The Tragedy Of Raoul Wallenberg: Lost Hero of the Holocaust
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
On January 17, 1945, Raoul Wallenberg, a young Swedish diplomat who had risked his life to save the lives of thousands of Jewish men, women and children, disappeared into the murk of the Soviet Gulag and was never heard from again. His fate ranks among history’s greatest mysteries and most outrageous injustices.
The classical definition of a hero is a person who risks all, perhaps even forfeits his life, for a people or a cause greater than himself. Any list of modern heroes must include the Righteous Among the Nations, those such as Corrie Ten Boom, Oskar Schindler, the good people of the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and many others who courageously opposed the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. Raoul Wallenberg’s name stands out on that list.
As Europe reeked and smoked through the dying days of the Third Reich, one of the darkest chapters in the annals of human history, SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Adolf Eichmann relentlessly pursued his one great passion: to kill as many Jews as possible before the end. Eichmann deported 12,000 Hungarian Jews per day to death camps in Poland. In May and June of 1944, he deported 400,000 Jews.
President Roosevelt, aware of conditions in Hungary following the collapse of the fascist regime of Miklos Horthy and its replacement by German forces, sent Iver C. Olsen to represent the War Refugee Board in Stockholm, hoping to aid Hungary’s surviving Jews.
Wallenberg studied architecture in the United States but turned to a career in business, traveling across occupied Europe, familiarizing himself with Nazi administrative techniques. In July, 1944, he was appointed Sweden’s Special Envoy in Budapest and immediately set to work issuing so-called Protection Passports, convincing Nazi and Hungarian authorities that thousands of Jews were Swedish citizens awaiting repatriation. He once boarded a train carrying victims to the death camps and began handing out passports, as bullets fired by Hungarian fascists whizzed around his head. He never hesitated.
Wallenberg rented 32 warehouses and other buildings, draped them in Swedish flags and signs proclaiming that they were Swedish libraries or research institutes. He then insisted they were protected by diplomatic immunity. By such techniques it is estimated that Wallenberg saved 100,000 lives.
As Russian troops approached Budapest, Wallenberg negotiated with Eichmann to prevent a Nazi plan to blow up the ghetto, killing 70,000 Jews. He also forestalled a planned death march of all Hungarian Jews planned before the arrival of the Russians.
As the city fell, Wallenberg was summoned to Soviet headquarters to answer charges that he was engaged in espionage. He was arrested and transported by train to Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison where he was kept in Cell 123 and never heard from again. The Soviets stonewalled all inquiries as to his fate, asserting in 1957 that he died of a heart attack. Other reports suggested that he was executed by firing squad or by lethal injection. His remains have never been recovered. Over the years, other prisoners claimed to have met a Swedish inmate who explained that he was there by mistake. One report even had him sequestered on Wrangel Island in the Arctic.
Evidence later surfaced that Olsen, who had recruited Wallenberg, also worked for the OSS, precursor to the CIA. There is some evidence that Wallenberg was serving a dual role, working for both the OSS and the WRB. That Wallenberg posed some imaginary threat to Soviet security attests to the paranoia of that regime, especially during those dark times.
Many honors have been accorded Wallenberg. He has been made an honorary citizen of several countries, including the US. Monuments have been erected in his honor, and streets in cities around the world bear his name. His name is on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. Justice demands that the story of Raoul Wallenberg, Lost Hero of the Holocaust, receive final resolution.