Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Raoul Wallenberg

During the XX century, due perhaps to its neutral and non allignance politic, Sweden was the place of birth of many extraordinary ideologist who shared a common goal, the effort for the peace and human dignity. It is not rare therefore to discover that Dag Hammarskjöld, one of the first and most renowned Secretary-General of the U.N. was of Swedish origin. Unfortunately, many of them share also the fact that ended their lives in such a tragic way. Famous Swede Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered in the street in 1986, Hammarskjöld ended his days in a plane crash in 1961, and has been both the only U.N. Secretary-General to die on duty and the only awarded with the Nobel Prize posthumously. But by far, who probably suffered the most tragic fate was diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who disappeared after being arrested by the Soviets in 1945, while trying to help thousands of Jews to escape from Nazi deportation.

Raoul Wallenberg was born in Lidingö, Sweden in 1912, sheltered by a wealth family, and whose grandfather was a notable diplomat. It seems like diplomat blood went through Wallenberg family veins, since his niece, Nane Maria Lagergren married Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary-General.
Although Wallenberg studied architecture in USA, it was difficult to him to find a job once when back in Sweden, even when he was fluent in 3 languages besides Swedish. He managed to work in many different jobs before he got in touch with Hungary in 1936, through his employment at a Trade company owned by a Hungarian Jew named Kálmán Lauer. Soon Raoul became Lauer´s representative and learned the hungarian language.
While in 1944, with the end of the war close, the Nazi defeat was inminent and deportation of jews began, with hungary not being the exception. Iver Olsen, representative of the American War Refugee Board chose Wallenberg as the riht person for organizing a rescue plan for the Jews.

Left: The pass, issued by Wallenberg for the Jewish to avoid deportation. Below: Victims of the pro-Nazi hungarian party "The Arrow cross" lying dead after a massacre on a street in Budapest.(pics by wikicommons)

Wallenberg, with the money provided by the Board, began a series of activities including the rent of several buildings for the refugees to hide, disguised as Swedish interest places protected by diplomatic immunity and the issue of passports which identified the holders as Swedish citizens. Wallenberg went beyond and even was able to persuade the Nazi leaders Adolf Eichmann and General Gerhard Schmidthuber for not to organize a final effort to annihilate the remaining Jews, by threatening them with a prosecution for war crimes after the war were over.

On January 1945, after the Soviet got to Budapest, Wallenberg was arrested in suspicion of being a spy. (A theory state that it was Vilmos Böhm, an Hunagrian diplomat who colaborated with the Soviets, as the one who provided Wallenberg´s name to soviets suggesting him to be a spy).

The red army troops, a few days after their arrive to Budapest (wikicommons)

It was the last time Wallenberg was seen alive. From here everything is a succesion of speculations and contradictory informs. According to Soviet authorities, Wallenberg was transferred to infamous Lubyanka prison where he suppose to died in 1947 from a sudden heart attack and later cremated whithout an autopsy practiced. Several witnessess have stated through the years to have seen Wallenberg alive after that, some of them telling of a "Swede citizen who claimed to be a diplomat arrested by great mistake" The last reported sightings by witness said of Wallenberg to be in prison by 1987. Some others, like Alexander Yakovlev, a notable collaborator of Gorvachov, announced that Wallenberg in fact was executed in 1947. Maybe it would be better to think that Wallenberg found not much suffering and really died soon in 1947. The vision of a man like him in prison is quite devastating just to imagine on. The row of tragedies didn´t stop on here. In 1979, Raoul´s mother and stepfather comitted suicide, their suicide attributed to their anguish about the fate of Raoul.

The Lubyanka building in Moscow (wikicommons)

Several honours has given to Raoul Wallenberg in a posthumous way. Prices, streets, badges, squares, monuments and memorial days. Maybe there wouldn´t be a better reward for him than the gratitude of the thousands of human lives he helped to save. Maybe to be the responsible of such an action is worth of any credit beyond medals and speeches. A better reward would be to the history never to repeat again. Or as Tom Lantos, one of those saved by Wallenberg said: " In this age devoid of heroes, Wallenberg is the archetype of a hero – one who risked his life day in and day out, to save the lives of tens of thousands of people he did not know whose religion he did not share."

Raoul Wallenberg´s memorial, in Linköping, Sweden (wikicommons)


henk van es said...

Dear Alberto Oliver, Just would like to thank you for this post(and the one about 1809). I very much appreciate these stories about persons and happenings I vaguely know about, but never entered into details. Henk

Alberto Oliver said...

It is always a pleasure that you liked the stories. I try to make a brief but at the same time to be as deep on the topic as possible, and also, to conect the happening with a more world wide context. I admire so much the job of such peace champions like Wallenberg, Hammarskjöld and even the polar explorer Dr. Fridtjof Nansen. I will post on them further. Keep Well Henk, and enjoy a pretty autumn walk in Amsterdam on behalf of me. =)

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