The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating portrayal of Raoul Wallenberg’s family’s search for answers to his disappearance after World War Two. While I find the headline “The Wallenberg Curse” odd, the story has two interesting, intertwined themes – the lack of governmental support for the family’s search, but then, later on, how Wallenberg was named
an honorary citizen in four countries, commemorated with stamps in eight and monuments in 12, the subject of scores of films and books.
Before all that, though:
Mr. Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who safeguarded 20,000 Jews in Budapest in the waning months of World War II, vanished into the Soviet penal system in 1945. But the couple, then 71 and 65 years old, believed their son was alive and readied a letter for Sweden’s prime minister to take to Moscow.
“We have been sustained by the hope of one day seeing you among us and again being able to kiss you and hold your hands and hear your beloved voice,” his stepfather wrote in an old and elevated Swedish. “There’s a room here waiting for you.”
Mr. Wallenberg did not come home then, or ever. His end remains unclear. The world now knows the missing Swede as a symbol of humanitarianism…
On Jan. 22, 1944, the United States established the War Refugee Board, an agency intended to protect the endangered populations of Europe. The board asked the Swedish foreign ministry, which staffed a mission in Budapest, to suggest a candidate to run an office there. Word reached Mr. Wallenberg.
Hired by the U.S. and granted diplomatic status by Sweden, Mr. Wallenberg, 31, arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944. The Nazis had already deported more than half of Hungary’s 750,000 Jews, nearly all to Auschwitz in Poland, where most were killed. Slight, balding and colorblind, Mr. Wallenberg used safehouses, counterfeit passports and bravado to safeguard thousands who remained.
After Wallenberg rescued thousands,
On Jan. 17, Soviet officers in Budapest arrested him on orders from Moscow.
Did the governments of the world care?
Sweden didn’t ask for Mr. Wallenberg’s return, even though the Soviet Union had seized the diplomat in violation of international law. Current and former Swedish foreign ministry officials say that amid worsening East-West relations, neutral Sweden feared petitioning the emerging superpower on behalf of a diplomat financed by the U.S.
Others, too, washed their hands of Mr. Wallenberg. Leaders of Sweden’s Jewish community endorsed the country’s foreign ministry. U.S. officials did not pursue their former representative in Hungary after Sweden’s ambassador in Moscow snubbed their offer to help.
But a stamp – or, as below, a (misspelled) street sign in Trenton, NJ – makes it all OK, right?*
*Snarkiness aside I do believe that honoring the heroes and upstanders is crucially important, and street signs, stamps, and more allow more people to ask “who was Raoul Wallenberg“? and perhaps learn something from this oft-overlooked light in the dark and terrible story of the Holocaust.