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Introduction to Ceremony in Honour of Raoul Wallenberg by the Swedish State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Jan Eliasson
Introductory Remarks at the Ceremony in Honour of Raoul Wallenberg by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anna Lindh
Speech at the Ceremony by Ambassador Per Anger
Speech at the Ceremony by Dr. Kati Marton

Speech at the Ceremony by Dr. Kati Marton
Marton, Kati

Remembering Wallenberg

I am immensely grateful for this chance to talk about Raoul Wallenberg.

Fifty-five years after the Holocaust we are still learning things about that shameful chapter in history. The Swedish government’s recent admission of its mistakes is both commendable and essential. Not only for the sake of historical truth but to put present and future leaders on notice that they will be held accountable. Sweden did misjudge the character of the evil represented by Hitler but this country also gave the world Raoul Wallenberg, one of the Holocaust’s few genuine heroes. And today, thanks to Sweden, we are gathered here to learn not only from the misjudgements of the past terrible century but from its extraordinary moments of humanity. If those terrible times are to remain real and cautionary to those who are lucky enough never to have experienced them, a great deal of the credit goes to conferences like this one for which I thank the Swedish Government and the American Jewish Committee.

The historians of the Century that has just ended have the responsibility to tell the story of Wallenberg so that the next generation can understand humanity’s extraordinary power for both perversity and compassion. Our responsibility is to shape public memory and ultimately to stand against evil by bearing witness.

Since we are here in search of Historical Truth I would like to say a few words about another Swede whose role in the Holocaust and its aftermath has for too long been forgotten or misunderstood, buried under rumor and misinformation: Count Folke Bernadotte. Bernadotte’s assassination at the hands of Jewish extremists over half a century ago is a tragically prophetic tale as we continue to search for peace in the Middle East.

In many ways, Folke Bernadotte was not the right man for the role of the United Nations first Arab-Israeli mediator, not in the overheated emotional climate and volatile military situation which prevailed during that traumatic first year of Israel’s life. But - whatever his personal shortcomings or the weakness of his peace effort Folke Bernadotte was a good man who threw caution to the winds and acted out of humanity. In the 40’s, as now, those qualities were in short supply. He deserved better than ha got: death at the hands of extremists opposed to any negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Long before Bernadotte landed in Palestine, he had proved himself a skilled negotiator and committed humanitarian. He was responsible for the War’s most unsung, most controversial and most successful rescue effort inside Germany.

Through many hours of hard nosed negotiations with the notorious Heinrich Himmler, Bernadotte extricated 21,000 prisoners, including 6,500 Jews, citizens of 20 different countries bound for certain extermination from the Nazi’s grasp.

In carrying out his rescue, Bernadotte became the first respresentative of a humanitarian organization from a neutral country to set foot in one of the Reich’s death camps.
Of course, 21,000 souls saved is a tiny number compared to the final death count but it does mock such assertions as the one in the recent book ‘The Myth of Rescue’ by Prof. William D. Rubinstein, "that not one plan or proposal made anywhere in the democracies by either Jew or non-Jewish champions of the Jews after the Nazi conquest of Europe, could have rescued one single Jew who perished in the Holocaust." Moreover, how would Rubinstein account for the even more spectacular rescue of up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews by Raoul Wallenberg?

The line between the core subject of our conference: the Holocaust and Bernadotte’s assassination, is direct and clear. The Holocaust had taught Bernadotte’s assassins the bitter lesson of self-reliance in an unforgiving world. Suspicious even of their own country’s founding fathers, they believed they alone were fit to determine Israel’s future. Israel’s leaders - people like David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, the fabled pioneers revered by so many other Jews - were dismissed by Bernadotte’s killers as cowards and compromisers.

Israelis today have chosen the pragmatic solution over the biblical one. Today, we can have an honest discussion of Bernadotte’s tragic fate and his very real contribution to the search for peace in the region.

We don’t use the word hero much anymore. We tend to be skeptical about those to whom it is attached. If ever thee was a period with a desperate hero shortage it is the Holocaust, that chapter of our Century which has changed our view of man and his capacity for inhumanity to his fellow man. There were so few heroes in that bleak period from 1941 until 1945. Heroism is not simply enduring when you have no choice, as a prisoner does, or an inmate in a camp, that is courage. Heroism is of a different order. It is when you have a choice and you embrace danger for the sake of others. That is what Raoul Wallenberg did and that is why he is that rare breed: a genuine Hero.

