Little Bits of History

Our Loss

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 17, 2012

Raoul Wallenberg

January 17, 1945: Raoul Wallenberg is arrested in Budapest, Hungary. Raoul was Swedish and a member of the industrialist/banking Wallenberg family. They are the wealthiest family in Sweden and in 1990 controlled one-third of the country’s Gross National Product. Raoul’s father died of cancer three months before young Raoul was born. He went to America to study architecture at the University of Michigan. While in the US, he learned to speak English, German, and French. Even though wealthy, he worked at odd jobs, including a World’s Fair.

Wallenberg had difficulty obtaining work after school and moved to South Africa to sell construction materials. He moved to Haifa and entered the banking business. In 1938, Hungary passed anti-Jewish measures and Kálmán Lauer, Wallenberg’s Jewish boss in an import/export business, was severely limited. Wallenberg learned Hungarian and traveled several times between Stockholm (where he worked for Lauer) and Budapest. Wallenberg was made joint owner of the company by 1942.

By 1944, with the German defeat a foregone conclusion, a mass deportation of Hungarian Jews was begun. President Roosevelt sent a representative to Sweden looking for someone willing and able to go to Budapest and rescue persecuted Jews. On July 9, 1944 Wallenberg arrived in Budapest as First Secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest. Wallenberg issued “protective passports” and persuaded, cajoled, and bribed officials to treat holders as Swedish citizens. He rented 32 building for passport holders and declared them extra-territorial and covered by diplomatic immunity. He named the buildings, i.e. Swedish Library, and hung large Swedish flags over the doors. He rescued almost 100,000 Jews.

The Soviet Red Army took Budapest in early 1945. They arrested Wallenberg as a spy on this date. He was 32 years old. He was moved to Lubyanka prison on January 21. A cell mate testified in 1955 that Wallenberg was removed from his cell on March 1 and was never seen again. Rumors of both his survival and his death have been around ever since. Some records indicate he may have died of a heart attack in July 1947. Some say he was executed at that time. We may not ever know how Raoul Wallenberg died, but there have been thousands who gave testimony to how he lived.

He bluffed his way through. He had no official authorisation. His only authority was his own courage. Any officer could have shot him to death. But he feared nothing for himself and committed himself totally. It was as if his courage was enough to protect himself from everything. – Tom Lantos

Don’t think you’re immune just because you’re a diplomat and a neutral! – Adolf Eichmann

For me there’s no choice. I’ve taken on this assignment and I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible. – Raoul Wallenberg, one week before his arrest

I’m going to Malinovsky’s … whether as a guest or prisoner I do not know yet. – Raoul Wallenberg’s last recorded words

Also on this day:

Heading for the Hills in Minnesota – In 1950, the Great Brinks Robbery took place.
Strong to the Finnich – In 1929, Elzie Crisler Segar’s Popeye first appeared in a comic strip.
Fore – In 1916, the US Professional Golfers’ Association [PGA] was formed.

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