Two years ago marked the centennial of the birth of a truly remarkable man, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. In 2012, the year “Raoul Wallenberg Year 2012″ was spent celebrating his life and achievements — and not just in Sweden and the United States, but in Hungary, in Israel, and in countless other locations around the globe.
In Jerusalem there is a memorial, Yad Vashem, dedicated to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II. A street named ‘Avenue of the Righteous’ runs through the area, bordered by 600 trees planted to honour the memory of non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi executioners.
His courageous and brilliant actions in Budapest during World War II that saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust deserve our respect, admiration and emulation.
In 1944, the United States established the War Refugee Board (WRB), an organisation whose task was to save Jews from Nazi persecution. Once the WRB understood that Sweden was making serious attempts to save Jews in Hungary, it set out to find someone who could launch a major rescue operation in Budapest. Wallenberg was offered the job and accepted.
A diplomat and businessman, Wallenberg was appointed legation secretary of the Swedish diplomatic mission in Budapest in June 1944. His job was to launch a rescue operation for Jews, and he became head of a special department. By issuing protective Swedish passports and renting Buildings – ‘Swedish houses’ where Jews could seek shelter.
Wallenberg demonstrated a sense of self-sacrifice to the greater good of his fellow human beings that is a lesson to us all.
Few Swedes have received as much international acclaim and attention as Raoul Wallenberg. In 1981, he became the second of a total of just seven people to be named honorary citizens of the United States. The others include Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa. In 1985, he was made an honorary citizen of Canada, and in 1986 an honorary citizen of Israel.
Today on July 9, the American Congress will speak for all Americans and convey a powerful message through the bestowal of the Congressional Gold Medal to remember the courageous acts of Raoul Wallenberg.
Raoul Wallenberg was a diplomat who chose not to be indifferent and to rise to a higher moral calling.
We remember and revere this courageous man whose efforts saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. Wallenberg risked his life, and ultimately gave his life, for his commitment to basic values. We all have the obligation to ponder the full measure of Wallenberg’s personal sacrifice and tragedy.
A number of diplomats chose to risk their careers and even their lives, and defied official protocols, rules and immigration “policies” to rescue Jews. Many of these diplomats were censured or punished for their acts of courage. Some were fired. Some were stripped of their ranks and pensions. Others were ostracized in their home countries. Their rescue efforts took many forms. Among other selfless acts, they issued visas, citizenship papers and other forms of documentation that allowed Jews to escape the Nazis. These diplomats chose not to be indifferent and to rise to a higher moral calling.
Even today, Raoul Wallenberg is a strong role model and a symbol the common European values. Because of his efforts in Hungary, because of the lives he saved, but also because of his courage to stand up for democracy, freedom and HUMAN RIGHTS.
On 22 January 2013 the European parliament inaugurated one of its MEETING ROOMS (ASP 5 G-2, the The Raoul Wallenberg room in the middle european parliamenttemporary PRESS ROOM) in memory of Raoul Wallenberg.
“The importance of not being indifferent” is a timely and relevant operating principle in our relationship with the world today. Advancing human dignity and promoting universal rights is at the core of American values. It is also relevant to the challenges of our times, be they in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere”.writes Mark Brzezinski, U.S. Ambassador to Sweden.
During his historic visit to Sweden last September, President Barack Obama captured the essence of Wallenberg’s legacy:
Wallenberg’s life is a challenge to us all — to live those virtues of empathy and compassion, even when it’s hard, even when it involves great risk. He came from a prominent family, but he chose to help the most vulnerable. He was a Lutheran, and yet he risked his life to save Jews. “I will never be able to go back to Stockholm,” he said, “without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”
So when Jews in Budapest were marked with that yellow star, Wallenberg shielded them behind the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag. When they were forced into death marches, he showed up with the food and water that gave them life. When they were loaded on trains for the camps, he climbed on board too and pulled them off. He lived out one of the most important mitzvot, most important commandments in the Jewish tradition — to redeem a captive; to save a life; the belief that when a neighbor is suffering, we cannot stand idly by.
Read ..Honoring Congressional Gold Medal Recipient Raoul Wallenberg: One Man Who Made a Difference; by Mark Brzezinski, U.S. Ambassador to Sweden.
How was it possible for one person to save so many lives? Raoul Wallenberg was the right man in the right place at the right time.
Wallenberg’s fate remains an intriguing mystery. There is still no clear picture of what happened to him after his arrest on 17 January. In April 1945, it became clear that Wallenberg really had disappeared. Information from the Russians indicated that Wallenberg was not in the Soviet Union.
On 20 November 1944, Adolf Eichmann instigated a series of death marches, in which thousands of Jews were forced to leave Hungary on foot under extremely harsh conditions. Wallenberg helped them by distributing passports, food and medicine. In January 1945, the Russians arrived in Budapest. , Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet forces.
In the early 1950s, returning prisoners of war testified that they had met Wallenberg in prison in Moscow. This led to renewed Swedish efforts. In 1957, the Soviet government gave a new answer. They had found a handwritten document dated 17 July 1947, stating that ‘the prisoner Wallenberg [sic]… died last night in his cell.’
Sweden was skeptical but Russia stuck to this story for more than 30 years. In October 1989, demands from the Swedish government and Wallenberg’s family led to a breakthrough. Representatives of the family were invited to Moscow for a discussion. On that occasion, Wallenberg’s passport, pocket calendar and other possessions were handed over to the family. They had apparently been found during repairs at the KGB archives.
Two years later, the Swedish and Soviet governments agreed to appoint a joint working group to clear up the facts about Wallenberg’s fate. Their reports were published in January 2001. The group’s work did not produce any definitive answers; they concluded that many important questions were still unanswered, and that Wallenberg’s dossier could therecould therefore not be closed. In October 2001, the Swedish government appointed an official commission of inquiry, the Eliasson Commission, to investigate the actions of Sweden’s foreign policy establishment in the Raoul Wallenberg case. In 2003, a report was issued in which Swedish political moves were summarised under the heading ‘A diplomatic failure’.
Raoul Wallenberg was not the heroic type in the conventional sense, but he was fearless and a skilled negotiator and organiser. That was how the Swedish diplomat Per Anger (1913-2002) described him. Anger was stationed in Budapest during the war as a secretary at the Swedish Legation. Furthermore, Wallenberg’s background and upbringing furnished him with unique skills.