My personal Wallenberg
We are indebted to Raoul Wallenberg because he saved the lives of Hungarian citizens. Thousands or tens of thousands of them.
Raoul Wallenberg Photo: Reuters
I did not have the honor of knowing Raoul Wallenberg personally. I
We don’t know exactly when and how he died. But when I first
heard his name, he was already a legend. I saw his figure as a statue, I knew
his name as a street name, later on I saw him on a stamp. I saw a movie about
him when I was in young secondary school. The images faded over time, but I
understood, even as a young boy, that he saved a lot of people – like the
Scarlet Pimpernel, another film hero I watched at that time.
It took me
some time to understand that Wallenberg was for real. That it happened in the
beautiful cities of my country, on the streets of Budapest, on the banks of the
blue Danube. Places where today we have cafés and shops were the ghetto, the
safe-houses, the Glass House.
Budapest in 1944 was quite different from
the metropolis of today. But I often ask myself: Was it really that different?
We had basically the same streets, the same buildings, the same elements of this
beautiful capital. When I try to imagine those times in my mind, it`s all black
and white. Maybe because the documentaries of that era were black and white, I
Wallenberg was a young and, in a way, inexperienced diplomat.
Normally, young and inexperienced diplomats try to show some self-confidence
while they are in reality deeply insecure due to their lack of professional and
There is a certain contradiction between having this
desirable, decent profession and the fact that the professional wisdom necessary
does not come automatically with the diplomatic passport.
different. I don’t know the reason why. He was a genius, or an exceptionally
gifted diplomat, perhaps.
What I know for sure is that in the Budapest of
1944, he chose the hardest way. He could have run away, escaping the obvious
dangers to his personal safety; He could have shown the mission to be
impossible. He could have covered for himself, pointing out other experienced
diplomats. He could have found thousands reasons not to act as he did.
don’t know whether had he any doubts or sleepless nights, whether he was scared
sometimes. What we know for sure is that he was not insecure. He dealt with
Nazis, Arrow Cross bandits, Gestapo agents with self-confidence, authority and
This year, so many things have been said about him. One of the most
oftmentioned scenes happened at the Józsefvárosi Railway station. He went to the
station, where the Jews had already been gathered to be forced into cattle cars.
After reading out the list of those who were to be saved, Wallenberg pretended
to continue reading from his paper, calling out common Jewish names in order to
save more human lives.
Can this courage, this highest moral standard be
taught? How? Do we own it, is it ours to teach to future generations? Can we be
proud of the world today? It is alright to be confronted with this question. One
of the reasons d’etre of remembering is exactly this. Looking at the decisions
Wallenberg had to face and trying to understand them, at least within
The Hungarian government declared 2012 to be Wallenberg Year.
We had beautiful, moving ceremonies and events. The commemoration began in the
National Museum in Budapest, together with Israeli and Swedish
We remembered him in schools, in synagogues, in embassies
from Australia to Albania, from Moscow to Tel Aviv, all over the world and of
course, on the highest level, in the Knesset and at Yad
Wallenberg Year was a genuine tribute to a young Swedish diplomat
who made the right choice each day when most people in his position would have
made the safe choice instead. He dared to say “No” when some said “Yes” and most
said nothing at all.
Telling the story of Raoul Wallenberg is important,
but it is not enough. The story of the Swedish hero is not complete without
telling the truth about our own history. The Hungarian state was unable to
protect its citizens; Indeed, it provided assistance in the extermination of the
We are indebted to Raoul Wallenberg because he saved the lives of
Hungarian citizens. Thousands or tens of thousands of them. Raoul Wallenberg
taught me that this is a personal issue. They were my compatriots, and the
almost 600,000 who perished were my compatriots as well. Their absence is an
irreparable loss to me, personally.
In the framework of the Wallenberg
Year, the Hungarian postal service created a Wallenberg stamp. I got one of the
stamps beautifully framed. I have it hanging on the wall of my office in the
embassy in Tel Aviv. I look at it every day – at my personal
The writer is the ambassador of Hungary.