Ambassador Angel Sanz-Briz.
Juan David Latorre. Madrid.
Madrid’s City Council has decided to dedicate one of its streets to the memory of Ángel Sanz-Briz, Spanish diplomat who, in a show of audacity and solidarity saved thousands of Jews threatened by Nazi oppression. The Ángel Sanz-Briz Street will be, from September, in an ample and luminous space, in the Latina District.
Ángel Sanz-Briz, known as the Angel of Budapest (Zaragoza, 28 September 1910 – Rome, 11 June 1980), was a Spanish diplomat posted in Budapest during the Second World War. In 1944, acting on his own account –according to some authors, “officially” but independently of the Franco government, but receiving no admonishment either- he contributed to saving the life of about five thousand Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. He did so by issuing Spanish passports, initially to Jews that claimed they were of Sephardic origin, following a 1924 Royal Decree, of Primo de Rivera’s military directorate, and, later, to any persecuted Jew.
For these acts he was recognised by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations. Sanz-Briz sought a legal base to make his actions official, and affirmed that Sephardic Jews had the right to Spanish nationality as they were direct descendants of those expelled by the Catholic Monarchs.
Later discoveries among the diplomatic correspondence revealed that the ambassador informed the Franco government of the existence of the Holocaust and that he relied on the acquiescence of the Spanish government.
After studying Law, he entered the Diplomatic School, finishing his studies just before the start of the Spanish Civil War. When it broke out, he enlisted with Francoist troops.
At the end of the war, he obtained his first post as Charge d’Affairs in Cairo (Egypt). In 1942 he received a second posting in the same position, but this time in the Spanish embassy in Hungary, an ally of the Axis powers, but a country which had not put into practice measures for Jewish extermination like those that were already in place in all of Nazi occupied Europe.
In March 1944 Germany invaded Hungary and Adolf Eichmann himself moved to Budapest to supervise the plans for the extermination of the Jewish population in the country, where 565,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Outraged by the Nazi plans, Sanz-Briz decided to provide Spanish documentation to any Sephardic Jew he was able to make contact with, and to negotiate with the Hungarian authorities (puppets of the occupying Germans) the transfer of these people to a safe place.
Sanz-Briz managed to deceive the Nazis to save 5,200 Jews, of which only 200 were of Sephardic origin
Sanz-Briz protected the lives of these 5,200 Jews by using his influence and contacts (as well as his money, which he used to bribe the German gauleiter) in addition to making use of buildings which he rented using embassy funds and which he marked as being “attached to the Spanish legation”. The methods he used he describes himself in the book The Jews in Spain:
“I was able to get the Hungarian government to authorise Spain’s protection of 200 Sephardic Jews (…) After that, the work was relatively easy, the 200 individuals I had been granted, I turned into 200 families; and the 200 families multiplied indefinitely, with the simple procedure of never issuing a safe conduct document or passport to a Jew with a number higher than 200”.
Therefore, of the 5,200 Jews whose life he was able to save, only 200 were of Sephardic origin. In August 1944 he sent the Spanish Government a report in French, written by two escaped prisoners, that gave details of the genocide that was being carried out at Auschwitz. The report was accompanied by a letter from Sanz-Briz confirming the veracity of what was in it:
“Its origin, then, could make it suspiciously impassioned. However, from the reports that I have been able to obtain from people not directly involved in the situation, and from my colleagues in the diplomatic corps here, it turns out that a great part of the events described in it are, unfortunately, real”.
Sanz-Briz continued his diplomatic career and was posted in San Francisco and Washington (United States), Lima, Bern, Bayonne, Guatemala, The Hague, Brussels and Peking.
On 9 March 1973, Ángel Sanz-Briz, his secretary, Aurora Aranaz, and the Philosophy Professor, Iñaki Preciado Idoeta, who was a translator at this point, opened the Spanish Embassy in Peking. Sanz-Briz, at 63, was one of the most veteran diplomats, and became Spain’s first ambassador to China. He volunteered for the post, citing personal reasons.
In 1976 he was destined to Rome as Spanish Ambassador before the Holy See, where he died on 11 June 1980.
In the residence of the Israeli ambassador in Spain, in August 1989 tribute was paid to this diplomat, a ceremony presided by the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Francisco Fernández Ordóñez and the ambassador Shlomo Ben Ami. Adela Quijano, Sanz-Briz’ widow, was presented with the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations, awarded posthumously. The planting of a tree on the Mount of Remembrance, in Jerusalem was also authorised.
In 1991, the Israel Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum distinguished his actions, and recognised his descendants as inheritors of the title of Righteous Among the Nations, inscribing his name on the Holocaust Memorial. In 1994, the Hungarian government awarded him posthumously the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, and in the Great Synagogue in Budapest (the second biggest in the world after New York) there is today a plaque with his name on it. He was the first Spanish diplomat to appear on a Spanish postage stamp.
The life of Ángel Sanz-Briz has been told in the cinema and on television. In 2002 The Perlasca consul premiered, a film co-produced by a number of European countries, where the diplomat is played by Péter Kertész. The protagonist is Giorgio Perlasca who calls upon the Spanish embassy for help.
In 2011, the series The Angel of Budapest was premiered on Spanish Television. Francis Lorenzo gives life to the diplomat. The series is based on Diego Carcedo’s book, A Spaniard before the Holocaust.