Two 60th anniversary observations recently took place on an international scale, which also resonated locally.
The first of these was the 60th anniversary of the disappearance of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from certain death by the Nazis during WWII. Wallenberg was captured by Soviet troops who ”liberated” Budapest on January 17, 1945, and his fate remains unknown to this day.
For 60 years, Wallenberg’s family, the Swedish government, and people whom he had saved have tired to influence the Soviets to reveal his whereabouts and/or details of his death so as to bring finality to the uncertainty of his fate.
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation recently launched an international effort to collect 100,000 signatures on a letter asking for truthful disclosure form the Russian government. The number 100,000 is very significant because Wallenberg is credited with saving no less than 100,000 Jews.
The letter was distributed to audiences at special programs held in Sweden, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, England, South America, Israel and the United States.
HERC Director, Tova Weiss, was invited to attend a special program in New York on January 17th, held at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center. The program included a special performance of a new musical entitled ”Wallenberg,” which was performed by Broadway actors and actresses in the presence of Swedish Ambassador Kjell Anneling, and several ”Wallenberg survivors,” people who had been saved by Raoul Wallenberg.
The lead role of Wallenberg was played by Tom Christopher, who is presently appearing on Broadway in ”The Lion King,” and Broadway veteran Alice Evans played Wallenberg’s mother.
The final part of the program allowed the audience to hear first-person testimony from two ”Wallenberg survivors” who recalled their direct interaction with ”the angel of life” in their youth. One of the women described being saved with her family from a transport at the railway station in Budapest, while the other spoke of living in one of the ”Swedish houses” (see sidebar story).
It is hoped that such events will raise awareness of the scope of Wallenberg’s actions, pay tribute to his courage and dedication, and lead to truthful revelations while his siblings are still alive.
The other anniversary of note was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Commemorations were held across the globe and a number were held in the U.S., as well. Among the national commemorative programs was the airing of a documentary on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), ”Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State,” which was shown in two-hour segments on three consecutive Wednesday nights beginning on January 16th.
Locally, WVIA-TV (Channel 44) made special arrangements to air the final segment exactly on January 27th, and added meaning to the anniversary by scheduling a pre-documentary interview with three local survivors. With the cooperation of the Holocaust Education Resource Center, the three joined WVIA president, CEO and chief correspondent, Bill Kelly, for an hour-long ”State of PA” program devoted to Holocaust remembrance. Phone lines were open for area residents to call in with questions and comments.
The three survivors were Tom Breslauer of Stroudsburg, originally from Germany, Sam Rosen of Scranton, originally from Czechoslovakia, and Juliana Schonfeld, also of Scranton, originally from Yugoslavia.
In the course of the phone calls, it became clear that the residents of NEPA, along with WVIA and the HERC, were grateful to these three people for their willingness to speak to the general public, and share painful memories. They were thanked directly by several callers, including a young girl.
A man who identified himself as an Egyptian Muslim made one of the most touching calls. He said that, in his opinion, what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust was the worst and saddest event in all of human history.
The HERC wishes to thank Thom Curra, Vice-President of Television and Executive Producer at WVIA, for conceiving the original idea and inviting its cooperation, Mr. Kelly for facilitating the emotional program with grace, and the three interviewees for agreeing to participate.
January 17th and January 27th – the two anniversaries are very much connected. Russian troops liberated Auschwitz and the remnant of Hungarian Jewry. And Russian troops were responsible for the disappearance of a courageous individual whose ingenuity and resolve had helped the remnant of Hungarian Jewry to survive.
*Director, Holocaust Education Resource Center