(photo credit: Courtesy)
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Whether religious or secular, most Israelis are familiar with the Talmudic statement that "He who saves a life is as if he has saved the entire world."
Perhaps no one understands this more clearly than a pleasant, soft-spoken, 53-year-old Ra'anana resident who for more than 20 years has waged a relentless and often lonely campaign to determine the whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg, savior of 100,000 Jewish lives.
By the spring of 1944 the Nazis had succeeded in wiping out every sizable Jewish community in Europe except for the 700,000 Jews remaining in Budapest, Hungary. By late June, Adolf Eichmann had deported some 400,000 Jews to death camps in Poland, and was planning to liquidate the rest.
Raoul Gustav Wallenberg, a 32-year-old Swedish businessman, arrived in Budapest on July 8, 1944, as secretary of the Swedish Legation to Hungary with instructions to intervene on behalf of Budapest's remaining 230,000 Jews. Through a combination of cajoling, bribes, threats, and sometimes desperate stratagems, Wallenberg managed to save some 100,000 Jews from the clutches of Hitler's army.
The Russians, who seized Budapest from the Germans on January 13, 1945, arrested Wallenberg four days later for reasons unknown to this day. One theory is that the Russians simply could not believe that a young Swedish diplomat would lay his life on the line "merely" to save Jews, and decided he must have been a spy. As to whom they imagined he was spying for, we may never know.
From the date of his arrest to the present, Wallenberg's fate has remained a mystery, kept alive over the years by testimonies from former prisoners about rumors or sightings of Wallenberg in the Russian Gulag.
Ra'anana resident Max Grunberg persistently uses the word "whereabouts" in his pursuit of Wallenberg, never "fate."
"I believe he is still alive, since there is no evidence that he died. And when there is no evidence that a person died, we have to continue, as long as it is reasonable, to think that he is still alive. Therefore, I continue the search."
Born and raised in Holland, Grunberg and his wife and three children immigrated to Canada in 1982, and to Israel in 1990. A professional relationship consultant, he is well known in Ra'anana for being at the center of a wide network of volunteer charitable activities.
Both he and his wife are the children of Holocaust survivors. Grunberg believes that much of what drives him in his quixotic search for Wallenberg is his having witnessed his emotionally scarred father's inability to show gratitude during a visit 20 years later to the Christian family that tried to hide him from the Nazis.
Grunberg dates his special interest in Wallenberg to 1984 and his membership in a support group for children of Holocaust survivors in Vancouver, Canada. Grunberg was deeply impressed by the story of Wallenberg presented by the group's facilitator. Later, Grunberg organized an educational program about Wallenberg for a similar group in Edmonton. This brought him into contact with Sweden's former ambassador to Canada, Per Anger, who had been Raoul Wallenberg's co-worker in Budapest. Grunberg arranged a nationwide speaking tour for Anger that ended in Ottawa with a standing ovation by the Canadian parliament.
As the two parted, Anger told Grunberg, "Max, never forget Raoul."
Grunberg soon co-founded the Canadian Raoul Wallenberg Committee which, guided by Anger, decided to focus on diplomatic contacts rather than loud protest campaigns and demonstrations as the most effective way to learn the truth about Wallenberg. Grunberg himself focused on diplomatic contacts with the State of Israel and was instrumental in having Wallenberg declared Israel's first Honorary Citizen in 1986.
Upon making aliya in 1990, Grunberg was astonished to discover that the Jewish state had no active search campaign for the man who saved 100,000 Jewish lives. He began work at once, forming a new committee and enlisting the support of Ra'anana's influential Rabbi Stewart Weiss. The committee soon made contact with then Knesset speaker Shevach Weiss, who helped by securing the involvement of Israel's Foreign Ministry.
During the 1990s, Grunberg organized two meetings in Ra'anana of ambassadors and representatives of Israel, Sweden, the US, Russia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Ivory Coast, Uzbekistan, and the EU to coordinate efforts in the search for Wallenberg.
"I found that although there was some interest, nobody would really try to move the thing along. I also felt that the Foreign Ministry was not doing all it could," says Grunberg.
Overall, he says sadly, that has been the situation ever since.
Grunberg has received emphatic letters of support from such notables as Swedish prime minister Goran Persson and the late famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, which that have lent his work greater credibility and authority. He has met Wallenberg's sister and brother in Stockholm, as well as three nieces, one of whom is the wife of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
"I got this overall picture that the family was so desperate and disappointed that there was no conscious effort by the State of Israel or the Jewish people collectively to push this thing forward," he says.
Grunberg has gotten the Swedish and the Israeli foreign ministries to mail flyers to embassies around the world showing a picture of Wallenberg taken shortly before he was last seen - juxtaposed against an age-progression photo of what he might look like now - with an appeal for any information about him since the day of his arrest. To date, there has been no response.
Normally soft spoken, Grunberg becomes passionate as he says, "More and more people can be helpful by circulating these pictures by e-mail, the Internet, TV, and newspapers. So many people were saved by Wallenberg. Their children and grandchildren today are sitting behind computers. The least we can do, as the Jewish people, is to circulate his picture and appeal for information. Wallenberg is unable to do anything for himself. We, the Jewish people, must step in to help in a united effort, a massive campaign - Jewish organizations, federations, synagogues, schools, rabbis, educators - despite its now being 60 years later than when we should have started doing this."
How much longer will Grunberg continue his quest?
"I never like to think about that. But we must keep in mind that time is running out - both because of Wallenberg's age, as well as the age of that one person, someone out there, who could provide us with information. The search for Raoul remains one of the main goals of my life."
Anyone with information about Raoul Wallenberg or who wishes to volunteer in the search can contact Max Grunberg at the Raoul Wallenberg Honorary Citizen Committee, P.O. Box 38, 43000 Ra'anana. Tel: 0544 953 039, fax: (09) 774 9495, e-mail: [email protected]
Send your comments >>
Helena Kaski, Vaasa, Finland: Thank you for the article of searching Raoul Wallenberg. I don't know how much the world has done trying to find him since he disappeared, but I know it is not enough. Thank you for continuing and not giving up! If it is late or not, you give hope that he, who gave his life for others, is not forgotten when he needs help.
Ernie Lofthouse, Sun City, AZ, USA: I could never understand the reluctance of the world with reference to the issue of this man. Russia I could understand until the fall of communism, why the Russians would not open the files on Mr. Wallenburg. I first heard of him in a book I was reading dealing with the Holocaust when I was a teenager. I was totally astounded by the courage and love this man had for others. He alone stood against the Nazis and saved so many. Consider if the world had stood up squarely against what was happening, what we could have collectively done.
Those who stood against the gates of hell have a special place in God's Kingdom. "What you do for the smallest of mine so shall I do for you."
I know that Raoul Wallenburg is at peace with Almighty God. and the beasts of the death camps are in the pit of hell. No one can escape the Great Judge. Shalom.
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