WALLENBERG, RAOUL ° (1912–?), Swedish diplomat who became a legend through his work to save Hungarian Jewry at the end of World War ii. Descended from a long line of bankers and diplomats, he was an architect by profession, a graduate of the University of Michigan. In 1936, he spent six months in Haifa, where he studied management at the Holland Bank, and first met with Jewish refugees from Germany. Upon his return to Stockholm, he became the foreign representative of a central European trading company, whose president was a Hungarian Jew, K. Lauer.
In July 1944, the Swedish Foreign Ministry, at the request of the American *War Refugee Board, sent him on a rescue mission to Budapest as an attaché to the Swedish Embassy. By this time, 437,000 Hungarian Jews had already been deported to death camps, and deportation had been ordered for Budapest Jewry. He had a great deal of cash, provided by Jewish organizations, since the wrb was to be financed by private contributions, and permission to employ unorthodox methods to save Jews. He had one other advantage. He was operating in a climate where everyone knew that Germany would lose the war and the only remaining question was when. Hence neutral countries, including Sweden, and even some German allies, were positioning themselves for the postwar world.
Wallenberg's chief operation was the distribution of Swedish certificates of protection ("Wallenberg Passports" or Schutz-Paesse), which were initially granted to Jews who had some link with Sweden. Wallenberg applied pressure on the Hungarian government and gained friends and assistants for his work. His department, "Section 3 – for Humanitarian Aims," employed 300 Jews. When the *Arrow Cross seized power in October 1944, Wallenberg initiated the establishment of the "international ghetto." About 33,000 Jews, 7,000 of whom had Swedish protection, thus found refuge in houses flying the flags of neutral countries. Wallenberg did not work alone. His efforts were joined by Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat, and by Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian businessman who posed as a Spanish diplomat and worked with the Zionist underground. Without any authorization or authority, Perlasca offered Spanish safe passes to Jews and established children's houses. He explained his motivation: "I simply cannot understand why a man can be persecuted because he is of a different religion from mine."
When threats did not work Wallenberg offered bribes, or even stood between Jews and their captors, saying they would have to take him first. When Jews had no authentic identification papers, Wallenberg came up with forged papers or driver's licenses. Anything that looked like an official paper, document, or list of names was flourished by an imperious Wallenberg with an air of authority that intimidated even Nazi officials. Wallenberg did not back down even in the face of personal danger. *Eichmann made threatening noises, saying, "Accidents do happen, even to a neutral diplomat." Wallenberg's car was rammed.
In November 1944, thousands of Budapest Jews, including women and children, were forced on a "death march" via the town of Hegyeshalom, to the Austrian border. Wallenberg and Per Anger, the Embassy's secretary, followed after them with a convoy of trucks carrying food and clothing, and he himself distributed medicine to the dying and food and clothing to the marchers. By superhuman efforts he managed to free some 500 persons and return them to Budapest. He saved several hundred members of labor detachments who had been put on the deportation train. In Budapest, he organized "International Labor Detachments" and even a "Jewish Guard" consisting of Aryan-looking Jews dressed in ss and Arrow Cross uniforms, and established two hospitals and soup kitchens. Eichmann threatened to kill him, referring to him as "Judenhund Wallenberg." Wallenberg formulated a comprehensive plan to restore the Hungarian economy when peace came. When the Soviet army entered Budapest on January 16, 1945, 100,000 Jews were still alive. Many, if not most of them, owed their lives to Wallenberg and his colleagues. At that moment, Wallenberg's struggle seemed to be over. He should have been able to look forward to returning home in honor. He approached Soviet officials with a plan for the postwar rehabilitation of Hungarian Jews. On January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was seen by Dr. Erno Peto, one of his closest collaborators, in the company of Soviet soldiers. He said: "I do not know whether I am a guest of the Soviets or their prisoner." He was never seen as a free man again. During the liberation, he had presented himself to Soviet army guards, who were reconnoitering the streets of Budapest.
For ten years, the Soviet Union denied that Wallenberg was in their custody. But after the death of Stalin and the thaw of the Khrushchev years, the Soviet Union formally announced that Wallenberg had been arrested. They produced a death certificate to substantiate their claim that he had died of a heart attack in 1947.
Yet up until the 1980s, there were occasional reports from former political prisoners who said they had seen an aging Swede in various Soviet prisons. In 1991, on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev presented the Wallenberg family with Wallenberg's diplomatic passport.
In 1981 the United States Congress gave Raoul Wallenberg honorary citizenship, an honor previously accorded only to Winston Churchill. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is located on Raoul Wallenberg Place and Yad Vashem has named him Righteous Among the Nations.
R. Philipp, Raoul Wallenberg, Fighter for Humanity (1947); J. Lévai, Raoul Wallenberg (Hung., 1948); J. Wulf, Raoul Wallenberg (Ger., 1958); R.L. Braham (ed.), The Hungarian Jewish Catastrophe: …annotated bibliography (1962), index. add. bibliography: K. Marton, Wallenberg (1982); idem, Wallenberg: Missing Hero (1995); P. Anger, With Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest: Memories of the War Years in Hungary (1995); A. Gersten, Conspiracy of Indifference: The Raoul Wallenberg Story (2001).
[Livia Rothkirchen /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]