Holocaust Essays: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg
|The following are essays created by a class studying the Holocaust. If you’d like to send your comments, please contact the instructor,||“The Story of Raoul Wallenberg”
by Jeanine Rauch
In this paper I examined the personal attributes brought forth by Raoul Wallenberg. His heroic efforts during the time of the Holocaust were truly astonishing. The purpose of my paper is to tell the story of his life and his accomplishments.
Raoul Wallenberg is credited with saving the thousands of lives of Jews who were taken into Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II. His devotion and honored Swedish heroism earned him his recognition we acknowledge today (“Intro”).
He was born on August 4, 1912, three months after the death of his father, Raoul Oscar Wallenberg. His mother, Maj Wising Wallenberg remarried Fredrick von Darriel in 1918. Wallenberg’s grandfather, Gustav Wallenberg, took care of his education while he was growing up, having in his mind that he would carry on the tradition of his family as highly respected bankers, diplomats, and politicians. But Wallenberg had his own interest. He loved architecture, and in 1930 he graduated with top grades in Russian language and drawing. After his service in the army, he traveled to the United States in 1931, where he study architecture at Ann Arbor Michigan University. He later received a bachelor’s degree in science in 1935 and returned to Sweden, hoping to find a job dealing with architecture. But the jobs in Sweden were slim, so his grandfather instead sent him to Cape Town in South Africa where he practiced at a Swedish firm selling building material. Six months had passed and Wallenberg’s grandfather arranged another job for him at a Dutch bank office in Hafia, Palestine (now Israel).
In Palestine Wallenberg, had first met Jews who escaped Hitler’s Germany. The sympathy he felt towards the Jews had deeply affected him. For he himself was partly Jew (he obtained the Jewish blood from his grandmother’s grandfather, by the name of Benedict). When Wallenberg left Haifa in 1936, he went back to his old interest for architecture and trade. Having good language skills and contacts in the business world, he was able to form a partnership with Koloman Lauer, a Hungarian Jew. Lauer was the director of a Swedish based import and export company specializing in food and delicacies. Wallenberg became a joint owner and international director of the Mid-European Trading Company, eight months later.
Wallenberg soon learned how the German bureaucracy functioned. He visited Lauer’s family in Hungary and Budapest several times. Hungary was still a relatively safe place in those hostile surroundings (“Who”).
In the spring of 1944, people realized what Hitler meant by his “final solution to the Jewish problem.” Two Jews who had escaped Hitler’s concentration camp had informed the public what was going on, describing how they gassed the Jews to death. The total extermination of the Jews of Europe by Hitler became known. Hungary had joined Germany in the war against the Soviet Union in 1941 to save the lives of an estimated 700,000 Jews at the beginning of 1944. Germans had lost the battle of Stalingrad in 1943, and Hungary wanted to follow Italy’s example and demanded a separate peace. Hitler then called the Hungarian head of state, Miklos Horthy, and demanded continued solidarity with Germany. When Horthy refused to meet the demands, Hitler invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944. Soon after that, the deportation of Jews started. The destination was Auschitz-Birkenau in southern Poland, and a certain death.
The Germans started deporting the Jews from the country side, but the Jewish citizens of Budapest knew that their hour of fate would be treated as Swedish citizens and be exempt from wearing the yellow star of David on their chest. It was Per Anger, a young diplomat at the legation in Budapest, who initiated the first of these Swedish protective passes. In a short period of time the Swedish legation issued 700 passes, a drop in the ocean compared to the enormous amount of Jews being threatened. The legation requested immediate staff reinforcements from the foreign department in Stockholm. In that same year the United States of America established the War Refugee Board ( pich organized a way of saving Jews from Nazi persecution. The WRB needed leaders from Sweden to represent it amongst a committee. Koloman Lauer was chosen to be apart of the committee, as one who had an expertise in Hungary.
Chairman of the Swedish Red Cross, Folke Bernadotte (relative to British king) was first choice, but he was disapproved by the Hungarian government. So Lauer appointed Wallenberg to serve in his place. Wallenberg was considered to be too young and inexperienced, but Lauer persisted that he was the man for the job and was then elected.
At the end of June 1994, Raoul Wallenberg was appointed as secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest with a mission to start a rescue operation for the Jews. Wallenberg made sure he would not get caught in the protocol and paper work bureaucracy of diplomacy. So he demanded full authorization to deal with whom he wanted without having to contact the ambassador first. His memo was sent all the way to the prime minister Per Albin Hansson, who then consulted the king before he announced that the demands were approved (“Mission”).
Wallenberg arrived in Budapest by July 1944. Adolf Eichmann had the Germans under his leadership, in which he sent away more than 400,000 Jewish men, women, and children. They were deported on 148 freight trains between May 14, and the 18 of July. When Wallenberg arrived there were only 230,000 Jews left.
Eichmann was planning to exterminate the whole Jewish population in Budapest. He reported that the operation would take only a few days. But that was later to be postponed.
The head of state Miklos Horthy received a letter from the Swedish king Gustav V, with an appeal that the deportations would stop. Horthy sent a note to the Swedish king, saying he “did everything in his power to ensure that the principals of humanity and justice would be respected.” The Germans deportations were canceled; one train with 1,600 Jews was stopped at the border and sent back to Budapest (Rescue”).
