On October 5, 1981, Raoul Wallenberg was awarded posthumous honorary US citizenship by the Congress of the United States of America. On every October 5 since 1989, we have commemorated Raoul Wallenberg, the savior of humans, one of the heroes of the Second World War, who is a genuine role model for the generations that follow.
But how could it happen that the young Swede, who came from a wealthy family of bankers and had no experience in diplomacy at all and previously showed no interest in humanitarian issues became a symbolic figure of saving humans both in Hungary and in Europe just in a few months?
Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Hungary in July 1944 as a Secretary of the Swedish Embassy and he almost immediately joined the efforts of saving people taken because of the deportation of the Jewish population to death camps, through providing certificates, protection letters, visas and passports ensuring temporary immunity and issued by the foreign embassies operating in Budapest, first of all the Swedish, the Swiss, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Vatican diplomatic missions and the Red Cross. He was also involved in establishing the so-called “protected houses”. Wallenberg issued as many as 4500 protective passports already in August, which came to be accepted as family documents by the Hungarian authorities, so he saved several lives with each and every document. It was in this quickly deteriorating situation that ensued as consequence of the approaching front and the takeover of power by the Arrow Cross Party that his extraordinary organization skills were manifested, along with his commitment to create the hope of escape for as many people as possible in a situation that seemed to be hopeless. He managed to establish efficient cooperation with the Red Cross, the diplomats of the neutral states and the Hungarian rescuers very quickly. He saved several tens of thousands of lives through his work of a mere few months.
It is a tragedy that he himself did not live to see either the end of the war or the recognition of his humanitarian activities: he was captured by the Soviet troops which occupied Budapest in January 1945, he was deported to the Soviet Union, where he lost his life at a time and in circumstances which are unclarified to date. He received the title “Righteous Among the Nations” for his bravery from the Israeli Yad Vashem Institute in 1963.
On this day, we should also remember that although Raoul Wallenberg was the one who became the iconic figure of saving humans during the Holocaust, the following persons also remained humane in an age of inhumanity in 1944 and saved the lives of others, risking their own: Swedish diplomats Per Anger and Lars Berg, Swiss diplomats Carl Lutz and Friedrich Born, Apostolic Nuncio Angelo Rotta, Spanish diplomats Angel Sans Briz and Giorgio Perlasca, the martyr bishop Vilmos Apor, the Catholic religious sister Sára Salkaházi, who was murdered by the members of the Arrow Cross Party, and many others.
I find it of key importance that by remembering the victims of the Holocaust, by showing the examples of human bravery, and by presenting these events in education from a human rights perspective, we should convey such values to the younger generations in which the key elements are tolerance, as well as the respect for fundamental rights and democratic values. It is our responsibility to strengthen the commitment of the coming generations to these values, in order to ensure that the inhuman and tragic events of the Second World War never happen again.
Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay, Prof. HC