As Swedish - Israeli relations have reached an all time low this year marks the 70th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg mysterious disappearance into the hands of the Russians in 1945. Wallenberg is the Swedish diplomat that saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during WWII.

In the summer of 1944 Sweden decided to use its diplomatic mission in Budapest to help the remaining Jews, so Wallenberg was sent as the first Swedish envoy in Budapest. Although Wallenberg had no experience in diplomacy and clandestine operations, he led one of the most successful rescue operations of Jews during WWII, saving hundred of thousands of Jews.

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Wallenberg broke diplomatic protocol and used bribery and blackmail all to save Jews. He issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory. At the risk of his one life he confronted Nazi soldiers, verbally abused German officers in their own language, and pulled off Jewish deportees from trains with out any real authority to do so. No wonder he was nicknamed the “Hero of Budapest”.

Sweden and Israel do not only share historical ties but also have many other things in common. Both countries have relatively small populations but have managed to create some of the greatest thinkers and inventions that the world has produced.

Some of the Swedish inventions are: The Dynamite, The Celsius Temperature Scale, The Zipper, The Propeller, The Tetra Pak, The Safety Match, The Adjustable Wrench, The Three Point Seatbelt, The GPS, The Pacemaker. Likewise Jews stand behind the invention of the Laser, Defibrillator, Stainless Steel, Mass-Energy Equivalence, Polio and Cholera Vaccine as well as Nuclear Power. 

So, instead of focusing on political differences regarding the “to be or not to be” of a Palestinian state, as Shakespeare would have put it…one should perhaps look beyond that and acknowledge the many similarities between the two countries and what lessons can they draw from each others experiences.

As a teenager in Sweden, Wallenberg told a friend: “A person like me, who is both a Wallenberg and half-Jewish, can never be defeated.” Although Wallenberg was only one-sixteenth Jewish on his mother’s side it is easy to understand why Wallenberg could identify with the essential Jewish feeling of invincibility and survival no matter what would happen.

What has been the Israeli concept of success? Well, when you live under the constant terror that a mad man might be lurking around the corner ready to stab you or trigger an explosion the risk you take when you start up your own business seems small in comparison with the threat you once constantly lived under. The worst that can happen is that you fail and have to start up a new business.

I believe Wallenberg put his finger on it with his words: “Just imagine the enormous risks you expose yourself to every time you cross the street. Yet it would never occur to anyone not to cross the street.” This is the bold spirit that been the recipe of success for the Israelis from which I believe the Swedes can learn a lot.

At the same time Sweden´s ability to stay neutral in armed conflicts might be something that Israelis can learn from. This has far from always been true for Sweden. Sweden was infamous for waging wars all across Europe expanding their kingdom. However Sweden’s involvement in the Napoleonic wars, where Sweden lost one third of its territory changed all that. The traumatic loss of Finland to the Russians and the later declaration of Norwegian independence from Sweden shook things around. This initiated the policy of 1812 of non-aggression sparked by John Baptiste Bernadotte. Since then Sweden has not been partaking in wars for over 200 years.

Wallenberg´s heroic effort ended in tragedy. In 1945 Soviet troops arrested him and he was never seen in public again. Despite this, Wallenberg´s memory is kept alive by those he saved - 70 years on. As the gun smoke of the Israeli elections settles let us reflect and draw some lessons from the past. Lets hope there will be brighter future around the corner for each and every one of us as we remember the Swedish Schindler 70 years after his disappearance.


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