Hungarian Ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Anna Siko: Wallenberg 100 Years On
Raoul Wallenberg, descendant of a Swedish trading family, arrived as diplomat at the Swedish Embassy in the Hungarian capital in July 1944, four months after the German troops had marched into the country, just at the time when Governor Miklós Horthy – ceding to significant international and Church pressure – had stopped the deportation of the Jews. The temporary improvement in the political climate was favourable for saving human lives in which the Swedish diplomat took part right away. As soon as in August, he issued 4500 protective passports, convincing the Hungarian authorities to accept them as “family documents”, thus every issued document could save the life of several persons. From the very beginning, he cooperated efficiently with the Red Cross, with the diplomats of neutral states and with his Hungarian helpers. Though the situation in Hungary took a dramatic turn after Horthy’s unsuccessful attempt to exit from the war, with the Arrow Cross Party’s coup, the rescuers – and among them the more and more important Raoul Wallenberg – did not give up: they continued to save the lives of the continuously menaced tens of thousands, often risking their own lives. While rescuing the lives of people from the Nazis, Wallenberg could not imagine that in just a couple of weeks he would become the victim of another oppressive regime. On 17 January 1945, the Soviet troops carried him away, and he would never return from the Soviet Union.
The Hungarian Government adopted a resolution on 3 November 2011 in which it declares the year 2012 as Wallenberg Year. The President of Hungary, H.E. Mr. Pál Schmitt took on the Patronage of the Centennial. A Wallenberg Commemorative Committee has been set up to oversee the preparations of the Year. The motto of the Year: “A Human in an Inhuman Age.”
Besides bowing before Raoul Wallenberg’s greatness of soul and getting closer to clearing up Wallenberg’s fate, we aim to commemorate the horrors of the Holocaust and expose the crimes of National Socialism and Communism. We also aim to reach out to the younger generations by supporting the idea of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The centennial also gives us the opportunity to commemorate other rescuers or to discuss current human and minority rights issues.
Since Wallenberg saved lives as a diplomat, the Centennial also provides us with the opportunity to draw light on the responsibility of the diplomatic corps in inhuman times. The established Wallenberg Commemorative Committee is chaired by Minister of State Zsolt Németh and co-chaired by the Ambassador of Sweden to Budapest. The cross-party political support is ensured by the participation of LMP (Politics can be Different) and MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) in the Committee. Governmental and non-governmental organizations, the Wallenberg family, survivors of the Holocaust, the Ambassador of Israel to Budapest are part of the Committee.
In the course of the year, the Wallenberg Commemorative Committee plans a wide variety of events: exhibitions, conferences ad concerts. In particular it is our firm commitment that the Wallenberg Year’s message should reach younger generations.
The Wallenberg Year though is a national cause and national remembrance. That is why the official opening ceremony took place in the Hungarian National Museum on 17th of January, the day when Raoul Wallenberg disappeared. The event was hosted by H.E. Mr. János Martonyi, Foreign Minister of Hungary and H.E. Mr. Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister of Sweden. Yoseph Peled Israeli Minister at the Prime Minister’s office was a guest of honour to the event.
On the occasion, the “To me there’s no other choice – Raoul Wallenberg 1912 – 2012” Swedish exhibition was also opened.
On the occasion of the centennial, it is important for Hungary to remember Raoul Wallenberg respectably. The commemorations in Hungary may contribute to
· paying tribute to the greatness Raoul Wallenberg demonstrated by his actions;
· moving closer to clarifying Wallenberg’s fate;
· commemorating the horrors of the Holocaust;
· exposing the crimes of National Socialism and Communism;
· commemorating the rescuers, finding out about their role more in detail;
· conveying, on the basis of lessons of the past, values for the future to our citizens and especially the younger generations; supporting the idea of tolerance and peaceful coexistence;
· discussing current human rights and minority issues;
· further strengthening of European integration and transatlantic relations based on common values.
Raoul Wallenberg is a symbolic figure of rescuers in Hungary and in Europe in his time. A “Man amidst inhumanity” fighting the horrors of the Holocaust. Hungary values highly and treasures the memory of the martyr Swedish diplomat.
