(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Raoul Wallenberg will always be remembered as one of the most remarkable heroes in human history.
Aged 32 and lacking any diplomatic background, this scion of one of the wealthiest Swedish families plunged himself into Budapest, as head of the Swedish legation, and in six months managed to organize a superb rescue operation aimed at saving the remaining Jewish community.
His only weapons were his own audacity, ingenuity and a strong sense of human solidarity. To save as many lives as possible, he used every possible tactic, including cajoling, bribing and seducing the Germans and his Hungarian collaborators.
Being aware of the German fascination with official paperwork, he designed a protective Swedish certificate (Schutz Pass) which was devoid of any legal value, but full of colorful stamps and logos which made a great impression upon the Nazis and provided some protection to its holders. He handed this document to as many Jews as possible, portraying them as “Swedish subjects on their way to be repatriated Sweden.”
He also set up a great number of Swedish safe-houses and hospitals, into which he crammed a great number of desperate Jews, where they found protection, even from the Arrow Cross hooligans.
According to witness accounts, on several occasions he confronted Nazi officers, at great personal risk, and saved people who were about to be deported or executed.
All in all, from July 9, 1944, until January 17, 1945, he saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis and their henchmen.
On the latter date, he asked his faithful driver, Vilmos Langfelder, to drive him to the Soviet Military Command at Debrecen, to meet with Marshal Rodion Malinovsky. Historians believe that Wallenberg’s intention was to negotiate with the incoming Soviet forces the fate of the Jewish refugees.
However, the Soviets had a different plan in store for them. Following orders from the higher echelons (most likely Stalin himself), Wallenberg and Langfelder were both taken prisoner and transferred to the notorious Lubyanka prison, where both of them likely endured harsh interrogation sessions.
Ever since, Raoul Wallenberg and Vilmos Langfelder disappeared from the face of the earth.
Seventy-three years later the world is still looking for answers. Back in 2016 the Swedish Tax Authorities officially pronounced Raoul Wallenberg’s death, but this was a mere administrative mood.
Last year, Raoul’s closest family members initiated a lawsuit against the FSB (Russian’s main security agency), asking for archival documents that could shed light into his fate after his imprisonment. So far, the Russian court has rejected the suit, but the last word is still to be said.
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation is a global-reach NGO based in New York. Our mission is to preserve and spread the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg and his like.
Nowadays, our flagship program goes by the name “Houses of Life.” Inspired by Wallenberg’s feats, we strive to identify and mark with commemorative plaques sites across Europe that gave shelter to the victims of the Nazi persecution, most of them children who were left by their parents before the latter were deported to the death camps. So far, we have found more than 500 Houses of Life in Italy, France, Belgium, Hungary, Greece, the Netherlands and Denmark and are now in the process of proclaiming Albania a “House of Life” country.
Albania, which has a majority Muslim population, is the only country under Nazi occupation which ended the war with a larger number of Jews than it had before the war.
We also remember Raoul Wallenberg and Vilmos Langfelder as victims and have instituted a substantial monetary reward for any person or entity that can provide scientifically verifiable information regarding his fate.
Our aim is purely humanitarian. The man who did so much to save others deserves at least to have a dignified place of burial, next to his late parents and close to his living relatives, including his half-sister Nina, who has been waiting for too long.Eduardo Eurnekian and Baruch Tenembaum are chairman and founder respectively of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation