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Gilberto Bosques, the “Mexican Schindler” honored

9 July 2007

My introduction to Mexico’s role in saving the Jews of Europe during World War II, as well as a lot of other would-be victims of the fascists, was due to my very bad Spanish. I was still going to Mexico City as a tourist, and noticed some unusual silver ornaments in a shop across from Parque Alameda (where the Foreign Ministry complex now stands). For some reason, when I walked in, my Spanish failed me, and didn’t know enough to say “Quisiera mirar los ornamentos”… saying – I think – something like mira los tchotkies. Where I pulled the Yiddish word from is a mystery to me to this day, but the old guy in a yalmulke behind the counter sort of understood me. After trying out Yiddish and German on me, he finally hit on his limited English. He’d been a Mexican since 1940.

 

Later, when I lived in Santa Maria de la Ribera, I’d see very elderly Spaniards and Basques and French out with their grandchildren… who looked and acted as Mexican as everyone else. The park in Santa Maria faces several high schools – including French, Dutch and Spanish ones.

 

My neighbors, and my friend the silversmith, and many, many others owe their existence to Lazaro Cardenas, and to the Mexican diplomatic corps. People just don’t know that Mexico accepted almost any refugee from fascism (and, legally, still does) and the Mexican diplomatic corps played an important role in World War II, even before Mexico declared war on Germany in May, 1942.

 

One of the heros of the Mexican diplomatic corps is being honored with an exhibit at the Museo Histórico Judío y del Holocausto Tuvie Maizel (Acapulco 70, Condesa, D.F.). Arturo Jimenez of Jornada wrote about the “Mexican Schindler”

 

He is often called “The Mexican Schindler” for his work during the Second World War, when as Mexico’s Consul General in France, he aided 40,000 refuges – Spanish Republicans, French Jews, Lebanese and others facing persecution, among them leaders of the European opposition and members of the antifascist resistence.

Described as “a Mexican hero” or a “savior” or simply “brave,” he spent a year as a prisoner of war of the Germans, where – together with his family and collaborators – his dignified attitude was the epitome of Mexican diplomacy of the era, gaining even the respect of his jailers.

His name was Gilberto Bosques, born in 1892 in Chiatla, Puebla.  In his 103 year lifetime, he was a revolucionary, a congressman, an educator, a reporter, a writer, a diplomat and, above all else, a humanist and patriot: but somewhat forgotten until now.

For everything he was, the Jewish community in Mexico has decided to mount a photographic exhibit in Bosques’ honor, the best way to teach about our tradition of asylum and solidarity.

Embajador Gilberto Bosques: un hombre de todos los tiempos (Ambassador Gilberto Bosques: a man for all times) opened last week at the Museo Histórico Judío y del Holocausto Tuvie Maizel (Acapulco 70, Condesa).

In 88 photos, the exposition covers the life of Gilberto Bosques from his birth to his death in 1995. The images and information sheets are organized in 25 panels, and include photos of the almost unknown French Holocaust.

All the images are copies from the Bosques family archives. The museum has plans to show the exhibit in other locations. The curator, Erick Saúl, of the United States, said he is “historical curator, not a museum specialist,” spent two years working on the Tuvie Maizel museum exhibit.

Saving lives, raising spirits

The exposition includes images from throughout  Bosques’ long and varied career:  his participation in the 1910 Revolution when he was 17; as a Puebla and later Federal legislator working on labor issues in the 1920s and 30s;  his activities as as an educational and political reformer and his career as editor of the Government paper, El Nacional.

His diplomatic career began at shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was tasked with  carrying out the foreign policy of presidents Lázaro Cárdenas and then Manuel Avila Camacho.

Under the leadership of Mexican Minister to France,   Luis I. Rodríguez,  Bosques embarked on a series of adventures in his quest to obtain visas and safe-conduct passes for those persecuted by the Germans in France, even as he moved the diplomatic mission from Paris to other places, eventually coming to Marseilles.

In the French port, he used his role as Mexican Consul General to rent two chateaux (Reynarde and Montegrande) to house and protect hundreds of refugees marked for deportation to concentration and extermination camps, while he arranged for their exit. In the chateaux, he organized artistic activities to “raise the spirit” of the persecuted.

In Marseilles, the Mexican Ambassador had to confront open hostility from pro-German French “authorities”, Gestapo spies, the government of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as well as the Japanese diplomats who had offices in the same building as the Mexican delegation.

Bosques resisted them all. The French and – above all – the Germans, until on his recommendation, Mexico broke relations with both countries in 1943. The Gestapo violently assaulted the Mexican delegation, robbing money from a strongbox and taking the diplomat, his wife and three children and forty staff members into custody. They were sent to Bad Godesberg and locked in a hotel for the next year, which he spent organizing art programs. He above all upheld his dignity and the dignity of Mexico. He told the German bureaucrats:

We have read the rules you have laid down for Mexican personnel and will abide by them. However, as Mexico and Germany are at war, we expect to be treated as prisoners of war, and will accept no special consideration due to age or other condition, but only those accorded to such prisoners.”

In 1944, the Mexican were liberated and repatriated in a prisoner exchange with the Germans who were held in the concentration center at Perote, Veracruz.

bosques-schindler.jpg

After the war, Bosques was appointed Mexican Minister to Portugal, Finland and Sweden. From 1953 to 1964, he served in Cuba. The photo shows Bosques with the Castro brothers (Raul and Fidel) and Ernesto Che Guevara.

Don Gilberto’s daughter, Laura Bosques, recalled her family’s experiences in Europe, which organizing tertuilias during their incarceration at Bad Godesburg which included reading from the  poems of Rubén Darío at tertuilias.

“It was an era of intense drama. Along with everyone else, my parents and my brothers and I were aware of the suffering. The War was a tremendous thing that should never have happened, and the violence continues to this day.”

Laura Bosques spoke with us in the  offices at the Centro Comunitario Nidjei Israel, where the Tuvie Maizel museum is also located. There, we also met press spokesman Enriqueta Loaeza Tovar and museum coordinator Leyla Malki, who summed up the man:

Gilberto Bosques was a Mexican hero. With this exhibit the museum and the Jewish community in Mexico renders its homage, to one who did so much for us, and for his country.”

If you ever wondered how Ilsa and Victor Lazlo got to Casablanca, now you know… Gilberto Bosques arranged it.

casablanca.jpg

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara Marsh permalink
    27 August 2007 11:15 am

    I saw the exhibition completely by accident and was extremely moved by this man’s dignity, principles, bravery and sheer humanity, and distressed that I had never heard of him while knowing about Wallengerg and Schindler. Adding his name to my list of great Mexicans and Righteous Gentiles.

  2. Barbara Marsh permalink
    27 August 2007 11:16 am

    I saw the exhibition completely by accident and was extremely moved by this man’s dignity, principles, bravery and sheer humanity, and distressed that I had never heard of him while knowing about Wallenberg and Schindler. Adding his name to my list of great Mexicans and Righteous Gentiles.

  3. Jose Luis Perez Rodriguez permalink
    5 December 2007 10:50 am

    So your english is “very bad” or “so poor” as well?

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