January 29, 2009

Exhibition with a message

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Raoul Wallenberg was abducted in Budapest over 64 years ago. He was on his way to see a Soviet commander in Hungary when he disappeared. Today we know that he was arrested and sent to Moscow on the orders of Stalin.

This day, January 17, 1945, marks the beginning of ”The Wallenberg Case,” which has yet to be resolved. During the years that followed, the USSR and later Russia gave four different versions of Wallenberg’s fate. So it is a logical step for the Army Museum to choose January 17, 2009, as the inauguration for their new exhibit ”Raoul Wallenberg Place.” The show is the first permanent exhibition dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg in Sweden. It is also the first time that the museum presents an exhibit entirely dedicated to a single person.

The blue and yellow tape was cut by Ambassador Jan Eliasson in the presence of, among others, Wallenberg’s sister Nina Lagergren.

When Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in the summer of 1944 the majority of Hungarian Jews had already been deported. Wallenberg and the world already knew that ”death was a master from Germany,” as the poet Paul Celan wrote. His mission was to save as many Jews as possible. It was in a hurry, it was difficult, and it required imagination. According to most testimonies, he worked assiduously to distribute protective passports, to provide Hungarian Jews with Swedish citizenship, and to bribe Nazi officials. He fought against the evil ”without expecting anything in return,” as his sister Nina Lagergren said.

It is difficult to say exactly how many people Wallenberg rescued. Various sources mention numbers that vary from 20,000 and 30,000 people.

Wallenberg was unconventional in his acts, breaking the rules when necessary. An important lesson for diplomats operating in countries with oppression and war.

A heavy responsibility rests on the Swedish Socialist government of the years 1945-1950 regarding Wallenberg’s fate. It was too passive and docile with its eastern neighbor. Jan Eliasson, who carefully examined the documents in the Foreign Ministry’s archives, is well aware of this fact. At the inaguration he said: ”What we learned is to act early and forcefully, our efforts came too late.”

The exhibition at the Army Museum is, in all its modesty, a beautiful representation of Wallenberg. It is informative without being intrusive. Even personal artifacts, representing Wallenberg’s interests and role models are displayed. But the viewer mainly meets an active person, a person who, in his own words, ”had a hard time to just be a bystander”. Thus, this is an exhibition with a message, and perhaps a call for how we as humans should be.

On Tuesday, January 27, we celebrate the memory of Holocaust victims. Raoul Wallenberg is the obvious, but absent, guest of honor.