July 2, 2007

Documenting Wallenberg: An Archive of Testimonials

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation Seeks Help From Holocaust Survivors

July 2, 2007. New York, NY. – Kayla Kaufman was only 9 years old in 1944 in Hungary. But she still remembers the look on her father’s face the Friday night when her family was safely reunited with the help of Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. ”…I’ve seen so many movies and so many TV shows, I have never seen a human being cry that hard ever and my father finished the Sabbath Kiddush and we went over and hugged and kissed. And this was Raoul Wallenberg. He saved six of us, and today there are 159 lives because of him.”

Kaufman told her story as part of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation’s (IRWF) ”Documenting Wallenberg”, a new project aimed at documenting the stories of those who were saved by, worked with or knew Raoul Wallenberg during the Holocaust.

A Swedish-born diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg traveled to Hungary in June 1944, where he saved more than 100,000 Jews. He issued false Swedish documents, called Schutz-pass, created safe houses and collaborated with others to save lives. In January 1945, Wallenberg was abducted and imprisoned by the Soviets, and was never seen again. To this day, his whereabouts and fate are unknown.

Many of those saved by Wallenberg are sharing their stories for the first time for ”Documenting Wallenberg”. Lea Jakubovic is one of them. Even her own children had not heard the complete tale of her survival, and her connection with Raoul Wallenberg’s courageous efforts. When asked why she decided to break her silence she said, ”For Wallenberg.”

Judith Saly, who met Wallenberg when she was in her twenties and in hiding on the outskirts of Budapest, remembers: ”The worst thing was that if you hear often enough that you are inferior, you will believe it. You hear all the while growing up that there is something wrong with being Jewish… So here comes this Swedish gentleman from a distinguished family… and [he] is risking a lot by taking on this task. And that gives one back some of this feeling that maybe we are worth saving… So that was a very important message that his mere presence gave us.”

Survivors from around the world, and in many different languages, have been raising their voices to this cause. It is the goal of the IRWF that these stories be preserved as memories of the past, and reminders for the future. By promoting the mission values of the IRWF, those of solidarity and civic courage as expressed by Raoul Wallenberg, the Foundation hopes to inspire future generations to uphold beliefs of morality and humanity.

Despite the moving testimonials already received by the Foundation, the project is still in need of new interviewees who are willing to go on camera and record their stories. ”The scarcity of eyewitnesses makes the process slow and difficult,” Daniela Bajar, Director of Programs and Special Projects at the IRWF, voices her concerns. ”But this is not just storing-up the stories of horrible times. It’s a matter of learning from the past, transmitting the spirits of humanitarianism, and hoping such atrocities never happen again.”

In the words of Holocaust survivor Kayla Kaufman, ”Every life is a world. So Raoul Wallenberg saved 100,000 worlds. If that isn’t reason enough to keep him alive [through the telling of these stories], I can’t think of anything else.”

If you know a survivor who was in Budapest in 1944 or 1945, or if you wish to volunteer or contribute, please contact the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation at (212) 737-3275 or by email at irwf@irwf.org. For more information visit the website at www.irwf.org.