He is an icon who saved lives, an example to follow for many people all around the world. He turned against the patterns of his time did not bow to the conventions, rules and spirit that was dictated by the majority. And that is one of the main morals of the Holocaust, that there are peoples who turn against the tide in order to save lives. Beside Raoul Wallenberg there were others Carl Lutz and Giorgio Perlasca.
Wallenberg was well ahead of his time, has done something that was recognized only generations later. It is important that he himself was not a Jew, he acted on purely moral grounds, against rules and conventions. Talmud says: "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."
It is of utmost importance that we give forth the example of Raoul Wallenberg to the younger generations and learn from his greatness.
Planed events include
“IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO – WHERE WAS IT?”, COMPETITION IN CITY KNOWLEDGE
DATE: March, April, May
PLACE: Budapest, Győr, Székesfehérvár and other Hungarian cities
CONTENT: Competition in city knowledge for students aged between 14 and 18 years titled “It was a long time ago – Where was it?” The purpose of this competition is for students to work on the theme of the Hungarian Holocaust, the activities of the rescuers and the coexistence of Jewish-Hungarian culture, as well as for the students to get to know the memorial sites of the Holocaust and of the rescuers.
In the first round the participants will participate in a city knowledge tour of Holocaust and rescuer memorial sites in the (capital) city. In the second round the students will have to prepare a short film on the city knowledge tour and write an essay on the activities of Raoul Wallenberg and other rescuers during World War II.
The co-operating partners of the Raoul Wallenberg Association are the Holocaust Memorial Center, the Ferenc Mérei Institute of Education and Career Counselling, and the Raoul Wallenberg Humanities Vocational and Secondary School. The competition in 2012 have become possible by the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
MARCH OF THE LIVING
DATE: 15 April 2012
PLACE: Budapest, Sára Salkaházi Quay to Raoul Wallenberg Quay
CONTENT: Each year in the last 10 years, the March of the Living Foundation (www.eletmenete.hu) has organised the March of the Living, offering the possibility for everyone to remember the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary. The programme consists of a memorial tour and speeches in the streets of Budapest. With regard to the Wallenberg centennial, this year’s March of the Living focuses on the righteous people, among them Raoul Wallenberg. The march begins on the quay named after Sára Salkaházi and finishes on the quay named after Wallenberg. H.E. Mr. László Kövér, the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly and H.H. Mr. Per Westerberg, Speaker of the Riksdag have confirmed their participation at the event.
(Sára Salkaházi was a sister of the Society of Social Nurses, the rescuer of almost one hundred Hungarian Jews and a martyr at the hands of the Arrow Cross regime).
WALLENBERG MEMORIAL CONCERT
DATE: 15 April 2012
PLACE: House of Terror Museum
CONTENT: An outdoor Wallenberg Memorial Concert will take place in front of the Museum of the House of Terror, organized by the museum itself, on the Memorial Day of the Victims of the Holocaust (www.terrorhaza.hu).
ISSUING OF THE WALLENBERG STAMP
DATE: 10 May 2012
CONTENT: The Hungarian Post Office will issue special stamps honoring Raoul Wallenberg on the occasion of the 100th anniversary. According to plans, this will be a joint project of the Swedish and Hungarian Post Offices, and will probably take place on 10 May 2012.
The Hungarian Post Office will also open a stamp exhibition on the very same day, most likely in the Stamp Museum in Budapest. The exhibition will recall the era of the Second World War presenting stamps on Raoul Wallenberg and other rescuers.
SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCE: “CAN WE SAY NO?”
DATE: 15 May 2012
PLACE: Holocaust Documentation Centre (www.hdke.hu)
CONTENT: The scientific conference would be organised in honour of the centennial of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg and of the moral courage of Count János Esterházy. 70 years ago it was on this day that Count János Esterházy was the only person in the Slovak parliament not to vote for the deportation of the Jews.
