October 4, 2006

Remembering missing hero of the Holocaust

Source:

LAWRENCE — Perhaps no other man in the history of the Holocaust can be attributed to saving as many lives as Raoul Wallenberg.

A Swedish diplomat sent to Bu dapest, Hungary, in 1944, Wallen berg is credited with saving approximately 100,000 Hungarian Jews who had been marked for ex termination. Arrested by the Soviet army at age 32 and imprisoned for the rest of his life, the exact date and location of his death still re main elusive today.

Last night in Rider University’s student center was a gathering to recognize the 25th anniversary of Wallenberg’s Honorary United States Citizenship, bestowed on him on Oct. 5, 1981, by President Ronald Reagan. Wallenberg was the second person in U.S. history to receive this honor.

The program, sponsored by Raoul Wallenberg Committee of New Jersey and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, featured the Sharim V’Sharot Choir and various speeches by those of both Jewish and Christian faiths.

The evening’s keynote speaker was Marvin Makinen, a former Soviet prisoner and member of several international groups dedicated to investigating Wallenberg’s final whereabouts. Rider University President Mordechai Rozanski, the son of Holocaust survivors, and Vera Goodkin, a child survivor of the Holocaust who was rescued by Wallenberg, also spoke.

”If it wasn’t for Raoul Wallen berg, I never would have enjoyed growing up with my wonderful parents who, in turn, now have the privilege of enjoying their grandchildren,” said Goodkin, author of the recently published ”In Sunshine and In Shadows,” a narrative of her family’s experiences trying to escape the Nazis.

”I try to carry on Wallenberg’s legacy of prejudice reduction through the lessons of the Holocaust,” said Goodkin.

While in Hungary as first secretary of the Swedish Legation, Wallenberg witnessed the horror that the Jewish community was facing under the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators. For six months after his arrival, he worked to save as many as possible using his diplomatic status.

The Soviet army arrested Wallenberg in 1945 on suspicion of espi onage. He was transferred to Lubi anka Prison in Moscow and later to Vladimir Prison. In 1947, Russian officials reported that Wallenberg died of a heart attack at age 34 while in prison. However, later that year the Soviet Foreign Ministry informed the Swedish government that ”Wallenberg is not in the Soviet Union and is unknown to us.”

In the 1990s, Makinen collaborated with Ari Kaplan, a Lawrence High School graduate and data base expert, on researching Wallen berg’s final location and cause of death. Along with a research team, the two traveled to Russia to gain access to classified prison records.

Interviews with a female staff member who had been working at the Vladimir Prison since 1946 lead Makinen to believe she had seen Wallenberg held in isolation after his supposed date of death.

”Our conclusion was that the records documenting the presence of Wallenberg in Vladimir had been removed from the prison archives,” said Makinen.

In 2001, Russian officials ad mitted Wallenberg was probably executed, but offered no evidence. Wallenberg’s name was also officially cleared of all wrong-doing, and a formal apology was issued to Sweden and the Wallenberg family.

”Finally after all these decades, Russia finally cleared the air,” said Kaplan. ”What was most moving for me was realizing Wallenberg is not a mythological figure. He is a real person who helped change the world in a significant way. The descendants of the 100,000 people Wallenberg saved represent 1 percent of the entire Jewish population. Never think that your life cannot make a difference.”