Tomorrow, on 17th of January, the world will mark the 66th anniversary of the traceless disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg.
Raoul Wallenberg, who grew up in the very distinguished Wallenberg family in Sweden, found in his grandfather, a well-travelled diplomat, a mentor and confident.
Encouraged by his grandfather he soon became fluent in English, French, German and Russian. He studied architecture at the University of Michigan. When he couldn’t find a job in Sweden he started to work in various business ventures. Therefore he spent some months in Haifa, where he first met Jewish refugees, who could escape from the Shoah.
He was so touched by the fate of the Jewish people that he changed his whole life. Inspired by a friend of his family, an Hungarian Jew, he started to learn Hungary and to travel to Budapest to find out news about the family of this friend.
When back in 1944, the American War Refugee Board started searching for a person whose mission would be to try to save at least some Hungarian Jews from the Nazi-death-machine, someone who speaks German and Hungarian, someone with an independent spirit, Raoul Wallenberg was ready for this mission.
The American War Refugee feared that Raoul Wallenberg might be too young for the task ahead (He was 32 years old.) But they found no other person to send and Raoul Wallenberg took the assignment
As a Swedish citizen he was attached to the Swedish embassy in Budapest, but he behaved as if he were free from any diplomatic restrictions.
Immediately he started his great work of rescue: he established an office, hired 400 Jewish volunteers and advised them to remove the yellow star and told them: ‘You are now under diplomatic protection; you are working for the Swedish government.’
Wallenberg invented a special Swedish passport, the Schutzpass.(passport of protection) It was a colorful, imposing, official looking document. With permission from no one, he announced that it granted the holder immunity from deportation to the death camps.
Using his American funds, Wallenberg scoured the city for buildings to rent. He eventually found thirty-two, which he declared to be “extraterritorial buildings” protected by Swedish diplomatic immunity.
Wallenbergs’s ‘safe houses’ and ‘Passports of protection’ saved thousands of Jewish lives. He didn’t know any fear and confronted Nazis and even Eichmann, who wanted to avoid a conflict with the ‘neutral’ State of Sweden. Nevertheless they hated Raoul Wallenberg and referred to him as a ‘Jew Dog’ ; and when his car was blown up, he started to hide his sleeping places.
When the Red Army approached Budapest, the Nazis stepped-up the violence against Jewish people and planned a massacre. That’s why Wallenberg decided, that especially in such a moment his presence was indispensable. So he remained in Budapest till the Red Army arrived.
On the 17th of January 1945 he was invited to a conversation in the Russian military headquarters.
From that day none of his friends and family saw him again. No trace remained; even a proof of his death was not given.
He paid his saving work with his freedom and probably with his life.
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation strives to keep alive the memory of this courageous and humanitarian young man. And the foundation tries to teach the deeds of Raoul Wallenberg as an example, how single human beings can make a difference, even when facing the darkest of regimes .
The interest of the Foundation didn’t stop at the historical point which marks the military defeat of the Nazis.
The Nazis themselves didn’t disappear: they found new identities in South-America, but also in Europe and in the new founded Federal Republic of Germany. Very soon they entered high political and diplomatic positions – openly or with assumed identities. No one wanted to investigate the atrocious Nazi Crimes.
A friend of mine told me that even in our days a story was unfolded about a persuaded SS-man, who lived till now – his Nazi background well known by all his neighbours– as a respected person in his village.
Not so respected were the very few people who tried to investigate the Nazis and their deeds and careers. They were as few, as the people who, during the war, tried to fight against the Nazis, the way Raoul Wallenberg did. And these few people were met with hostility and insulted as denigrators of their countries.
The public disliked more the investigators than the Nazi-criminals.
So, not only between 1933-45 civil-courage, humanity, bravery, honesty and straightforwardness were asked, but also in the years and decades afterwards
While Nazis could easily arrange their careers, the surviving victims were restricted, fooled with empty promises and very little money (called reparation), they were suspected and controlled. And they had to fight to lead a normal life.
The very few persons who stood at their side didn’t get the honour they deserved.
I must tell you it is an honour for the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, and especially for me: a citizen of the country of the perpetrators to present the award of the Wallenberg foundation to Beate and Serge Klarsfeld.
Beate Klarsfeld came here as an ‘au-pair-Girl’ and the first survivor she met was Serge Klarsfeld, who was going to become her husband.
She was touched by the fate of the Nazi-victims. And very much like Raoul Wallenberg she decided to fight for justice for the victims. Both Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, devoted their lives to unmask Nazi-criminals and fight for the rights of the survivors and the murdered Jewish people.
When Beate Klarsfeld accused the German Chancellor regarding his previous Nazi-career, she lost her job.
When she revealed his Nazi-past in a way that the people could not ignore, only the French citizenship saved her from being thrown to a German jail.
The former Gestapo-Chief of Paris responsible for nearly 76 000 deportations – although convicted in France – lived openly in Germany, because there didn’t exist an extradition treaty between these two countries. And Germany did not judge his crimes, because he was already judged in France. So he lived unchallenged. Beate and Serge Klarsfeld tried to kidnap him. It was a pity, that they didn’t succeed. Although they revealed his Nazi-past and crimes, an arrest warrant was issued against Beate and Serge Klarsfeld. To bring him finally to jail Beate Klarsfeld had to risk and to experience herself a German jail. Kurt Lischka and his companions were finally punished – with a few years of jail.
Meanwhile well known as ‘Nazi-hunters’ Beate and Serge Klarsfeld began to live a dangerous life: threatened, receiving a parcel bomb, they decided to continue their endeavours. Their car was blown up to pieces, same as Raoul Wallenberg’s car. The Nazis didn’t change their methods between 1944 and 1979.
Beate and Serge Klarsfeld were decidedly involved in finding and convicting Klaus Barby the Gestapo Chief and ‘slaughterer’ of Lyon.
Nazis unmasking in Bolivia, arrested in Syria, where Nazi-criminals, for example the deputy of Eichmann, could hunker down – an adventurous life. But a laborious and troublesome life - fighting as David against Goliath. Two people, who make a difference.
Two people who worked for righteousness.
Two people who devoted time and energy to keep alive the memory of the victims,
- ad example with the book of Serge Klarsfeld in 1978, where at the first time all the names of the deported and murdered French Jews were written to keep them in mind,
- ad example with an exhibition about the deportation of 11000 Jewish children from France to the death-camps. ‘Special trains to death’: French people know this exhibition very well. In Germany the rail-company tried to prevent the exhibition, because it reveals the companionship of the rail-company and the Nazis.
The sons and daughters of deported French Jews found help, support and solidarity in the Klarsfeld foundation.
The Klarsfelds revealed French Nazi-collaboration and succeeded to get some ‘reparation money’ by the state of France for the victims.
Much more time would be required to mention all what Beate and Serge Klarsfeld had done.
Fighting worldwide against anti-Semitism, Nazism, for righteousness against the oblivion: that was the great task, for which they dedicated their life and power with civil-courage, humanity, bravery, honesty and straightforwardness.
I specially would like to thank Beate Klarsfeld, because she demonstrated that there is a possibility to leave the German-Nazi-history, not denying, but revealing and changing and starting a new face of Germany. She personifies the real honour of my country.
Thanks a lot!
Pastor Annemarie Werner
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
January 18, 2011