‘To me there’s no other choice’
The Swedish ambassador to Israel says Sweden stands firm in its commitment to Holocaust education and the fight against contemporary anti-Semitism.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt Photo: REUTERS
Those were the words of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg at a meeting in
Budapest on January 10, 1945, when urged by his colleague Per Anger to seek
safety. “I’ve accepted this assignment and I could never return to Stockholm
without the knowledge that I’d done everything in human power to save as many
Jews as possible.”
That was the last time the two colleagues
Raoul Wallenberg, born into a wealthy and prominent Swedish family,
had arrived in Hungary in summer 1944 to take up a position at the Swedish
Legation in Budapest. He was part of a project, backed by the US War Refugee
Board, explicitly aimed at saving Jews in Hungary from deportation and death.
Using all his courage, daring and determination, often putting his own safety at
risk, he launched a rescue operation that saved tens of thousands of Jews from
Shortly after the meeting with Per Anger, in the chaotic
days of the fall of Budapest to the Soviet army, Wallenberg was arrested and
imprisoned by Soviet forces. To this day, his fate remains unknown.
year, Raoul Wallenberg would have turned 100. The Swedish government has decided
to commemorate his centenary throughout 2012 and many activities are currently
underway in Sweden and abroad. Together with Israeli partners, the Embassy of
Sweden in Israel will be involved in a number of events to highlight the life
and legacy of this remarkable man, including a high-level symposium in
cooperation with Yad Vashem in June, with the participation of the Swedish
Minister for Integration Erik Ullenhag, and a large international exhibition in
Tel Aviv in September.
In Israel, Wallenberg is recognized by Yad Vashem
as one of the Righteous among the Nations for his work to save Jews in Hungary
at risk to his own life. He was granted honorary citizenship of Israel in 1986.
His legacy remains an important part of the fabric of relations between Sweden
and Israel and is kept alive by the many Israelis who were saved by him and
Sweden pursues a close dialogue with Israeli partners,
notably Yad Vashem, on how to make the imperative of learning from the Holocaust
a lasting reality. In 2000, world leaders participating in the Stockholm
International Forum on the Holocaust emphasized the crucial importance of
Holocaust education. Already before the Forum, Swedish households had received
the book Tell ye your children..., which was published in order to spread
information about the Holocaust and to encourage future generations to learn
Today, the book has been distributed in over a million copies
and is currently available to all on the website of the Swedish public authority
The Living History Forum (www.levandehistoria.se).
stand firm in their commitment to make learning from the Holocaust and the fight
against contemporary anti-Semitism a priority. Pursuing this fight is also part
of honoring Raoul Wallenberg’s legacy.
The Swedish Foreign Minister Carl
Bildt has said that as Swedes, we can feel proud of what Raoul Wallenberg did
for others. But we must also feel shame over what was not done for him. The year
of commemoration will be an opportunity to remember the life and accomplishments
of Raoul Wallenberg, but also to reflect on our need for courage and humanity
today. Wallenberg’s humanitarian achievements must not turn into a distant
memory, but live on to remind us that each and everyone of us has a role and a
responsibility in the fight against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance
today. The memory of Raoul Wallenberg shows the importance of personal courage
and of taking a stand – because one person can make a difference.
writer is the Swedish ambassador to Israel.