Raoul Wallenberg

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Image:Raoul Wallenberg.jpg
June 1944 passport photo

Raoul Gustav Wallenberg  (born August 4, 1912, exact date of death is disputed) was a Swedish diplomat and a member of the influential Wallenberg family. In the later stages of World War II, he worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to save many thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. He was later arrested by the Soviets who suspected him of being a spy; the circumstances of his death while in their custody are still a matter of great controversy.


[edit] Birth and Family

He was born in Kappsta, Sweden to Raoul Oscar Wallenberg (1888-1912), a Swedish naval officer, and Maria "Maj" Sofia Wising (1891-1979), who had some Jewish ancestors. Raoul Wallenberg, Sr., died of cancer three months before his son was born. His paternal grandfather was also a Swedish diplomat. In 1918, his mother married Fredrik von Dardel. Raoul Wallenberg also had a maternal half-sister, Nina, whose daughter Nane is married to Kofi Annan.

[edit] Education and Employment

Sign on Wallenberg's residence, Haifa, Israel

In 1931, Wallenberg went to study in the United States and received a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Michigan in 1935. He also learned Russian. He returned to Sweden, and his grandfather arranged a job for him in Cape Town, South Africa, where he worked for a Swedish company that sold construction material. In the same year, he went to work at a branch office of a Dutch bank in Haifa, where he befriended a Hungarian Jew. He returned to Sweden in 1936 and took a job at The Central European Trading Company. The firm was owned by a Jewish man, Lauer, who was barred from visiting certain areas of Europe, so Wallenberg went instead. There, he learned how the Nazis thought and how best to speak with them.

[edit] Holocaust

During the Holocaust, Wallenberg was deeply disturbed by the Nazis' campaign against the Jews. He was assigned as first secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest, Hungary, on July 9, 1944. Once there, he used his diplomatic status to save many Hungarian Jews by issuing them Swedish "protective passports" (German: Schutz-Pass), which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation. Although not legally valid, these documents looked impressively official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities, who sometimes were also bribed. Wallenberg also rented houses for Jewish refugees with embassy funds and put up fraudulent signs such as "The Swedish Library" and "The Swedish Research Institute" on their doors. He housed other refugees in the Swedish legation in Budapest. Wallenberg skillfully negotiated with Nazi officials like Adolf Eichmann and General Gerhard Schmidthuber, the commander of the German Army in Hungary, and convinced them to cancel deportations to German concentration camps by having his fascist ally, Pál Szalay, deliver a note in which Wallenberg threatened to have them prosecuted for war crimes. This was just two days before the Russians arrived.

According to the Israeli organization Yad Vashem, Wallenberg is credited with personally saving the lives of many thousands of Hungarian Jews. One story credits him with either threatening or persuading a German general to ignore orders from Adolf Hitler to destroy the ghettos and kill the remaining inhabitants in the last desperate days before Budapest's liberation. If true, the number of people saved by Wallenberg's actions would rise to about 100,000. When the Russians finally took over, they found 97,000 Jews living in Budapest's two ghettos. In total, roughly 204,000 of the pre-war population of about 800,000 Hungarian Jews survived.

[edit] Arrest

Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet Red Army on January 17, 1945 as they entered Budapest, probably on suspicion of being a spy for the United States. To this day, the U.S. government refuses to either confirm or deny this. He was taken to Lubyanka in Moscow with his driver Langfelder. Wallenberg was then transferred to Lefortovo prison in another part of Moscow for two more years.

[edit] Official "death" and later sightings

On February 6, 1957, under international pressure, the Soviets released a document they claimed to have found in their archives stating that "the prisoner Wallenberg, who is known to you, died last night in his cell." The document was dated July 17, 1947, and was signed by Smoltsov, then head of the Lubyanka prison infirmary. The note was addressed to Viktor Abakumov, the Soviet minister of state security. However, the Soviets did not explain why they had not released this information earlier. In 1989 the Soviets returned his personal belongings to his family. His passport, money, daybook, and clothing were returned; his personal papers, however, were not.

There were many reports of sightings long after the official date of his death. Prisoners released from the Gulag claimed to have seen a foreign inmate answering to Wallenberg's description as late as 1990. A number of testimonies have placed him in Siberian or Russian prisons as late as 1981.

Josyp Terelya, the Ukrainian activist who was imprisoned by the Soviets for refusing to abandon his nationalism and Catholic faith, wrote in his autobiography that he believes he was jailed with Wallenberg. He drew pictures and devoted a significant portion of his autobiography to this man and the influence he had on him.

[edit] Honors

[edit] Memorials

Memorial in Budapest, Hungary
Image:Raoul Wallenberg memorial London.jpg
Memorial at Great Cumberland Place, London
  • Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park in Budapest commemorates Wallenberg and others who saved many of Budapest's Jews from deportation to extermination camps.
  • Raoul Wallenberginstitutet, The Raoul Wallenberg Institute, was established in 1984 at Lund University in Sweden. RWI aims to be a leading institution for research, education, and training regarding all aspects of international human rights law.
  • In 2001, a memorial was created in Stockholm to honour Wallenberg. Unveiled by King Carl XVI Gustaf, at a ceremony attended by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his wife, Wallenberg's niece, is an abstract memorial depicting people rising from the concrete, accompanied by a bronze replica of Wallenberg's signature which saved so many lives. It has garnered a lot of criticism in Sweden because many see it as ugly and unworthy of such a great hero; however, Wallenberg's sister Nina Lagergren expressed her approval. At the unveiling, King Carl XVI Gustaf said Wallenberg is "a great example to those of us who want to live as fellow humans." Kofi Annan said Wallenberg is "an inspiration for all of us to act when we can and to have the courage to help those who are suffering and in need of help."
  • Several schools in Sweden have been named after Wallenberg, and there are several streets named Wallenbergsgatan or Raoul Wallenbergsgatan.
  • There are streets named after him in the Israeli cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, in Earl Bales Park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in Côte Saint-Luc (a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, Canada), Stamford, Connecticut and in Trenton, New Jersey.
  • Raoul Wallenberg Park is located in Nepean, Ontario, Canada.
  • He is memorialized in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC.
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is located on a Washington, DC street named Raoul Wallenberg Place in his honor.
  • Raoul Wallenberg Alternative High School is located in San Francisco, California and a grammar school (P.S. 194) in Brooklyn, where Wallenberg's legacy is celebrated every year in December.
  • In 1982, an outdoor theatre located in Overton Park in Memphis, Tennessee was renamed the Raoul Wallenberg Shell.
  • A park named for Raoul Wallenberg is in San Jose, California.
  • Train To Nowhere, a song by Swedish progressive rock group The Flower Kings, is dedicated to Wallenberg's memory.

[edit] Other World War II rescuers

[edit] See also

  • Harald Edelstam, known as the "Raoul Wallenberg of the 1970s".
  • Marvin Makinen, American biochemist and former Soviet prisoner. He extensively researched Wallenberg's whereabouts.
  • Thomas Veres, Wallenberg's personal photographer.

[edit] References

  • Lester, Elenore; New York Times Magazine (1980)
  • Berger, Susanne; "Stuck in Neutral: The Reasons behind Sweden's passivity in the Raoul Wallenberg case" (2005); www.raoul-wallenberg.asso.fr

[edit] External links

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Raoul Wallenberg

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