SWEDISH PRESS – 1986 January
RAOUL WALLENBERG 1912-????
“One morning, a group of these Hungarian Fascists came into the house and said all the able-bodied women must go with them. We knew what this meant. My mother kissed me and I cried and she cried. We knew we were parting forever … Then, two or three hours later … my mother returned with the other women … my mother was there – she was alive and she was hugging and kissing me and she said one word: Wallenberg…
My mother told me that they were being taken to the river when a car arrived and out stepped Wallenberg and they knew immediately who it was, because there was only one such person in the world. He went up to the Arrow Cross leader and protested that the women were under his protection. They argued with him, but he must have had incredible charisma, some great personal authority, because there was absolutely nothing behind him, nothing to back him up. He stood out there in the street, probably feeling the loneliest man in the world, trying to pretend there was some thing behind him. They could have shot him there and then in the street and nobody would have known about it. Instead, they relented and let the women go.”
This is one story (retold in: John Bierman/Righteous Gentile) among many about an extraordinary man. It has been established that Raoul Wallenberg helped between 20,000 and 25,000 persons survive the war by equipping them with “protective passports” and letting them live in “Swedish houses”. His efforts contributed to save another 70,000 lives in Budapest’s sealed ghetto – the only substantial Jewish community left in Europe after the war.
This is the story of a Swedish diplomat who saved up to 100,000 Jews from the Nazis in war-torn Budapest, only to end up forlorn in a Russian prison. He has just become an honorary Canadian citizen and is the only foreigner – apart from Winston Churchill, to receive the same honour in the United States. Portrayed by Richard Chamberlain in a TV docudrama, Raoul Wallenberg is finally becoming widely known. He will be honoured in Vancouver when a waterfall in Queen Elizabeth Park is dedicated to him on the 25th of January, by his former colleague Per Anger (who has also served as Swedish Ambassador to Canada.)
Raoul Wallenberg was born on August 5, 1912 into one of Sweden’s most prominent banking families, sometimes referred to as “the Swedish Rockefellers”. His father was a naval commander who died before Raoul’s birth, so his paternal grandfather, a diplomat, supervised his education. By the age of 20, Raoul was already proficient in English, French, German and Russian. He took a degree in architecture at the University of Michigan and worked for several different banks in Palestine and South Africa. In 1939 he formed a partnership with a Jewish refugee from Hungary, building a successful import-export business trading in foodstuff. In this role he traveled several times to Hungary where he became increasingly concerned about the plight of the Hungarian Jewish Community, Raoul was quite bored with business life and after seeing the movie “Pimpernel Smith” with Leslie Howard as a British university professor outwitting the Nazis, he told Nina Lagergren, that that was just the thing he would like to do himself. Fate would have It that he was shortly afterwards contacted by Iver Olsen, the Swedish representative of the US Roosevelt’s newly formed War Refugee Board to do just that. Raoul Wallenberg embarked on a US-financed rescue mission as Swedish legation secretary. The US minister to Sweden, Herschel Johnson warned him that if the Germans found out his real mission in Budapest he was on his own.
The Germans invaded Hungary on March 19th 1944, only four days after the Hungarians had celebrated their National Day. The German fronts were crumbling and they were scared that Hungary would join forces with the allies against them. That was exactly what Hungary had planned. During the occupation, the Hungarian “regent” Horthy tried to maintain some independence hoping that it would be the British or the Americans who would liberate his country rather than the dreaded Russians. By July, almost 500,000 Jews had been rounded up and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, but there were still 200,000 Jews left in Budapest. The world had become aware of the Holocaust and Swedish King Gustav V sent a personal plea to Hungary’s president Horthy, which stopped the deportations for a while. The Swedish and other embassies started issuing temporary passports to Jews. Horthy halted the Jewish deportations until the Germans supplanted him with local Arrow Cross fascists to rule the country. Together with Adolf Eichmann, they were particularly single minded in their deadly pursuit of Jews.
