Tuesday, July 17, will mark an important moment of remembrance and reminder in
the Knesset, as Israel commemorates the centenary of the birth of Raoul
Wallenberg, an honorary citizen of Israel, the US and Canada, a Swedish non-Jew
who saved more Jews in four months in Hungary in 1944 than any single
The disappeared hero of the Holocaust – who embodied the
Talmudic idiom that ‘if you save a single life, it is as if you have saved an
entire universe’ – confronted the Nazi killing regime and showed that not only
that one person can confront evil and one person can resist evil, but that one
person can prevail, and thereby transform history.
His incredible heroism
• The granting of Shutzpasses – passes conferring diplomatic immunity
on their recipients – which survivors have told me were crafted by Wallenberg in
such a way that they appeared to be even more authentic in their design than the
original, and which inspired others to do the same. By this remedy alone, some
20,000 Jews were saved.
• Establishing an international save haven of 32
safe houses – as they came to be known – protected by neutral
legations. Some 32,000 people were saved through this initiative
• The organization of hospitals, soup kitchens, and day care
centers – the staple of international humanitarian assistance – which provided
women, children, the sick, the elderly – the most vulnerable of victims – with a
semblance of human dignity in the face of the worst of all horrors and
• In October 1944, as the Hungarian Arrow Cross – the Nazi puppet
government – organized mass deportations to the death camps, Wallenberg went
down to the trains, distributed the Shutzpasses, and gave life to those
consigned to death.
• In November 1944, as thousands of Jews – mainly
women and children – were sent on a 125-mile death march, Wallenberg followed,
distributing food, medical supplies and improvised Shutzpasses, once again
saving people destined for death.
• To the Nazi desk murderer Adolph
Eichmann, Wallenberg was the Juddenhund – the Jewish dog – but to those he was
saving, and those he saved, he will always be known and remembered as “the
Wallenberg’s last rescue was perhaps his most
memorable. As the Nazis were advancing on Budapest and threatening to
blow up the city’s ghetto and liquidate the remnants of some 70,000 Hungarian
Jews, Wallenberg put the Nazi generals on notice that they would be held
accountable for their crimes, brought to justice – if not executed – for their war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Nazi
generals desisted from their assault on Budapest and some 70,000 more Jews were
saved, thanks to the indomitable courage of one person prepared to confront
While Wallenberg saved so many, he was not saved by so many
who could. Rather than greet him as the liberator he was, the Soviets – who
entered Hungary as liberators themselves – imprisoned Wallenberg. He disappeared
into the Soviet Gulag, with the Soviets continuing to claim that he died in July
But, our International Commission on the Fate and Whereabouts of
Raoul Wallenberg – which I chaired and which included Wallenberg’s brother, Guy
von Dardel, from Sweden, Elie Wiesel, former attorney-general Gideon Hauser and
Soviet scholar Mikhail Chelnov, determined in our 1,200 page report in 1990
• The evidence was incontrovertible that Wallenberg did not die in 1947 as
the Soviets claimed he did.
• The evidence was compelling that Wallenberg
was alive in ’50s and ’60s, and credible that he was still alive in the ’70s and
• Legally speaking, Wallenberg remained a disappeared
• The burden of proof with respect to what happened remains with
the Soviets, as it does with the Russian successors to this day.
close by recommending that Israel establish, like Canada did, a Raoul Wallenberg
commemorative day to be marked on January 17 – the date of his disappearance –
so that Israelis, particularly young Israelis, can learn about, reflect upon and
act upon his humanitarian legacy.
In his singular protection of civilians
amidst the horrors of the Holocaust, Wallenberg manifested the best of what we
today call international humanitarian law. In his provision of humanitarian
relief, he symbolized what today we would call the best of humanitarian
In saving Jews from certain death, deportation and
atrocity, he symbolized what today we would call the Responsibility to Protect
In warning the Nazi generals that they would be held
responsible for their war crimes, Wallenberg was a forerunner of the Nuremberg
principles and what today we would call international criminal law.
word, Wallenberg demonstrated how one person, having the compassion to care and
the courage to act, can make a profound difference. Indeed, Wallenberg
made that profound difference in Jewish and human history.
The writer is
the member of parliament for Mount Royal and the former minister of justice and
attorney-general of Canada. He helped established Canada’s Raoul Wallenberg
Commemorative Day, observed on January 17.