Among the exceptional individuals mentioned tonight, Raoul Wallenberg, in a way, became the exception of the exception. A member of a well-known, wealthy Swedish family, Wallenberg had nothing awaiting him in the continental Europe of World War II. In the comfort of the Sweden of that time, Wallenberg decided, however, to accept a United States initiative and go, as a diplomat, to Budapest so as to study what could be done for the city’s Jewish community who, very soon, would have been sent to Nazi concentration camps.
Challenging the entire machinery of Germany and its Hungarian allies, employing his imagination as an offensive weapon, Wallenberg resolved to do the impossible. With the help of people, some of them diplomats, of good will, Wallenberg demonstrated that human courage has no limits. Through a process of persuasion, threats and an unmatched dose of diplomatic creativity, this young 32 year old Swede managed to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
The following is part of one of many letters Wallenberg sent to his mother from Budapest:
December 8, 1944
…The situation is risky and tense, and my workload almost superhuman. Thugs are roaming around the city, beating, torturing, and shooting people. Among my staff alone there have been forty cases of kidnapping and beatings. On the whole we are in good spirit, however, and enjoying the fight…
I myself am almost the sole representative of our embassy in all government departments. So far, I have been to see the foreign minister about ten times, the deputy premier twice, the minister of the interior twice, the minister of supply once… etc…
The enormous amount of work makes the time pass quickly.
Dearest mother, I will say goodbye for today…Greetings, tender and heartfelt kisses to you and the whole family.
Raoul (Bent, 276 –277)
This was the last anyone has heard from Wallenberg. His heroism was crowned by tragedy. On January 17th, 1945, Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet troops, who had just liberated Budapest, never to be seen alive again. Wallenberg is, then, a hero without a grave.
- Bent, Timoty (Ed.) Raoul Wallenberg: Letters and Dispatches 1924-1944. New York: Arcade Publishing, Inc. 1995.