If Sweden made grave mistakes - so too did Washington during the Holocaust. Our leaders had known since 1942 that there were killing camps in Hitler’s empire. But Churchill and Roosevelt’s only goal was to win the war. They had been persuaded by the military that any large scale effort to save refugees from the Nazi’s killing camps would divert resources that should be channeled to the War effort. There was also the ever-present poison of anti-Semitism, which still permeated the State Department, which, before the war, could have issued life-saving visas to hundreds of thousands of Jews. But, masquerading behind bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, American consular offices dragged their feet until it was too late, though Hitler made no secret of his plan to rid Germany of Jews although at the outset he was willing to let German Jews leave, if they could find sanctuary. When America and the rest of the world was unwilling to take in more than a trickle it confirmed Hitler’s view that the world really didn’t give a damn about Jews anyway, so he proceeded to the Final Solution.

Why did Wallenberg volunteer to walk into the jaws of the Kafkasque nightmare of Budapest? He had seen the Nazi’s brutality, so he wasn’t naive about their capacity for inhumanity. He had been to Berlin, to Palestine, had seen the Jewish refugees and heard their stories of terror. He thought he could help. He was young, 31, and brave - recklessly brave. He was in part American educated at the University of Michigan so he had a larger view of the world than most Europeans. But we run out of rational explanations for why this well born young man with everything to live for packed a backpack in the hellish summer of 1944 and set off for the country that sheltered the largest Jewish community left in Europe - Hungary. He packed a pistol and he packed dollars from American sources: the War Refugee Board which was FDR’s creation as an attempt to compensate for Washington’s dismal record of nonrescue of Jews. Wallenberg knew he would need money to bribe Nazis and Hungarians. He was a cool-headed man. But nothing could have prepared him for what he found in the once graceful city of Budapest.

The Jews of the city knew their relatives and friends in the provinces, half a million of them in fact had already taken their final train to Auschwitz. Adolf Eichmann had broken all his prior records for speed and efficiency in rounding up the Jews of the Hungarian countryside - including my grandparents. He had to work fast because by now even the most fanatic Nazi knew the War was lost. It would be just a matter of weeks, maybe months, until the combined forces of the Red Army and the Allies brought Hitler to his knees. So the Jews of Budapest played a waiting game and watched their city slowly turn into a Nazi garrison. They lived on rumors. Jews could no longer work or take public transport or sit on park benches. They could leave their homes only between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Many of them were hidden in the homes of Christian friends waiting for something.

Raoul Wallenberg started his rescue mission on a small scale giving Swedish passports first only to Hungarian Jews who had business dealings with Sweden or Swedish relatives - a few hundred. Raoul was testing the waters. The passports seemed to impress the local Nazis. They kept their hands off these freshly minted Swedes.

So Wallenberg got bolder and started printing his own passports which bore the Swedish royal emblem - thousands of them. And as word spread around the terrorized city that they were available, lines of Jews twisted around the Swedish embassy in Buda waiting for the magic passports. Those holding them didn’t have to wear the yellow star and were promised repatriation to Sweden. It was a young man’s bluff but in the atmosphere of near total anarchy which prevailed in this twilight time, the bluff seemed to be working.

With the dollars he was receiving from American Jewish organizations and the U.S. Government, he rented and even bought houses around the city. He declared them diplomatic property, flew the yellow and blue flag of Sweden and making them technically off limits to the legalistic-minded Germans. By the end of the War 30,000 Hungarian Jews lived in these safe houses.

Wallenberg played for time that summer for the Russians were within earshot of the city and the Allies were making their way to Berlin. He wrote to his mother, "I’ll try to be home a few days before the Russians arrive in Budapest ..." Like everybody else, he assumed the Russians would be better than the Nazis. He did not imagine that the Russian liberation would turn into an Occupation.

In October 1944, Hungary’s ruler Regent Horthy tried to bolt from Hitler’s grip and declare Hungary’s neutrality. Horthy was captured and replaced by a thug from Hungary’s indigenous fascists, the Arrow Cross - a man completely loyal to Hitler and ready to resolve the festering problem of what to do with Budapest’s resilient Jews. This was Wallenberg’s real testing - now he was a man possessed. There was so little time. "These are extraordinary and tense times", he wrote to his mother, "but we are struggling, which is the main thing. I am sitting by candlelight with a dozen people around me each with a request. I don’t know who to deal with first. The days and nights are so filled with work."

The city was in total panic now as the Arrow Cross broke into homes looking for Jews and then marched them to the edge of the frozen Danube to face firing squads or line them up to die on the forced march to the German border.

