez, Ambassador of Sweden in Israel, H.E. Elinor Hammarskjöld, Lennart Bjelke, Mr. Enrique Munoz Larrea, nephew of the Righteous, Betty Meyer, née Eichenhauser, Holocaust survivor, family and friends.
Dr. Munoz Borrero is the first Ecuadorian recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance will be held at 11:00 followed by the awarding of the medal and certificate in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem. The events will take place in English. The event is open to the press, in coordination with the Media Relations dept. 02 644 3410.
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.