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The man that helped 40,000 refugees escape from Nazi occupied France

Right after saving 40,000 Spaniards from the civil war

By Abel GreenPublished 6 months ago 3 min read
Image generated using DALL-E using Remedios Varo's style

If you haven't done so yet, I highly recommend watching the movie "Schindler's List" as soon as possible. The story of bravery and sacrifice to fight against oppression to save 1,000 souls is incredibly moving, but it's important to remember that there are many more unsung heroes out there. One such hero is Gilberto Bosques, a Mexican diplomat who helped save over 40,000 souls during World War II.

Gilberto's heroics start even before World War II, in 1936, when Bosques was appointed as the Mexican consul in Malaga, Spain, where he witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of the war on the civilian population. Although he was sent there to assist Mexican nationals and help them evacuate the country he also worked tirelessly to help the local families stuck in the crossfire.

He documented and wrote about the situation in the country with such vehemency and humanity that he not only managed to get Mexico's president Lazaro Cardenas to agree to give humanitarian visas to some refugees. The man was so moved that when asked by Bosques how many refugees could he send to Mexico he only answered "as many as will come". And come they did. It's difficult to establish how many Spaniards moved to Mexico thanks to Bosques' efforts, but it's estimated that he saved 40,000 people from this war.

As if this wasn't enough, Gilberto was then named the Consul General of Mexico in Marseille, France, from 1939 to 1943. Right in the middle of the Nazi occupation of the country. Noticing the dire circumstances in the region, he worked with other diplomats to obtain blank Mexican visas which he would then fill out with the names of Jews and other persecuted groups, such as political dissidents and homosexuals, who were not eligible for visas under normal circumstances to allow them to escape to Mexico.

He also worked with the French Resistance and other underground networks to help refugees obtain false papers and other forms of documentation that would allow them to travel undetected. Bosques also arranged for safe houses, transportation, and other forms of assistance to help refugees make their way to Spain, Portugal, or other countries where they could seek asylum.

It's impossible to know how many people Bosques saved during this period but most experts estimate that 40,000 souls were smuggled out of the country including 10,000 jews. But perhaps the best known story is how he saved the renowned painter Remedios Varo.

Remedios Varo was a Spanish artist who had fled her native country at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. She later settled in Paris, where she became part of a group of artists and intellectuals who were forced to flee the city after the Nazi invasion in 1940. Varo and her husband, the poet Benjamin Péret, found themselves stranded in the town of Saint-Maximin, unable to obtain the visas they needed to leave France.

Bosques learned of Varo's situation and worked to obtain the necessary visas for her and Péret. He also arranged for a safe house where the couple could stay while they waited for their papers to come through. Varo and Péret eventually received their visas and were able to travel to Mexico, where they settled and continued their artistic work.

The help Remedios Varo received in settling into Mexico was not an exception. Bosques and the rest of the diplomats managed to setup refugee camps where the new imigrants would receive finantial, medical and educational help. An entire boarding school was created just to help the children learn and adapt to the country.

This act of kindness did not go to waste. Although many of the refugees went back to their countries once the war was over (and once Franco fell), many more chose to make Mexico their forever home. There they revitalized the country's education, culture and business ecosystem. Founding many of the country's largest companies and using this income to give back to their adoptive nation.

Unfortunately Gilberto Bosques' work was put to a stop when he was recalled by President Avila Camacho. Do you wonder why? It wasn't because of fear, a threat or a mistake. Gilberto was seen as sympathetic to leftist and socialist causes, which were not in line with the new direction of Mexican foreign policy so they decided to relegate him to a less important role.

What do you think? Do you know any other heroes that have not been given the chance to shine?

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About the Creator

Abel Green

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