Film on Salvadoran diplomat screened with live music

The Rescue is a Holocaust documentary that explores two brothers’ journey to uncover the story of their grandfather, Jose Castellanos, known as the Salvadoran Raoul Wallenberg.

It will be screened at Adath Israel Congregation in Toronto as a film-concerto with a live soundtrack performed by the brothers, Alvaro and Boris Castellanos.

“We wanted to figure out how we could make this more special than just another documentary that’s going to be lost,” Alvaro said.

This desire led Boris and Alvaro to add a live musical performance to the screenings. Alvaro plays the bass and Boris plays the piano in the Castellanos Ensemble, a chamber orchestra.

The performance has played in Chile, Argentina, Panama, Germany, China, Costa Rica, Beijing, and Toronto.

José was a colonel in El Salvador and spoke out against his country’s dictatorship. The government sent him on diplomatic posts to prevent him causing political problems. In 1941, he was sent to Geneva to serve as the consul general of El Salvador.

Jose Arturo Castellanos (Photo Courtesy of R. Boem)

It was in Geneva, that he started to issue these certificates of Salvadoran citizenship. It is estimated that 40,000 central European Jews were saved.

In 2005, a suitcase containing 1,300 of the approximately 13,000 Salvadoran nationality papers authorized by their grandfather José Castellanos was discovered in a basement in Geneva.

The documents were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and inspired Alvaro and Boris to learn more about their grandfather.

“My personal take is that my grandfather…did not like injustice, and the frustration of not being able to save people in his own country,” Boris said. He believed his grandfather wanted to insult El Salvador by signing off on thousands of Salvadoran nationality papers. “But then he fell in love with the project,” Boris continued.


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum granted the Castellanos brothers access to the nationality papers, which prompted them to travel to Germany, Hungary, Italy, Central America, and Israel to track down those rescued by the identity papers.

José was named a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2010, an honour awarded to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews in the Holocaust. Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler have also received the honour.

“Our mission is to tell this story all over the world because this story isn’t about Jewish people…it’s about a collaboration between human beings to save other human beings,” Boris said.

The brothers are starting their next project, producing materials to educate young people about the stories of the righteous.

“This is not just a film, it’s a living laboratory to see how far we can go to not only propagate the story, but to inspire people to continue that legacy of cooperation between Jewish and non-Jewish people to help repair the world, tikun olam,” Boris said.


The film-concerto is presented by Christian Jewish Dialogue of Toronto and will be screened and performed at Adath Israel, June 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 at The Castellanos brothers are always looking for survivors who had Salvadoran nationality papers. Visit for more info. There will also be an exhibition, “Beyond Duty” honouring the Righteous Among the Nations at Adath Israel from June 8 to 25.