Most of you know my love of WWI and WWII history, especially the knitting related stuff. I thought it’d be fun to share with you all a topic of my research as of late.
Today I’d like to tell you about Raoul Wallenberg.
Wallenberg was a highly educated Swedish businessman born into a very wealthy family. He was educated in Paris and Michigan. He hitchhiked the back roads of the United States saying, “When you travel like a hobo, everything’s different. You have to be on the alert the whole time. You’re in close contact with new people every day. Hitchhiking gives you training in diplomacy and tact.”
He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1935 with a degree in architecture. Eventually, he would take a job with an export-import company owned by Kalman Lauer, a Hungarian Jew.
Now, it’s important to note the time period here. In 1935 the Nuremberg Race Laws had gone into effect. It wasn’t until 1938, however, that Hungary decided to follow with its own anti-Jewish measures. These laws focused heavily on restricting Jews from certain professions, reduced the number of Jews in public service or governmental jobs, and prohibited inter-faith marriages.
As Wallenberg continued to work with his boss Lauer, it became increasingly aware that Lauer could not travel to Hungary, or most of Europe for that matter, for work and Wallenberg went in his place. Wallenberg would even travel to Germany and Occupied France.
It was in 1944 that Hitler would invade Hungary citing their peace talks with the US and UK. Mass deportation of Hungarian Jews began under the control of Adolf Eichmann.
During this same time, Wallenberg was recruited by the War Refugee Board, a too-late attempt that trying to help end the Holocaust (I’ve more to say on this but that’s a whole different story).
Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in July 1944, the Nazi Final Solution had been in effect just three months and already Eichmann had deported nearly 400,000 Jews. Most of which were sent directly to Auschwitz-Birkenau and murdered. There were about 260,000 Jews left in July 1944.
Wallenberg began to work. He issued Swedish passports to the Jews that, while fraudulent, allowed the Jews to be treated as sweetish citizens making them exempt from wearing the yellow badge required for Jews. He also rented 32 buildings and declared them the property of Sweden and therefore they benefited from Diplomatic Immunity. These buildings would eventually house nearly 10,000 people.
My favorite story of Wallenberg’s bravery came when he intercepted a trainload of Jews about to leave for Auschwitz. As the Germans shot at him he continued to calmly hand out passports to the Jews on the train. He saved dozens of people and the Germans simply let him leave.
Wallenberg was such a fascinating man and even to this day, there is speculation about what happened to him. It’s interesting to note that he was just declared dead in October of 2016 and his actual death is a mystery but it seems to be universally acknowledged that the Soviet’s murdered him.
In 1981 he was made an Honorary Citizen of the United States, only the second person to ever receive this and he was the only person (up until then) whose parents were both foreign born.
History teaches us many important lessons, learning about Wallenberg has taught me that life, however precious, must be used for the good of us all. We must be willing to stand up for those of us that are being persecuted and hated by society because of propaganda and isolationist thoughts. We must be willing to do all we can do to save as many people as possible.