The Life and Legacy of Raoul Wallenberg
a man of selfless courage
It’s the stuff of spy novels. In the waning days of World War II, Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman-turned-diplomat based in Nazi-occupied Budapest, saved up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews from Nazi death camps. He disappeared after being seized by the Russians in 1947.
A scion of one of Sweden’s most illustrious families, at just 31 Wallenberg was sent to Hungary by the Swedish government on a one-man mission to save Jewish lives. And that’s just what he did. As the Germans worked feverishly to complete their “final solution” to the almost 90,000 Jews in Hungary, Wallenberg distributed Swedish passports to thousands and sheltered them in “safe” houses that he himself had rented. When the Nazis threatened to liquidate the Jewish ghetto in 1944, he intervened and forced the order to be withdrawn, saving 70,000 Jews.
With His Own Hands
In carrying out his rescue operation, Wallenberg cared little for his own safety and yet seemed immune to harm by the Germans. He stood on top of a deportation train handing out Swedish papers to all the hands that could reach them, and insisted that the people holding them be allowed off the train. With his own hands, he pulled people out of the “death marches” to the Austrian border or brought them bread, soup and medical supplies in the middle of the night when he had no more passports to give out.
A Regular guy
By all accounts, Raoul Wallenberg did not look like a hero. His manner was subdued and businesslike, his face sensitive, his voice usually soft. Unlike the tall, blond Swedes at the embassy where he worked, Wallenberg was medium height, dark eyed, and his dark hair was thinning. He didn’t need to look like a hero to be one.
Discover and Disappeared
Throughout his heroic endeavors, Germans didn’t seem to suspect Wallenberg. But the Russians apparently did.
On Jan. 17, 1945, three and a half weeks after the Russians entered Budapest on Christmas Eve, Wallenberg and his driver set out to the Soviet’s provisional headquarters. Neither he or his driver ever returned.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Wallenberg acted with such passion and humanity that Albert Einstein recommended him fir a Nobel Peace Prize in 1949. No one knows exactly what happened to Wallenberg. Many reports say he died in Russian prison. But across the world, there are thousands and thousands of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the Hungarian Jews he saved who can never forget what he did.
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