“Wallenberg arrived at the embassy on July 9th 1944 with, for a diplomat, a somewhat unusual packing of two knapsacks, one sleeping bag, a wind-breaker and a revolver. But this gear was to come in handy in the months to come. “The revolver is only there to give me courage” he said in his typical jovial, “I hope to never use it” recalls his colleague Per Anger in his book With Wallenberg in Budapest.
Raoul immediately redesigned the “temporary passports” into “protective passports” printed in yellow and blue, complete with the Three Crowns of Sweden. Instead of just issuing them to Jews who could claim a Swedish relative or the 4,500 he was allowed to issue, he distributed the passes wholesale to up to 20,000 people. He worked day and night aided by a staff of 300 Jewish volunteers. He bought several houses that became known as Swedish “safe houses” where he crammed up to 15,000 Jews away from the bands.
Giselle and Ferenc Friedman of Hamilton owe their lives to Wallenberg. At 78, Mrs Friedman’s eyes still mist over as she remembers those days in Budapest.
it was September, Mrs Friedman had walked with her 9-month baby and 9-year old son to the Swedish embassy in hopes of obtaining a protection passport.
The 4 pm to 5 pm hour in which Jews were allowed to leave the Eichmann-created ghetto was half over when she arrived at the embassy. The line-up ahead of her was hopelessly long, and despondently, she went around to the back garden, leaned her head on the wooden fence-slats and cried.
Suddenly, Wallenberg emerged from the embassy, pencil and paper in hand. Fifteen minutes later, the precious “Schutz-pass” was in her hands.
Ferenc Friedman, now 81, recalls the day Wallenberg personally pulled him back from certain death. It was November, in the bleak, rainy period, and the Germans were now frenziedly rounding up Jews from their homes for week-long train rides in cattle cars to extermination at Auschwitz’s gas chambers.
Friedman was yanked from the Swedish home in Wallenberg’s absence and taken to a brick factory yard, outside Budapest, where 3,000 men, women, and children had been herded together to board the trains.
“Two cars suddenly drove up. There was Wallenberg in the first one with Hungarian officials and German officers in the second car. He jumped out, shouting that all those with Swedish papers were under his protection.
Friedman was one of the 150 saved that day, “None of the others ever came back,” he says.
December 1944 marked the blackest period of the war for those Jews who had already escaped the Nazi deportations in the Hungarian capital. With the city constantly bombarded by the Soviet army, the local Arrow Cross fascists and the Nazi SS were trying to murder as many Jews as possible before meeting their own fate at the hands of the Russians. In the midst of all this upheaval, five men sat down to a strangely civilised dinner party in the Budapest home of the Swedish diplomat Lars Berg. “It seemed like an ordinary, pleasant dinner party. We drank brandy. No voices were raised. But we could see the Russian artillery fire from our window.
Then Raoul Wallenberg faced uniformed Adolph Eichmann, who supervised the Jewish operation, and said, “Look you have to face it. You have lost the war. Why not give up now?” Eichmann argued at first, then said that he would continue to do his work until the end. Finally he threatened Wallenberg with the words, “Don’t think you are immune just because you are a diplomat and a neutral.” (Per Anger)
A couple of days later Raoul Wallenberg’s well-known Volkswagen was rammed by a German truck and demolished. Wallenberg was not in the car at the time. Once again he had he had miraculously survived certain death.
Just before the Russians it took a Budapest, Wallenberg learned that the Germans planned to destroy the Jewish ghetto with its surviving 70,000 Jews. Wallenberg threatened the German commander that he would personally see him hanged by the Russians for war crimes if he went ahead with the slaughter. This was to become Raoul’s last and biggest rescue action.
Raoul Wallenberg was last seen in Budapest on January 17th 1945, roughly six months after he first came. He left with his driver and three Russian officers for Debrecen, where the Russians and the provincial Hungarian government had set up headquarters. “I don’t know whether I am in custody or a guest”. The wartime Soviet minister in Stockholm Mme Kollontai assured Raoul’s mother that he was alive and safe. In May 1945 the Swedish legation in Moscow received the same official assurance. “Mr Wallenberg was found in Budapest and taken under protection of the Russian army”. The Russians later claimed that Raoul Wallenberg died of a heart attack in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow in 1947. Since then there have been several first-hand witnesses claiming to have seen Raoul Wallenberg in Soviet prisons. Witnesses have been cross-examined by Swedish authorities and the credible stories included in a “White Paper” that is the basis for continuing, but fruitless protest efforts from the Swedish government. As late as November 1979 a just-released prisoner assured his daughter over the telephone that Soviet prison conditioners were not too difficult. “Why, when I was in Butyrka Prison Hospital in 1975, I met a Swede who told me he had been in Soviet prisons for 30 years, and he seemed reasonably healthy to me.”
