A Swedish diplomat who took part in the desperate attempt to save Hungarian Jewry in 1944 is finally being rewarded by the State of Israel today. –
Together, Wallenberg and Anger saved as many as 100,000 Jews, a figure unmatched by any other rescuer
A Swedish diplomat who took part in the desperate attempt to save Hungarian Jewry in 1944 is finally being rewarded by the State of Israel today. Stewart Weiss reports
Today, even as you read this, an extraordinary ceremony is taking place in Stockholm. Honorary citizenship of the State of Israel is being bestowed upon Per Anger.
Anger, a career Swedish diplomat who spent more than 40 years in his country’s Foreign Ministry, served with distinction in numerous posts, including Swedish Ambassador to Canada and Australia.
The defining moment, however, in both his distinguished career and his life, was the tumultuous six months he spent in Budapest in 1944 as Raoul Wallenberg’s partner working in the desperate effort to save Hungarian Jewry.
Anger, a mild-mannered and gentle soul, was secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest. As such, he was charged with maintaining an official, legitimate consulate, which represented neutral Sweden’s interests in Hungary, carrying out all the bureaucratic affairs that embassies routinely conduct.
But his ”business as usual” came to a sudden, shrieking halt in March of 1944 when the Nazis invaded Hungary and Adolf Eichmann arrived in Budapest, obsessed with one mission: to exterminate the Jews of Hungary, the last remaining sizable Jewish community in Europe.
Although Anger was trained to follow diplomatic protocol, he knew the situation demanded drastic action. He therefore chose to bend the rules and issue provisional passports, phony documents that certified the owner had lost his original Swedish passport.
More than 700 Jews were saved by these passports, which became the forerunner of the famous Schutzpasse, protective passes that would ultimately save thousands of Jews.
”I may be fired,” said Anger at the time, ”but I have to do this.”
Anger’s activity escalated dramatically when Raoul Wallenberg arrived on the scene in July 1944. Wallenberg, sent by the US War Refugee Board in a belated attempt to rescue European Jewry, used every conceivable device to pull as many Jews as possible out of the Nazi inferno, which had already claimed 400,000 lives.
Says Anger, ”Raoul was a born actor, capable of bluff, bluster, and bribery, using whatever means were necessary to save the Jews of the city. Shy and reserved one moment, he would be barking official-sounding orders in German the next, refusing to take no for an answer.”
Wallenberg set up 32 safe houses in Budapest, each flying the Swedish flag and ultimately housing more than 20,000 Jews. Protective passports – brightly-colored and covered by numerous official-looking stamps – were painstakingly produced 24 hours a day.
Wallenberg, often with Anger at his side, would visit the Jews as they were gathered for deportation and pull many out of line, shoving the life-saving passes into their hands, admonishing them for ”forgetting their papers.”
More than once the two diplomats jumped aboard the crowded death trains and dragged dozens of Jews off, warning the incredulous Nazis not to ”get in the way of official Swedish business.”
In this darkest chapter of Jewish history, Wallenberg and Anger were the brightest lights of humanity, shrill voices of hope breaking the silence of an uncaring world. Together they saved as many as 100,000 Jews, a figure unmatched by any other rescuer.
AFTER Wallenberg was taken prisoner by the liberating Soviets on January 17, 1945, Anger dedicated his life to discovering the whereabouts of his friend and co-worker. He could not accept that the individual who had saved so many could now himself be a victim.
He ignored not-too-subtle warnings by diplomatic superiors to avoid ”embarrassing” the Russians and even reprimanded his own government for not working aggressively enough on Wallenberg’s behalf.
As head of the Wallenberg Association of Sweden, and manager of the government’s Wallenberg file, he kept the issue on the table for more than four decades, until the USSR returned Wallenberg’s passport in 1989 and formed the joint Swedish-Russian Commission of Inquiry in 1991. That commission is still actively investigating the case.
Anger has several theories to explain Wallenberg’s capture, beyond Soviet suspicion that he was a CIA agent or a hapless victim of the emerging Cold War.
”I believe the Russians were either afraid of his stated desire to restore stolen property to the Jews, or they believed they could exchange him for captured Soviet spies,” a scenario naively ignored by the Swedish Foreign Minister.
Whatever the case, Anger, now 88, has never stopped searching for Wallenberg, and is still determined to find out the truth about his disappearance.
”If we found his passport, after 44 years, we can find more information,” says Anger. ”And if we recently discovered a Hungarian PoW locked in a Soviet psychiatric ward for 53 years, then we may yet find Raoul.
”But even if we don’t find him, as long as the life and deeds of men like Wallenberg are kept alive, there will be hope for humanity, even in the darkest of times.”
Yad Vashem named Per Anger a Righteous Among the Nations in 1983. Today, as he becomes an honorary citizen of Israel, all of us are collectively elevated by the spirit and soul of this singular hero who epitomizes the good that man can do.
* Rabbi Weiss is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.