Wallenberg was at his most resourceful and most frenetic. He befriended the pretty Austrian wife of the Hungarian Foreign Minister and used that relationship to wring concessions from the Hungarian Nazis. He followed the endless columns of miserable humanity marching in rain and sleet the 120 miles to the border. When he could do nothing more he thrust blankets and food at them. But he always tried to pull people from the line. Sometimes he saved dozens this way, or, on a bad day, only one or two. Each life was sacred to him. Nearly one hundred thousand Jews were left in the city.
Wallenberg even arranged to meet the Jews’ executioner to attempt to reason with him - Eichmann. "Leave now, while you can", Wallenberg urged Eichmann. Eichmann shook his head. "Budapest will be held as if it were Berlin." Eichmann tried to have Wallenberg killed. A traffic "accident" was arranged but Wallenberg was not in his car.

The Siege of Budapest - one of the War’s bloodiest struggles - began in December 1944 and turned the entire city into a battleground. Under the Allies’ bombs the City was starving to death, living in cellars and praying for the Russians to arrive. The Nazis now rounded up 60,000 Jews who were not sheltered in Wallenberg’s safe houses and forced them into a ghetto in the heart of Pest living under conditions of far greater misery than anyone else in the hellish city.

Wallenberg, who always put things in writing (he had post War justice in mind), drew up sort of a contract guaranteeing the safety of the Jews in the ghetto and got an SS General to sign it. When the Arrow Cross men came to start the slaughter, the General blocked their way. Wallenberg had persuaded him that he would personally charge him with genocide before the War Crimes Tribunal that Churchill and Roosevelt had avowed would be convened after the war.

Early in January, the starving, ravaged city was at last "liberated". The Russians looted, pillaged and raped their way across the city unleashing a new brand of terror. Everywhere the Russian soldiers turned there were reminders of the Swede. Who was this one man rescue squad? The fact that more Jews had survived the Hungarian Holocaust than any other was largely the result of his courage. His passports were scattered throughout the city, stories of his exploits were told by survivors.

The Russians came with their own plans for the city and the country. They were not just passing through, they were going to construct a Communist State, ruled by a single party, controlled by Moscow. It was the end of even the modicum of freedom the Hungarians had known before the War. But that was all carefully kept from the exhausted people including Raoul Wallenberg. He should have at this point stayed underground hidden like his fellow diplomats until the situation calmed down. But that was not Wallenberg’s way. He had survived six months of savage Nazi brutality. He had begun to believe in his own immortality. He had plans for rebuilding the Jewish community of Budapest. He could not now abandon the people he had just saved.

So, in a supreme act of courage and recklessness, Wallenberg went looking for the Russian High Command. He found them and at that point his good fortune ran out. His reward for saving up to one hundred thousand lives was not the warm homecoming he had dreamed of. In January 1945 Wallenberg began his long journey into the Soviet Gulag. He never returned.

This precise odyssey is a subject to some speculation and some dispute. Some things regarding his fate are indisputable. He was taken to the Lubyanka, the dreaded hell hole that is the KGB’s headquarters in Moscow. Wallenberg was accused of being a spy, the catchall crime in the paranoid Stalinist state. The Soviets claimed he died of a heart attack two years later. But they never produced a body or a death certificate. In my research I interviewed former Gulag inmates who swore Wallenberg was alive through the Fifties, Sixties and even Seventies. The trail has gone cold in the last decade and no one can wish this man such a long ordeal at the hands of his captors.

The injustice of this story is almost too much to bear. For Raoul Wallenberg had stood up to the two greatest evils of our Century - the Nazis and the Communists. He proved that one man acting fearlessly and with great imagination could make the brutes back off.

In a way, Wallenberg’s story is a terrible reminder of the world’s cowardice. How many people, how many countries pleaded that there was nothing to be done. Hitler had power and numbers on his side. Wallenberg made liars of them all.

After the last few years of intimate contact with the savage ethnic wars of the Balkans, from Bosnia to Kosovo to Rwandea I have seen how quickly demagogues, from Hitler to Milosevic, can fan the flames of nationalism and hatred among their people, turning former neighbors into murderous enemies.

I hear so often in my prosperous, privileged country the question raised: "Why should we get involved in other’s problems? Why should we risk our lives to stop genocidal warfare in another country, another continent?" I have a single word answer to those who say: "Let them take care of themselves. There is nothing to be done. It is inevitable." My answer is: "Wallenberg

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Opening Session: Messages and speeches

Plenary Sessions: Messages and speeches

Workshops, Panels and Seminars

Closing Session and Declaration

Other Activities

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