Ex-British spy Greville Wynne told BBC audiences of an incident in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison in early 1963. “One day when taken into the tiny cage-like lift to the roof for solitary exercise Wynne heard another cage coming into the next pen. As the gate opened he heard a voice call out, “Taxi”. Given the filthy conditions of the lift, this piece of defiant humour was greatly appreciated . Five days later when it happened again Wynne called out, “Are you American?” The voice answered, “No I’m Swedish”. Nothing further could be learned. Guards restrained both prisoners, but for those who learnt to know Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest, there can be no doubt. Adolf Eichmann was hunted down and brought to justice in Tel Aviv in 1961. His greatest detractor never received any justice. Einstein nominated Raoul Wallenberg for the Nobel Peace Prize – in vain. Famous Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal says that it is more important to find Mr Wallenberg than it is to find Nazis, and he believes that Mr Wallenberg must be regarded as alive until the Soviets furnish better evidence for his death.
There will be a dedication ceremony in honour of Raoul Wallenberg at the base of the waterfall in the Quarry Garden in Queen Elizabeth Park on Sunday, Jan 26th at 2.00 pm.
SWEDISH PRESS – 1986 February
RAOUL WALLENBERG HONORED
A plaque dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg was unveiled by His Excellency Per Anger, head of the Raoul Wallenberg Association at a moving ceremony on Sunday January 26 at Queen Elizabeth Park. The weather was perfect for this ceremony which was arranged by the Second Generation Group of Vancouver. The national anthems of Sweden, Israel and Canada were sung after which there were speeches by the Honorable John Fraser, on behalf of the Prime Minister of Canada, the Honorable Robert Kaplan, on behalf of the leader of the opposition, the Honorable Angus Ree, on behalf of the Premier of BC and Alderman Marguerite Ford, on behalf of the mayor of Vancouver
RAOUL WALLENBERG: UNWITTING UNWILLING US SPY?
Twice the Soviet Union has threatened to publish proof of what Raoul Wallenberg “really was doing” in Budapest. It was not going to be pleasant reading. Raoul Wallenberg was “a criminal element” well beyond human rights.
The first time the threat was used in 1963 it was to suppress Swedish physician Nanna Swartz from publishing sensational proof that Raoul was still alive. The second time was in 1981 when Soviet submarine U137 was aground in the Karlskrona archipelago and could have been used as a pawn for an exchange with Raoul. We still do not know what, if anything, that contained in the threat. But we can speculate.
The Soviet military tried to accuse Raoul (and another Swedish Embassy employee, Lars Berg) of being German spies, in February 1945. From a Communist point of view, Raoul was a prime suspect on the merit of his family background. Speculation that Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg personally tried to arrange a peace treaty between Germany and the Allies put Raoul in an even stranger position. The mere fact that a capitalist like him saving Jews and planned to stay on in Hungary after the war to further assist them, was very suspicious.
From a Soviet standpoint the most compromising fact must be Raoul’s real employer was the US War Refuge Board rather than the Swedish Foreign Service – and that the person who recruited Raoul was Siver Olsen. Recently revealed documents show Olsen worked for OSS, the US intelligence network that later became CIA. Per Anger says that he and Raoul Wallenberg were not aware of this. Raoul’s special status at the embassy and the vast sums he used on bribes and in acquiring buildings, would further add to this suspicion. The fact that Raoul had studied at the University of Michigan would in the Russian mind make him a likely OSS recruit. Add to that the surprisingly half-hearted attempts from Sweden and the US to get Raoul extradited, and Moscow must have been sure of his guilt as a US spy.