In 1944, the Germans were deporting Hungarian Jews by the trainload. Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish, 33, and until recently, a businessman, climbs on top of yet another freight train in an Hungarian train station, packed with Jews, and runs along the car roofs handing out bundles of Schutz-Passes (essentially bogus but authoritative-looking documents meant to cow the Nazis into allowing the bearer to be considered under Swedish protection). On one such occasion, when German soldiers were ordered to shoot Wallenberg, the Swede’s wild courage impressed them so much that they deliberately shot over his head. Wallenberg would then jump down from the train and demand that those with a Schutz-Pass be allowed to get off the train and return into the city with him.
How this young man, from one of Sweden’s most prominent families, came to save as many as 100,000 Jews from death is a story of ingenuity, selflessness, and whatever the Swedish word for cojones is. Wallenberg’s own fate, apparently at Russian hands, has never been known: he was last seen in January, 1945. Reports over the years have claimed Wallenberg is alive, even to this day.
It is the 60th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance and the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has organized an evening, tomorrow night, January 18th at 8pm at the JCC, 334 Amst [76th] 646.505.5708, ($5 suggested donation, call to register) to honor the man. You’ll hear about 45 minutes of excerpts from a new musical in development on Wallenberg’s life. Ten performers will sing from the work created by Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman (book and lyrics) and Benjamin Rosenbluth (music). The production will be directed by Annette Jolles. (We’ve heard very promising reports on the show.) Afterward, two people who survived thanks to Wallenberg will speak and answer questions.
Given the measure of the man, it can’t help but be an inspiring evening.