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, Raoul’s paternal grandfather was his mentor.
In 1931, he went to study architecture at the
University of Michigan
the United Ann Arbor
States. He returned to
after graduating with honors. However, Sweden Sweden’s market for architects was limited, so his grandfather sent him to , 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 Cape Town, South
Africa Haifa, . Palestine
It was here that he first encountered Jews who had escaped Hitler’s
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 grandmother’s grandfather was a Jew (Benedicks) who came to Germany at the
end of the 18th century). Sweden
On his return to
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. Raoul’s excellent language skills and his greater freedom of movement through Sweden 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
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. Hungary
When the Germans lost the battle of Stalingrad in 1943,
an ally of Hitler, demanded a separate peace. Hitler warned the Hungarian head
of state, Miklףs Horthy, to display solidarity
with Hungary .
Horthy refused, and an angry Hitler had the German army invade Germany in
March 1944. Hungary
Soon thereafter, the deportations of Hungarian Jews from the countryside began. The citizens of
In May 1944, two Jews who had escaped
Auschwitz enlightened the world as to what Hitler’s “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem
Per Anger, a young diplomat of the Swedish delegation in
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.) Budapest
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
established the War Refugee
Board (WRB), an organization with the mission of saving Jews from Nazi
persecution. The WRB’s representative in United States Stockholm
called a meeting with prominent Swedish Jews to discuss suitable persons to
lead a rescue mission in .
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
suggested his business partner — Raoul Wallenberg. Hungary
Although they were hesitant because of Raoul’s youth, by the end of June 1944 Wallenberg’s nomination as first secretary to the Swedish legation in
Jews was approved. Budapest
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
on 148 freight trains between May 14 and July 8. Hungary
At first, Raoul Wallenberg’s 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
in one day. He had already reported
to Budapest Berlin that he merely had to arrange the
technical details, which would take a few days, and then the “ Jewish issue” would be “permanently solved.” Budapest
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 Nazi’s deportations in
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
in the middle and the
appropriate stamps and signatures throughout. According to international laws, Wallenberg’s protective passes had no actual value whatsoever — but they did the job. Sweden
Wallenberg was given permission to issue only 1,500 of his passes, but he eventually managed to raise the quota officially to
reality, he issued three times as many.
With diplomatic pressure coming from the top (from Wallenberg), the responsibility to “solve the
Jewish issue in
” 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. Hungary
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
’s largest ghetto. Wallenberg stopped this
slaughter by threatening Gen. August Schmidthuber,
commander-in-chief for the German troops in Budapest , that
Wallenberg would ensure that Schmidthuber
would be held personally responsible for the
massacre if it proceeded. Hungary
When the Russians arrived two days later, they found 97,000 Jews alive in
’s two Jewish ghettos. In total, only 120,000 Jews
of 700,000 survived the Nazi extermination in Budapest . Wallenberg is to be
credited for saving at least 100,000 of them. Hungary
On Jan. 17, 1945, Wallenberg and his driver, Vilmos Langfelder, went to meet with the Russians at the Soviet military headquarters in
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. Budapest
According to reliable testimonies, the pair were arrested and sent to
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. Moscow
As a human being, Wallenberg’s 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 person’s courage and ability can make a difference.