A Swedish diplomat saved the lives of many Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust, but his fate since he was abducted by the Soviets in 1945 is unknown. 100 years after his birth, a call to remember an outstanding rescuer of Jews.
Raoul Wallenberg, one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century, was born 100 years ago yesterday, on August 4th, 1912.
Back in 1944, at the age of 32, in a matter of a few precious months, he orchestrated and implemented one of the most remarkable life-saving efforts recorded in the history of mankind. His values and his powerful imagination were the most striking assets in his arsenal. Armed with them, against all odds, he set in motion a shrewd and efficient diplomatic machine which eventually managed to save scores of Hungarian Jews.
Raoul could be cajoling or threatening, depending on the circumstances. Above all, he was target-oriented. He knew very well and took advantage of the weak spots of the Nazis.
He was born into one of the most powerful, wealthiest and influential families in Sweden. His father had passed away before Raoul was born and his paternal grandfather became his mentor. The sad truth is that some of his closest family members had played a pivotal role in the commercial ties between Sweden and Nazi Germany, facilitating the sale of strategic Swedish raw materials that were badly needed by Hitler’s savage war machine.
As a young member of the Wallenberg clan, his future was bright and promising. The international business world was widely open to him; and yet, when approached by the World Refugee Board, he did not hesitate to take up to the formidable challenge of saving the remains of the Hungarian Jewish community.
Raoul was a gifted person. His imagination was only overshadowed by his practicality. He understood the Nazi psyche inside out, and exploited this to further his ambitious goal. Without being a formal diplomat, he created an awe-inspiring active diplomacy which included audacious actions, putting at risk his own life. Above all, he empathized with the plight of others, even if they were not his fellow countrymen, nor shared his religion or ethnicity.
Ironically, this singular person, who did so much to save others, became himself a victim of another totalitarian regime. On January 17, 1945, he asked his driver, Vilmos Langfelder, to take him to the Soviet military headquarters in the recently liberated Budapest. According to most accounts, his intention was to co-ordinate with the Soviets the required humanitarian measures to help the survivors re-build their lives.
But this time, he failed.
He and Langfelder were taken prisoners by the Soviets and rushed to Moscow for interrogation. Even today, 67 years later, nobody knows for sure why they had been abducted and what’s more, their fate and whereabouts are still shrouded in mystery.
Back in the early 1990’s, one of the writers of this article, Baruch Tenembaum, together with his late friend, Tom Lantos (the only Holocaust survivor who ever served in the US Congress), had the honor of founding the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF). Two decades later, the IRWF is a vibrant NGO, with offices in New York, Buenos Aires, Berlin and Jerusalem. More than 300 heads of state (former and incumbent) as well as Nobel Prize laureates are amongst our honorary members.
We devote ourselves to researching and unveiling unknown stories of rescue, to paying tribute to the rescuers, to educate the young generations by instilling in their minds and hearts the feats of these remarkable role models, and we never gave up on our struggle to get clear and credible answers about Raoul Wallenberg.
The likelihood that he is still alive is extremely slim; but even so, he deserves to be properly buried, next to his loved ones.
We have therefore announced a financial reward of 100,000 Euros to any person or organization able to provide scientifically provable information that would allow us to bring him back home to Sweden, next to his parents, his step-father, and his half-sister Nina, who is still alive.
We are optimistic that this initiative will bear fruits. On what do we base this belief? Back in 2006, the then Deputy Chief of Mission of the Russian Embassy in Washington, Mr.
Alexander Darchiev, replied to our letter requesting for assistance in revealing Wallenberg’s fate. We are quoting an excerpt of his response:
“…Responsibility for the death of Mr. Wallenberg lies with the USSR leadership at that time and Joseph Stalin personally. No other authority could deal with a Swedish diplomat, representative of a neutral state, a member of the “Wallenberg House”, well known both abroad and to the Soviet Government.”
Mr. Darchiev’s sound and cogent analysis regarding Stalin’s responsibility, coupled with the fact that, as historians know well, the Soviets were extremely meticulous in their archival methods, make it logical to assume that the assassination of such a high-profile personality would have left a trail of clear written evidence.
In other words, we believe that the information exists, but for some unknown reason, the Russian authorities are not allowing free and unfettered access to the KGB archives. We hope that our reward will be an incentive to unearth critical data that would allow us to move forward and bring this human tragedy to closure.
On the educational front, we feel that in the second decade of this century, Raoul Wallenberg’s legacy is more relevant than ever. In a world tainted by ethnic violence and mass murders, his voice reverberates loud and clear.
While it is understandable and warranted that war criminals get full and proper exposure, we should not forget the saviors, the rescuers, those who risked their own lives to save others. These role models are the most efficient tools to prevent the recurrence of a future Holocaust.
Judaism teaches us of the importance of recognizing goodness. Raoul Wallenberg and his likes are the embodiment of goodness and we should therefore actively recognize their achievements.
As a human being, Wallenberg’s personal tragedy is still an open wound which needs to be closed. As a role model, he is as inspiring as ever.
Baruch Tenembaum is the founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and he was awarded the Royal Order of the Polar Star by the Swedish government for his efforts in keeping Raoul Wallenberg’s legacy alive and fostering dialogue among different religions.
Eduardo Eurnekian is the Chairman of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, a businessman and philanthropist who was recently selected as one of the seven Honorees of the “Business for Peace Award 2012” granted by the Oslo-based Business for Peace Foundation.