Raoul Wallenberg’s first task was to design a Swedish protective pass to help the Jews against the Germans and the Hungarians. He had previous experience that both the German and Hungarian authorities were weak for flashy symbols. He therefore had the passes printed in yellow and blue, with the coat of arms of the Three Crowns of Sweden in the middle, and added the
appropriate stamps and signatures on it. Obviously these passes had no value whatsoever according to international laws, but it provoked respect. To begin with, Wallenberg only had permission to issue 1,500 passes. He managed to negotiate 1,000, and through promises and empty threats to the Hungarian foreign ministry, he eventually managed to raise the quota to 4,500 protective passes. Thanks to Wallenberg’s efforts, the Jews didn’t have to wear that degrading yellow star.
Now Wallenberg thought his department at the legation could be dismantled and that he himself could return back to Sweden. He expected the invading and winning troops of the Soviet Union to soon take over Budapest.
On October 15, 1944, the head of state, Miklos Horthy, declared that he wanted peace with the Soviets. But his radio speech had barely been broadcast when the German troops took command. Horthy was overthrown immediately and replaced by the leader of the Hungarian Nazis, Ferenc Szalasi. He was the leader of the Arrow Cross organization, who was just as feared as the German Nazis for their cruel methods against the Jewish population. Adolf Eichmann returned and received free hands to continue the terror against the Jews.
Raoul Wallenberg kept on fighting in spite of the ruling powers of evil and appeared often as an unwelcome witness to the atrocities. In many cases he managed to save Jews from the clutches of the Nazis with his firm action and courage as his only weapon. He then made what is called “Swedish houses,” where the Jews could seek refuge. A Swedish flag hung in front of the door and Wallenberg declared the houses Swedish territory. This population soon rose to 15,000. Other diplomats from different countries soon developed their own “protective houses” (“Rescue”).
In November 1944, Wallenberg had established a section in his department that under his supervision would make a detailed financial support plan for the survived Jews. The Russians did not at all have the same views of Jews, and presumably couldn’t therefore understand that a person had devoted his soul to save them. Wallenberg found it crucial to explain his rescue operation. The Russians probably believed that Wallenberg had another reason for his rescue efforts. They probably suspected him to be an American spy as well. Most certainly they were also skeptical to Raoul Wallenberg’s contact with the Germans.
Wallenberg and his driver Vilmos Langfedler never returned from Debrecen. According to reliable testimonies, they were arrested and sent to Moscow. They were arrested by NKVD, an organization that later changed its name to KGB. Wallenberg and Langfedler were placed in separate cells in the Lubjanka prison according to eyewitnesses.
Raoul Wallenberg wasn’t the only diplomat in Budapest that aroused the Soviet’s suspicion. The Swiss legation had also run extensive rescue operations for the Hungarian Jewish population. The Russians arrested a secretary of their legation together with a clerk and sent them to the Soviet Union. However, the Swiss succeeded in getting them extradited with Soviet citizens detained in Switzerland.
Information about Wallenberg’s disappearance took some time to get to authorities. In a letter to the Swedish ambassador in Moscow, the Russian vice foreign minister Dekanosov declared that “the Russian military authorities had taken measures and steps to protect Wallenberg and his belongings.” (“Happened”). When no word came to the Swedes, Wallenberg’s mother, Maj von Dardel, contacted the Russian ambassador in Stockholm, Aleksandra Kollontaj, who explained that she could be calm, since her son was well kept in Russia. To the Swedish foreign minister, Christian Gunther’s wife, Aleksandra Kollontaj, said the same time that it would be best for Wallenberg if the Swedish government wouldn’t stir things up. Kollontaj was called back Russia, meanwhile, and the issue took a new turn. On his way out of the capital on January 17–with Russian escort–Wallenberg and his driver stopped at the “Swedish houses” to say good-bye to his friends. To one of his colleagues, Dr. Erno Peto, Wallenberg said that he wasn’t sure if he was going to be the Russian guest or their prisoner. Raoul Wallenberg thought he’d be back within eight days-but he has been missing since then.
Today, one is still unsure if he is alive or dead. Russians proclaim he died in Russian captivity on July 17, 1947. A number of testimonies indicate though that he was alive and that he still could be alive (“Happened”).
Raoul Wallenberg’s heroism proves that anyone can make a difference if they try. His efforts and accomplishments should be considered in today’s occurrence of “ethnic cleansing.” In this day and age we don’t see too many people making a drastic effort to help saves these other countries from what is known as the modern age holocaust. Those are helping out with the situation, are not very publicized. Maybe if we recognized these people and their efforts to stop this brutality, others will contribute in doing the same.
Hatikva. “Introduction.” Raoul Wallenberg–Introduction. http://www.algonet.se/~hatikva/wallenberg/intro.html (9 Feb. 1997).
Hatikva. “Who He Was.” Raoul Wallenberg–Who He Was. http://www.algonet.se/~hatikva/wallenberg/who.html (9 Feb. 1997).
Hatikva. “Background To His Mission.” Raoul Wallenberg– Background To His Mission. http://www.algonet.se/~hatikva/ wallenberg/ mission.html. (9 Feb. 1997).
Hatikva. “The Rescue Operation.” Raoul Wallenberg–The Rescue Operation. http://www.algonet.se/~hatikva/wallenberg/ rescue.html. (9 Feb. 1997).
Hatikva. “What Happened To Him?” Raoul Wallenberg–What Happened To Him? http://www.algonet.se/~hatikva/wallenberg/summary. html. (9 Feb. 1997).