Gilberto Bosques Saldivar did plenty to earn his affectionate nickname of “Mexican Schindler.”
The diplomat was crucial in saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews destined for deportation to Nazi Germany, but his story went relatively unknown for decades.
Saldivar was born in a Mexican mountain village and quickly showed an interest in government and supporting the rights of the citizen. As a young man he organized the First National Pedagogy Congress and participated in the Mexican Revolution.
He worked as a journalist for a while before becoming a state legislator and a federal deputy. In 1939, he was stationed in France, a position that would seal his fate as a Nazi resistant.
Saldivar fled Paris in 1940, setting up offices in Marseilles. Once the Nazi threat became undeniable, he instructed staff at his consulate to issue visas to any persons hoping to flee to Mexico. Ultimately, more than 40,000 visas were granted, mostly to Jewish asylum seekers.
Saldivar was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, as were his wife and children. He was detained in Germany for a year, but ultimately released thanks to a prisoner exchange deal agreed upon by Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho.
Saldivar continued to serve as a Mexican ambassador in the decades following the war, but he hardly ever spoke of his hand in rescuing thousands, causing his story to go unheralded until after the year 2000. By that time, several historians and writers began to pick up on the tale, and a handful of biographies began to get published on this heroic man.
In 2008, the ADL awarded Saldivar the Courage to Care Award and a photo exhibit on his history was presented at the Jewish and Holocaust History Museum in Mexico City.
Saldivar died in 1995, at the age of 102, never living to see the appreciation the global community would ultimately grant him.