‘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.

By ELINOR HAMMARSKJÖLD
May 2, 2012 22:42
3 minute read.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt

Swedish FM Bildt 311 Reuters. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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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 met.

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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 the Holocaust.

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.

This 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 their families.

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 from it.

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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).

Swedish governments 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.

The writer is the Swedish ambassador to Israel.

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