The purpose of the conference is to examine moral opposition in our region through the examples of Raoul Wallenberg, Count János Esterházy and other persons, who fought terror and all forms of physical or intellectual violence with exceptional moral force in the Holocaust era. Special attention will be given at the conference to rescuers in the Carpathian Basin, who after the German occupation, at the time of the fullest persecution, gave up their jobs, reported ill, impeded in any way the inhumane regime, the ghettoization, infringements on lawful rights, and violence against their persecuted compatriots. At the scientific conference it would also be worthwhile to recall the example and the deeds of those who after 1945 countered the scapegoating mechanisms, the expansion of the Stalinist dictatorship, stood for the rights of minorities, and against further forced relocation of populations from or to the country. As an outlook, the members of the conference could survey contemporary phenomena in case of which we should say no today as well.
The material of the conference will be used in an abridged version in teacher training, further education, as well as for school education and pedagogy.
CONFERENCE ON DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS – 2012
DATE: June 2012
CONTENT: The yearly great international human rights conference organised jointly by the International Centre for Democratic Transition (www.icdt.hu), the Tom Lantos Institute (www.tomlantosinstitute.hu) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will in 2012 be built on themes related to Raoul Wallenberg. The history section of the conference would present the new results of the international scientific research related to Wallenberg. Part of the human rights sections would examine questions concerning rescuing (prejudice and conflict prevention, dictatorships and rescuers), while another part would focus on current international human rights issues.
The co-organisers of the conference will be the Holocaust Memorial Centre and the Raoul Wallenberg Association and Foundation.
MEETING OF HUNGARIAN AWARDEES OF THE HONORARY TITLE “RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS”
DATE: 4 August 2012 (Wallenberg’s birthday)
PLACE: Holocaust Memorial Centre
CONTENT: Wallenberg’s birth centennial is an excellent opportunity for Hungarians who have been awarded the honorary title Righteous Among the Nations in Israel to meet in Budapest and to receive a memorial certificate on the occasion of the Centennial. During the course of the event, international figures who rescued Hungarian Jews during the war may also be honoured.
MEMORIAL EVENING IN THE DOHÁNY STREET SYNAGOGUE
DATE: September 2012
PLACE: Dohány Street Synagogue
CONTENT: The programme commemorates Raoul Wallenberg.
In the course of the evening the Shir Ami ensemble would give a concert. Following this the organisers would present a short film on Wallenberg’s work. The screening will be followed by speeches. Organizer of the event: March of the Living Foundation.
Life of Raoul Wallenberg
Wallenberg was born in 1912 in Kappsta, near Stockholm. His parents, who married in 1911, were Raoul Oscar Wallenberg (1888–1912), a Swedish naval officer who died of cancer three months before his son was born, and Maria "Maj" Sofia Wising (1891–1979).
In 1931, Wallenberg went to study architecture at the University of Michigan in the United States. In college, he learned to speak English, German and French. Although the Wallenberg family was rich, he worked at odd jobs in his free time.
On his return to Sweden, he found his American degree did not qualify him to practice as an architect. Eventually, his grandfather arranged a job for him in Cape Town, South Africa, in the office of a Swedish company that sold construction material. Between 1935 and 1936, Wallenberg was employed in a minor position at a branch office of the Holland Bank in Haifa. He returned to Sweden in 1936 and obtained a job in Stockholm with the help of his uncle and godfather, Jacob Wallenberg, at the Central European Trading Company, an export-import company trading between Stockholm and central Europe, owned by Kálmán Lauer, a Hungarian Jew.
In spring 1944, President Roosevelt dispatched US Treasury Department official Iver C. Olsen to Stockholm as a representative of the War Refugee Board (WRB). Olsen was tasked specifically by the President with finding a way to aid the Hungarian Jews. This, however, was not the sole reason for Olsen being posted to Sweden. In addition to his duties with the WRB, Olsen was also secretly functioning as the chief of currency operations for the Stockholm branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the United States' wartime espionage service.
In search of someone willing and able to go to Budapest to organize a rescue program for the nation's Jews, Olsen established a committee composed of many prominent Swedish Jews to locate an appropriate person to travel to Budapest under diplomatic cover and lead the WRB's planned rescue operation. One member of the committee was Wallenberg's business associate Kalman Lauer.
