Thanks to Raoul Wallenberg, Lapid can lead Israel - opinion

Raoul Wallenberg saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, including Tommy Lapid, Yair Lapid's father.

 RAOUL WALLENBERG'S diary entry shows the names of Tommy Lapid (Josef Lamepel) and his mother. (photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ALON USHPIZ/TWITTER)
RAOUL WALLENBERG'S diary entry shows the names of Tommy Lapid (Josef Lamepel) and his mother.
(photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ALON USHPIZ/TWITTER)

Raoul Wallenberg was born on August 4, 1912, 110 years ago. To be sure, he was one of the most prominent heroes of the Holocaust. Without any diplomatic experience, he arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944, at the age of 32 and in six months, he managed to rescue the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis and their local henchmen. Tragically, on January 17, 1945, he was abducted by the SMERSH (the counter-intelligence branch of the Red Army) and subsequently disappeared from the face of the earth.

Among the many Jews saved by him were the late Yosef (Tommy) Lapid and his mother, namely Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s father and grandmother.

As per Tommy Lapid’s own words:

“One morning, the Hungarian Nazis came to our home and ordered us to gather in the backyard. There were no men. Only old people, women and children and they told us we would all end up in a forced-labor camp. My father had been taken earlier to an extermination camp but my mother and I were amongst the rounded up. I was 13 years old. My mother was taken away and I was left alone with the certain feeling that I would become an orphan. Late at night, my mother and other 30 women returned home and she told me, “He saved us.”

“Her tacit statement was clear to me. I knew she was referring to Wallenberg. By then, his name was already legendary. To us, he was like an angel in the midst of hell, saving Jews. His name was the last hope to stay alive. He saved thousands of Jews, including my mother but we were not able to save him.

 A PHOTO of Raoul Wallenberg, in 1941. (credit: Guy von Dardel, private archive) A PHOTO of Raoul Wallenberg, in 1941. (credit: Guy von Dardel, private archive)

“My mother saw Wallenberg for five minutes. She described the scene to me. They were standing in the snow and suddenly a black car with diplomatic plates stopped where they were and a tall man got off the car. They did not know him but they knew it was Wallenberg. The young Swede confronted the Hungarian Nazi and demanded the immediate liberation of the women. No doubt he was charismatic. The Nazi could have just shot him. Wallenberg gave the women his famous Schutzpasses and took them with him.”

"To us, [Wallenberg] was like an angel in the midst of hell, saving Jews."

Tommy Lapid

Back in October 2021, Anne Linde, foreign minister of Sweden, met with Prime Minister Yair Lapid (as foreign minister of Israel, before becoming prime minister) in Jerusalem and handed to him a page from Wallenberg’s diplomatic diary, in which he had entered the names of the people who benefited from his Schutzpasses. There were the names Josef Thomas Lampel (Tommy Lapid) and of his mother, Katherina Lampel. The diary is being kept at the National Archives of Sweden. Lapid was moved into tears, embraced Linde and promised to frame this document and keep it in his office.

Sometimes, history plays a symbolic move. On July 1, 2022, Lapid became prime minister of Israel. To be sure, this young politician would not be alive if it were not for Wallenberg, who saved both his grandmother and his father.

Tommy Lapid's son leading Israel

THE SON of a young boy who was saved by Wallenberg some 80 years ago has become the leader of the Jewish state.

I met Tommy Lapid in the past. He was deeply aware and grateful to Wallenberg and at the same time, he acknowledged that Israel has not done enough to try and save him. The young nation was not only struggling with the tragic past of many of its immigrants but also fighting for its survival.

Regrettably, Sweden has also consistently failed to reach out to Wallenberg, despite the fact it could have used its economic and diplomatic leverage on the Soviet Union after the war.

The same can be said about the powerful Wallenberg family, led at that time by the first cousins of Wallenberg’s late father. Quite ironically, while Wallenberg was engaged in his life-saving mission, Marcus and Jacob were at the helm of the Wallenberg business empire that profited during the war, dealing with both the Allies and the Nazis at the same time. Eventually, they did nothing substantial to bring Wallenberg back home.

Together with the chairman of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Eduardo Eurnekian, we made great efforts to persuade the Russian authorities about the need to grant unfettered access to the KGB archives, as this could shed light on the fate of Wallenberg and his driver, Vilmos Langfelder. We always stressed that the sins of the Stalinist Soviet Union should not be passed on to Russia, but unfortunately, the Putin administration seems unwilling to cooperate, and the fate and whereabouts of both Wallenberg and Langfelder are still shrouded in mystery.

Raoul’s closest family had a different approach. We accompanied his late half-brother Professor Guy von Dardel in his lifelong struggle to get information about Raoul. Wallenberg’s soft-spoken half-sister, Nina Lagergren, had also dedicated her life to keeping alive his legacy and until her last breath, she was confident she could bring him back home.

Unfortunately, both passed away without fulfilling their dream. Prof. von Dardel’s daughters, Marie and Louise, together with Nina’s son, Bengt, are still struggling to get answers from the Russians. I know Lapid is preoccupied with great present challenges, such as the Iranian threat, but I urge him not to forget the rescuer of his grandmother and father, the person who made it possible to reach his high position.

We should all exhaust all venues to find out what Raoul’s fate was and, if possible, bring him back home to lay next to his beloved ones.

The writer is founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an NGO based in New York, the mission of which is to preserve and spread the legacy of the Swedish diplomat, and all the women and men who reached out to the victims of the Shoah, the Armenian Genocide and other tragic conflicts throughout history.