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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Raoul Wallenberg Observation Plaza -Jerusalem©

There is an observation plaza in memory of Raoul Wallenberg on the Jerusalem Trail, near Har Herzl.

One of the greatest non-Jewish heroes of the 20th century, Raoul Wallenberg, orchestrated and applied one of the most remarkable life-saving efforts recorded in the history of humanity during the Holocaust.

Raoul Wallenberg was born into a very powerful and wealthy Swedish family, on Aug. 4, 1912. As his father had passed away before he was born, Raouls paternal grandfather was his mentor.

In 1931, he went to study architecture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the United
States. He returned to Sweden in 1935, after graduating with honors. However, Swedens market for architects was limited, so his grandfather sent him to Cape Town, South Africa, to practice selling building materials at a Swedish firm. Six months later, his grandfather arranged new employment for him at a Dutch bank office in Haifa, Palestine.

It was here that he first encountered Jews who had escaped Hitlers Germany shortly after the Nazi Party victory in 1933. Their accounts of the Nazi harassment deeply disturbed him. This was due, perhaps, to his very humane attitude toward people and his predisposition to empathize with the plight of others perhaps stemming from his Jewish roots (his grandmothers grandfather was a Jew (Benedicks) who came to Sweden at the end of the 18th century).

On his return to Sweden in 1936, he met Koloman Lauer, a Hungarian Jew, and the director of a Swedish-based import/export company specializing in food and delicacies. They formed a business partnership. Raouls excellent language skills and his greater freedom of movement through Europe (Jews were not allowed to travel extensively after the rise of Hitler) were an asset to their firm.

Business considerations necessitated several visits by Raoul to Hungary. At that point (the beginning of 1944), Hungary was still a relatively safe place amid hostile surroundings, and an estimated 700,000 Jews still lived there.

When the Germans lost the battle of Stalingrad in 1943, Hungary, an ally of Hitler, demanded a separate peace. Hitler warned the Hungarian head of state, Mikl×£s Horthy, to display solidarity with Germany. Horthy refused, and an angry Hitler had the German army invade Hungary in March 1944.

Soon thereafter, the deportations of Hungarian Jews from the countryside began. The citizens of
Budapest knew they were next. They desperately sought help from the neutral countries embassies.

In May 1944, two Jews who had escaped Auschwitz enlightened the world as to what Hitlers Final Solution to the Jewish problem actually meant.

Per Anger, a young diplomat of the Swedish delegation in Budapest, succeeded in negotiating with the Germans that the bearers of Swiss protective passes would be treated as Swedish citizens and exempt from wearing the yellow Star of David. (In 1982, Per Anger was awarded the honour of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for his heroic actions to save Jews during the war.)

In a short period the Swedish deputation issued 700 passes, but this was a mere drop in the ocean compared to the thousands being threatened by Hitler. Immediate staff reinforcements were requested to deal with the great number of Jews seeking help.
In 1944, the United States established the War Refugee Board (WRB), an organization with the mission of saving Jews from Nazi persecution. The WRBs representative in Stockholm called a meeting with prominent Swedish Jews to discuss suitable persons to lead a rescue mission in Budapest.

The first choice was Folke Bernadotte, chairperson of the Swedish Red Cross and a relative of the Swedish king, but the Hungarian government refused. Koloman Lauer, who was viewed as an expert on Hungary, suggested his business partner Raoul Wallenberg.

Although they were hesitant because of Raouls youth, by the end of June 1944 Wallenbergs nomination as first secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest for rescuing Jews was approved.

Wallenberg did not hesitate to take up the formidable challenge of saving the remains of the
Hungarian Jewish community. However, being level-headed and practical, Raoul was determined not to be caught in the protocol and paperwork bureaucracy of diplomacy. He therefore wrote a memo to the Swedish foreign department, demanding full authorization to deal with whomever he wanted without interference. He also asked for the right to send diplomatic couriers beyond the usual channels. The memorandum reached Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson who, after consultation with the king, granted the demands.

In July 1944, when Wallenberg arrived in Budapest, Adolf Eichmann had already deported more than 400,000 Jews from Hungary on 148 freight trains between May 14 and July 8.

At first, Raoul Wallenbergs unconventional methods of not adhering to traditional diplomacy (using everything from bribes to extortion and threats, depending on the circumstances) shocked the diplomats of the Swedish legation. However, when they saw that his tactics got results, he won their unreserved support.

In July of 1944 Eichmann was planning the extermination of the entire Jewish population of Budapest in one day. He had already reported to Berlin that he merely had to arrange the technical details, which would take a few days, and then the Budapest Jewish issue would be permanently solved.

The Swedish King, Gustav V, sent Horthy an appeal to halt all the deportations. Horthy replied stating his intention to do everything in his power to ensure that the principles of humanity and justice would be respected.

Then suddenly, the Nazis deportations in
Hungary were cancelled and one train with 1,600 Jews was even sent back to Budapest. It seems Heinrich Himmler thought that by stopping deportations he could wangle supplies from the allies.

Eichmann had to sit on his plan and wait.

Wallenberg designed Swedish protective passes. Understanding the Nazi psyche inside out and playing on German and Hungarian weakness for flashy symbols, he printed passes in yellow and blue with the coat of arms of the Three Crowns of Sweden in the middle and the appropriate stamps and signatures throughout. According to international laws, Wallenbergs protective passes had no actual value whatsoever but they did the job.

Wallenberg was given permission to issue only 1,500 of his passes, but he eventually managed to raise the quota officially to 4,500. In reality, he issued three times as many.

With diplomatic pressure coming from the top (from Wallenberg), the responsibility to solve the
Jewish issue in Hungary was taken away from Adolf Eichmann. However, on Oct. 15, Horthy was overthrown, being replaced by the leader of the Hungarian Nazis, Ferenc Szבlasi. Adolf Eichmann again received a free hand to continue the terror against the Jews.

Wallenberg acquired some 30 Swedish houses where approximately 15,000 Jews sought refuge. The houses were considered Swedish territory and had a Swedish flag hung in front of each door.

Then the brutal death marches began. Raoul Wallenberg was there handing out protective passes, food and medicine. He threatened and he bribed until he managed to free those with Swedish passes.

Wallenberg would climb onto the train wagons that were transporting Jews to the camps and would stand on the tracks or would run along the wagon roofs, sticking bundles of protective passes down to the people inside. Wallenberg then demanded that the Jews with passes leave the train together with him. Indeed, his audacious actions put his own life at risk.

In mid-January 1945, Eichmann planned a total massacre in Budapests largest ghetto. Wallenberg stopped this slaughter by threatening Gen. August Schmidthuber, commander-in-chief for the German troops in Hungary, that Wallenberg would ensure that Schmidthuber would be held personally responsible for the massacre if it proceeded.

When the Russians arrived two days later, they found 97,000 Jews alive in Budapests two Jewish ghettos. In total, only 120,000 Jews of 700,000 survived the Nazi extermination in Hungary. Wallenberg is to be credited for saving at least 100,000 of them.

On Jan. 17, 1945, Wallenberg and his driver, Vilmos Langfelder, went to meet with the Russians at the Soviet military headquarters in Budapest. His intention was to coordinate with the Soviets regarding the required humanitarian measures to help the survivors rebuild their lives. This was the last time Raoul Wallenberg was officially seen.

According to reliable testimonies, the pair were arrested and sent to Moscow. The Russians claim that he died in Russian captivity on July 17, 1947. However, a number of testimonies claim that he was still alive after that date, and that he may have still been alive in the 1980s.

As a human being, Wallenbergs personal tragedy is still an open wound. Ironically, this wonderful person, who did so much to save others, himself became a victim of another totalitarian regime. Yet, the result of his actions, and what he was able to accomplish in a few precious months, show how one persons courage and ability can make a difference.

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