Wednesday, April 21, 2010


It is regrettable, and a mystery to me how a book that it is so well-written and important can go out of print, but such is apparently the case with Kati Marton's [1982] book Wallenberg.
Reading this book is something I will never forget. It is the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a young Swedish diplomat whose heroic and selfless efforts saved thousands (some say as many as 100,000) Hungarian Jews from certain death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Budapest's Jews were among the last substantial population threatened by the Nazi's, and in July of 1944 Wallenberg was sent there by the Swedish Foreign Ministry in an effort to rescue the remaining 200,000 Jews from planned deportations.
He issued thousands of Swedish Embassy-stamped "Schutzpassen" which were provisional or "protective" passports, granting the bearer not only an exemption from wearing the humiliating yellow star, but (more importantly) extending to them the rights of Swedish citizens, with the eventual intention of being "repatriated" to Sweden.
With funds supplied from the War Refugee Board, Wallenberg also secured property which he then converted into "safe houses" for those rescued from deportations. Can you imagine? At times, Wallenberg put himself on the line and pressured SS officials into turning over to his custody "prisoners" who were already on board deportation trains! He then organized a network of hundreds of Jewish agents who managed the distribution of food and medicine to Jews in his shelters.
The tragic twist to this story is that after Budapest's liberation, Wallenberg himself was arrested by the Soviets on espionage charges and imprisoned, presumably until the rest of his life, for his fate remains shrouded in mystery. All attempts by his family and government to obtain his release were frustrated. To placate the mass of inquiries, Lubyanka Prison officials gave a date of Wallenberg's alleged death as being July 17, 1947.
The end of Marton's book goes into many reasons why such an ending to Wallenberg's life seems suspicious. She explains how that Wallenberg was "quite possibly the Soviet's most important prisoner. His name and his legend were too powerful to release." A free Wallenberg would be a "living indictment" and would have presented a dangerous competition to the Communist party's most jealously guarded possessions: legitimacy and power.
The author says in chapter 10: "Wallenberg was imbued with a conviction that anything was within reach, any goal could be met if one just applied oneself, and all of one's God-given gifts to its fulfillment."

Here where I live in the capital city of Canada there is a Raoul Wallenberg Park... and whenever I drive by it I am powerfully reminded of the importance of remembering this hero of humanity, who, in the name of the civilized world sacrificed his own freedom in a fight to hold the uncivilized portion of that world accountable to the last.
Learn More.
I have just discovered a new re-issue of this amazing book.
--> HERE.

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

Embarrassingly, I have never heard of Wallenberg before. What a brave man!