Eduardo Propper de Callejon began his service in the Spanish Foreign Ministry at the end of World War I. He served in Brussels and Vienna, where he met his future wife Helene Roberte Fould-Springer. As a loyal monarchist, he refused to declare his allegiance to the republic, and left the foreign service, to return at the end of the Civil War. It was 1939, and Propper de Callejon was appointed first secretary in the Spanish embassy in Paris.
The fall of France triggered the massive escape from the advancing German army. Hundred of thousands of refugees were on the roads trying to get to southern France. Many of them – Jews and non-Jews – were desperately trying to cross the Spanish border in the hope of reaching safe havens overseas.
The French government too left Paris, and the diplomatic corps followed, including the Spanish embassy. Propper, his wife, and Felipe, then nine, and five-year-old Elena left Paris and went to Bordeaux. When they reached the Spanish consulate, they discovered that the consul had abandoned his post and locked the offices. The Spanish diplomats were faced with thousands of refugees that had reached Bordeaux and were assembled in front of the consulate, hoping to obtain the piece of paper that would rescue them from the Nazis.
Propper de Callejon could have very well remained a sympathetic bystander, but faced with the plight of the refugees, he decided to act. He opened the consulate and began issuing transit visas to the refugees. For four days between 18- 22 June 1940 he incessantly stamped passports. By doing so, he was defying the instructions not to issue visas without prior approval of the Foreign Ministry.
Propper continued to provide visas at the embassy’s new seat in Vichy. We will never know how many visas Propper de Callejon issued, because the consulate’s registry has not survived.
In March 1941, Foreign Minister Ramon Serrano Suner informed the Spanish Ambassador to France José Lucresia that Propper was to be transferred to Spanish Morocco – a much less appreciated position. The ambassador attempted to rescind the order and argued that Propper had received a decoration from the Marshall. The foreign minister was not to be deterred and expressed surprise that France had decorated a Spanish official who had served the Juderia Francesa….
Though Propper de Callejon continued to serve in the Spanish Foreign Ministry, he was never given the official title of ambassador, perhaps due to his actions in the 1940s. Propper retired in 1965, and passed away in 1972.