The committee's first choice to lead the mission was Count Folke Bernadotte, the vice-chairman of the Swedish Red Cross and a member of the Swedish Royal Family. When Bernadotte's proposed appointment was rejected by the Hungarians, Lauer suggested Wallenberg as a potential replacement. Olsen was introduced to Wallenberg by Lauer in June 1944 and came away from the meeting impressed and, shortly thereafter, appointed Wallenberg to lead the mission. Olsen's selection of Wallenberg was initially met with objections from some US officials who doubted his reliability, in light of existing commercial relationships between businesses owned by the Wallenberg family and the German government. These differences were eventually overcome and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs agreed to the American request to assign Wallenberg to its legation in Budapest as part of an arrangement in which Wallenberg's appointment was granted in exchange for a lessening of American diplomatic pressure on neutral Sweden to curtail their nation's free-trade policies toward Germany.
When Wallenberg reached the Swedish legation in Budapest in July 1944, the campaign against the Jews of Hungary had already been underway for several months. Between May and July 1944, Eichmann and his associates had successfully deported over 400,000 Jews by freight train. Of those deported all but 15,000 were sent directly to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland. By the time of Wallenberg's arrival there were only 230,000 Jews remaining in Hungary. Together with fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger, he issued "protective passports" (German: Schutz-Pass), which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thus prevented their deportation. Although not legal, these documents looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities, who sometimes were also bribed. The Swedish legation in Budapest also succeeded in negotiating with the German authorities so that the bearers of the protective passes would be treated as Swedish citizens and be exempt from having to wear the yellow badge required for Jews.
With the money raised by the board, Wallenberg rented 32 buildings in Budapest and declared them to be extraterritorial, protected by diplomatic immunity. He put up signs such as "The Swedish Library" and "The Swedish Research Institute" on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings to bolster the deception. The buildings eventually housed almost 10,000 people.
At the height of the program, over 350 people were involved in the rescue of Jews. People saved by Wallenberg include biochemist Lars Ernster, who was housed in the Swedish embassy, and Tom Lantos, later a member of the United States House of Representatives, who lived in one of the Swedish protective houses.
At the height of the fighting, on January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was called to Marshal Rodion Malinovsky’s headquarters in Debrecen on suspicion of being a spy for the United States and that the War Refugee Board was engaged in espionage. Wallenberg's last recorded words were, "I'm going to Malinovsky's ... whether as a guest or prisoner I do not know yet." Documents recovered in 1993 from previously secret Soviet military archives and published in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet show that an order for Wallenberg's arrest was issued by Deputy Commissar for Defence (and future Soviet Premier) Nikolai Bulganin and transmitted to Malinovsky's headquarters on the day of Wallenberg's disappearance.
Information about Wallenberg after his detention is mostly speculative; there were many witnesses who claim to have met him during his imprisonment. Wallenberg was transported by train from Debrecen, through Romania, to Moscow. The Soviet authorities may have moved him to Moscow in hopes of exchanging him for defectors in Sweden. Vladimir Dekanosov notified the Swedish government on January 16, 1945 that Wallenberg was under the protection of Soviet authorities. On January 21, 1945, Wallenberg was transferred to Lubyanka prison and held in cell 123 with fellow prisoner Gustav Richter, formerly a police attaché at the German embassy in Romania. Richter testified in Sweden in 1955 that Wallenberg was interrogated once for about an hour and a half, in early February 1945. On March 1, 1945, Richter was moved from his cell and never saw Wallenberg again.
On March 8, 1945, Soviet-controlled Hungarian radio announced that Wallenberg and his driver had been murdered on their way to Debrecen, suggesting that they had been killed by the Arrow Cross Party or the Gestapo. Sweden's foreign minister, Östen Undén, and its ambassador to the Soviet Union, Staffan Söderblom, wrongly assumed that they were dead. In April 1945, William Averell Harriman of the U.S. State Department offered the Swedish government help in inquiring about Wallenberg’s fate, but the offer was declined. Söderblom met with Vyacheslav Molotov and Stalin in Moscow on June 15, 1946. Söderblom, still believing Wallenberg to be dead, ignored talk of an exchange for Russian defectors in Sweden.