Remember the name Raoul Wallenberg. As a Swedish diplomat dispatched to Budapest, Hungary in 1944, he is credited with saving over 100,000 Hungarian Jews from deportation and certain death. Ironically, even though the United States was allied with Stalin, and Sweden was neutral, Soviet officials took him into custody on January 17, 1945. He was never seen or heard from again.
In 1944, the U.S. War Refugee Board Financed Wallenberg’s Rescue Operations
In January 1944, the U.S. government formed the War Refugee Board to primarily rescue Jews from the Nazis. The move came late in the war after millions of European Jews had already perished. The government only partially funded the WRB, and competing factions of pro-rescue/anti-rescue government agencies reduced its effectiveness. One tactic the board took was to work through diplomatic channels with neutral countries, like Sweden. By far, the most successful operation funded and backed by the Board, was that of Raoul Wallenberg.
Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944
By the time he arrived in Hungary, the Germans had already deported 440,000 Hungarian Jews, almost all to Auschwitz-Birkenau where 330,000 were immediately murdered upon arrival. Approximately 220,000 Jews still remained. His multiple actions to save Jews comprise a long list. Largely due to Wallenberg’s efforts, over 100,000 Jews survived until Soviet liberation in February 1945.
Wallenberg Issued Swedish Passes, Set Up Hospitals and Convinced German Generals Not to Bomb the Budapest Ghetto.
Wallenberg issued Swedish protective passes to Jews, granting them diplomatic immunity, and moved them into safe houses. The move motivated other neutral countries to do the same. He set up hospitals, soup kitchens and day care centers. In November 1944, when thousands of Jews were evacuated on a death march, he chased after them, supplying them with passes, food and medical supplies saving thousands. In his largest move, by December, some 70,000 Jews still remained in the Budapest ghetto. When Nazis advanced and threatened to blow up the ghetto, he sent a diplomatic note to the German generals that they would be tried for war crimes if they proceeded with the action. They desisted and the 70,000 Jews, though living in dire conditions, survived, thanks to Wallenberg’s diplomatic maneuvering.
Many countries have honored Wallenberg with honorary citizenship, official Raoul Wallenberg days, monuments, awards and even stamps.
On July 26, 2012, he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress “in recognition of his achievements and heroic actions during the Holocaust. (Library of Congress.)
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation seeks “to develop educational programs and public awareness campaigns based on the values of solidarity and civic courage, ethical cornerstones of the Saviors of the Holocaust.”
Top photo – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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