August 3, 2012

AFP | Sweden’s Holocaust hero Wallenberg remembered


AFP- STOCKHOLM — Sweden and several other countries on Saturday celebrated 100 years since the birth of diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.

Crown Princess Victoria, Education Minister Jan Bjoerklund and Wallenberg relatives attended an afternoon ceremony and concert organised by the Raoul Wallengberg Academy in Sigtuna, a suburb of Stockholm.

In Berlin, a bust of the hero financed by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation was set to be inaugurated Friday.

Designed by psychiatrist and artist Peter Bulow, whose maternal family survived the Holocaust in Budapest, the bust would be installed in the garden of a church not far from Wallenberg Street, according to the city mayor’s office.

In New York synagogues were to offer a prayer of mourning, a gesture normally reserved for Jews.

“Orthodox rabbis gave us the go-ahead to recite the Kaddish, which is a special prayer for the people,” founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Baruch Tenembaum, told AFP.

“He was a Protestant, but the rabbis will do it for him,” he said.

A ceremony also took place in Budapest Friday.

“Those who knew how to confront hate and who saved lives were perhaps unable to prevent the evil and the destruction, but their memories should be cherished as strongly as possible,” Hungarian Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog said at the ceremony.

In the Dagens Nyheter daily, Swedish EU Affairs Minister Birgitta Ohlsson hailed Wallenberg as a “symbol of tolerance in a Europe where xenophobic parties are gaining ground.”

She also proposed to honour him with an annual national remembrance day.

Wallenberg was posted to Nazi-occupied Budapest in July 1944 and rescued thousands of Jews by issuing them protective passports in the final months of the Holocaust.

The 32-year-old Wallenberg also acquired buildings to house as many Jews as possible and provide them with extraterritorial status.

Faced with the plight of Jews coming to implore the Swedish embassy for help, Wallenberg “was fired up by the idea of saving lives,” Gabriella Kassius, 89, an Hungarian who had worked with him at the time told the Svenska Dagbladet daily.

She described him as daring, inventive and “a frantic activist” and recalled a moment when Wallenberg knocked over his desk shouting “raus!” or “get out” in German when two Nazis paid him a visit to check on the Swedish delegation.

“The two SS officers scuttled off and didn’t even pick up their caps on the way out,” Kassius said.

Wallenberg was honoured with a Righteous Among the Nations award in 1963 after Israel created it to reward those who saved Jews during World War II.

He died under mysterious circumstances, after being last seen alive surrounded by Soviet officers in Budapest on January 17, 1945.

In 1957, the Soviet Union released a document saying Wallenberg had been imprisoned in the Lubyanka, the notorious building where the KGB security services were headquartered, and that he died of heart failure on July 17, 1947.

But sceptics have questioned that version, with some saying he was executed. In 2000 the head of a Russian commission of investigation said Wallenberg was killed in Lubyanka.