At an early morning meeting held today at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation presented the President of the Republic of Latvia, H.E. Vaira-Vike Freiberga with the ”Homage to Raoul Wallenberg” sculpture.
Representatives of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Ms. Perla Graisman, Ms. Elizabeth Brunson, and Mr. Harry Z. Kichel met President Freiberga and Dr. Janis Priedkalns, the Latvian Ambassador to the U.N., at a state meeting room at U.N. headquarters.
Ambassador Priedkalns welcomed the representatives and spoke kind words of Mr. Baruch Tenembaum, initiator of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Mr. Tenembaum sent a special salutation from London on the occasion of the presentation of this tribute. The Foundation stems from ”Casa Argentina Interfaith Inter-America”, an entity that has since 1966 been promoting dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims worldwide. Casa Argentina has headquarters in New York, Jerusalem and Buenos Aires. Its activities span the range of artistic endowments, providing educational opportunities, issuance of commemorative stamps, sponsoring monuments and other public works that all seek to recall the bright sparks of heroism, solidarity and humanity embodied by Raoul Wallenberg. He was the Swedish diplomat who helped save thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II and was captured by the Soviet forces at war’s end. His whereabouts are unknown to this day. Another notable enterprise undertaken by the Foundation has been the construction of the world’s only Holocaust remembrance mural located in a Catholic place of worship, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires.
President Freiberga has been very enthusiastic about joining the ranks of world-renowned political and religious leaders who make up the growing member’s list of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Such notable examples are former U.S. President, Gerald Ford, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Stuart Eizenstat, Governor of New York State, George E. Pataki, California Congressman and Holocaust survivor, Tom Lantos. The list is expected to expand in the coming months.
The President of the Republic of Latvia is also interested in the Foundation’s work for more personal reasons. Her Excellency left Latvia when she was a young girl under dire circumstances as the Soviet invasion of her war torn land was beginning at the closing days of World War II. She grew up in the refugee camps of Germany before she relocated to Casablanca in then French Morocco. She pursued her university studies in Canada. For most of her life she was a devoted psychology professor at the Université de Montreal. In 1998 she was appointed director of the newly created Latvian Institute in Riga.
Much to her and other people’s surprise she was nominated for the presidency of Latvia in 1999. She won that post with 53 out of the 100 seats in the Latvian legislature.
As the newly elected head of state of the Republic of Latvia, President Freiberga is seeking to educate and inform the younger generations of the 20th century’s legacy and hard-learned lessons. As the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation seeks to teach the positive lessons derived from the last World War, President Freiberga pointed out to her own country’s example of heroism in times of state sponsored terror with the mention of Janis Lipke as a prime example of Latvian heroism and solidarity. Since coming to power in 1999, President Freiberga has led the way to a national movement towards acknowledging and understanding Latvia’s involvement in the genocide of World War II. The main essence of this undertaking can be seen in the Swedish to Latvian translation of a Swedish textbook on the Holocaust titled, ”Tell Ye Your Children”. Initiatives have already been implemented to educate Latvian teachers in the effective methodology in teaching the events of World War II to Latvia’s youngest citizens.
It is for the aforementioned efforts on behalf of President Freiberga that the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has decided to bestow upon her the ‘Homage to Raoul Wallenberg” sculpture. In it, the name ”Raoul Wallenberg” embraces two pillars that refer to the permanency of the spirit of solidarity which inspired this great man. The unfolded shapes at the top of the sculpture make a direct reference to the many life-saving passports that were issued by Wallenberg. It was formed in bronze by the Argentinean sculptress, Norma D’Ippólito at the request of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.