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How Swedish Rabbi’s Plan Saved War Jews

The Ecuadorian passport which was provided for Alex de Haas and members of his family

"And so we must know these good people who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We must learn from them, and in gratitude and hope, we must remember them." Elie Wiesel

Rabbi Abraham Israel Jacobson, who in 1941 escaped with his wife from the Nazi-occupied city of Trondheim in northern Norway to Sweden, was appointed Rabbi of the orthodox Adat Jeschurun synagogue in Stockholm. He initially lived in the same house as the synagogue, on Linnégatan 20. The synagogue, originally from Hamburg, had miraculously survived Kristallnacht and was later dismantled and transferred to Sweden in the spring of 1939*. Soon after his arrival in Stockholm, the Rabbi started searching for diplomatic contacts with the aim of using them to help save Jews in occupied Europe. 

Rabbi Jacobson
One of the Righteous: Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero

The idea was to find a Latin American diplomat, who would agree to issue authentic passports to Jews in danger throughout Europe. These passports would exempt their owners from wearing the yellow star, postpone deportation to camps in the East, and provide other protection from anti-Jewish legislation. We don't know exactly how Rabbi Jacobson established his first contact with the Consul General of Ecuador in Sweden, Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero, who had been Consul General since 1931. It could have been a sheer coincidence, such as a chance meeting at the local milk shop, since Rabbi Jacobson and Borrero were practically neighbors in the borough of Östermalm, where they lived within less than 100 meters of each other. At first, the requests for passports were initiated mostly by Yekkim (Jews born in Germany), who lived in Stockholm and were concerned over the safety of the families of their relatives or business partners, who had been stranded in countries overrun by the Nazis. Many of the recipients were German Jews, who during the 1930s had moved from Germany to Holland and, being former German citizens, suddenly in May of 1940 found themselves under German occupation in Holland.  

Interior of the Jeschurun Synagogue, Stockholm ... it survived Kristallnacht

Later on, the activity was expanded to encompass small groups of Jews, who were in hiding in Poland and even German Jews, who already had been deported from Holland to Bergen-Belsen. Hundreds of passports and other consular documents were issued during a period of two to three years in the name of Consul General Muñoz Borrero. In several cases the holders of these new Ecuadorian passports managed to survive the war due to the special status they enjoyed as non-European citizens. Some German officials viewed them as Austauschjuden (exchange Jews), who could be exchanged for German citizens who had been arrested in allied countries, including in British Palestine. Dr. EfraimZadoff, an expert on the history of the Jews in Latin America, has studied this illegal passport activity with the help of Seth Jacobson, a grandson of Rabbi Jacobson, and even published some articles about it. In total, 250 passports were issued, but some provided only temporary relief. We know for sure today that at least 80 Jews survived the Holocaust thanks to the Ecuadorian passports issued with Muñoz Borrero's signature. Consul General Muñoz Borrero himself was to suffer severely, both career-wise and financially, for the help he provided by issuing the passports. Due to heavy Nazi-German diplomatic pressure on the Ecuadorian government he was fired, but he and Rabbi Jacobson continued to issue passports on blanks still in his possession. This led to repeated interrogations and warnings from the Stockholm Police, as well as surveillance by the Swedish secret police, which are well documented. After being fired, Muñoz Borrero worked as a caretaker at the Colombianembassy in Stockholm and was reunited with his wife only around 1950 in Mexico, where he died at the age of 85 in 1976. The story about the passports has been passed on in discreet oral tradition within the Jacobson family, but the documental proof was first discovered just prior to the new millennium, when Seth Jacobson searched through his grandfather's archive. In June 2011 Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero was posthumously bestowed as Righteous Among the Nations by YadVashem in Jerusalem. 

At Yad Vashem (from left) granddaughter Manuela Bjelke, Dr. Efraim Zadoff, Seth Jacobson, grandson Manuel Bjelke, son Lennart Bjelke and Mrs. Betty Meyer, one of those saved by the passports

Present at the official ceremony in Jerusalem was his son Lennart Bjelke, an opera artist, who died recently in Sweden. Also in attendance were Bjelke's children, Manuel and Manuela, both named after their grandfather, as well as relatives from Ecuador, a few survivors, and Rabbi Jacobson's grandchildren as well as great grandchildren. The activity around the issuance of the passports was carried out in strict secrecy through a close cooperation between Rabbi Jacobson and the Lithuanian-German lawyer Moritz Pineas, who during the mid-1930s had escaped from Berlin to Stockholm. They were supported financially by a few Jewish personalities who were sworn to secrecy and who all cared deeply for the cause. Jacobson and Pineas also cooperated with the Scandinavian section of VaadHaHatzalah (the Rescue Committee, comprising several rabbis), and with the knowledge and blessing of the Swedish Section of the World Jewish Congress. The details on how the Ecuadorian passports were sent from Stockholm to Holland and Poland and how it was accomplished are well documented. Hopefully the story will appear in the near future in book form and in a documentary.

*Read more about the story of the synagogue at

Righteous 10 from Sweden

In total, ten Swedes have been bestowed the title Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, for saving Jews during the Holocaust. Many of them are not well known to the general public and are listed here in award year order.

■Raoul Wallenberg (1963), Swedish Legation in Budapest for his efforts in 1944-45.

■Valdemar & Nina Langlet (1965), Red Cross in Budapest, 1944-45.

■Per Anger (1981), Swedish Legation in Budapest, 1944-45.

■Lars G:son Berg (1982), Swedish Legation in Budapest, 1944-45.

■Carl Ivan Danielsson (1982), Swedish Legation in Budapest, 1944-45.

■Erik Myrgren (1986), priest at the Swedish Congregation in Berlin, 1944-45.

■Elow Kihlgren (2001), Honorary Consul in Genova, 1944.

■Elisabeth Hesselblad (2004), nun at the Bridgettines Sisters Order in Rome, 1943-44.

■Erik Perwe (2006), vicar at the Swedish Congregation in Berlin, 1942-44.

■Manuel Antonio Muñoz Borrero (2011), Consul General of Ecuador in Sweden, 1931-42. 



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Tuesday, 28 March 2023

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