Biography of Raoul Wallenberg
A True Zadik - Raoul Wallenberg
Raoul Wallenberg was the Swede who, during the Holocaust, at the expense of his own life, rescued innumerable Jews from annihilation. He belonged to one of the most famous families in Sweden. His father was a navy officer by the name of Raoul Oscar Wallenberg. He died three months prior to his young son’s birth. Baby Raoul was born on August 4, 1912. His mother Maj Wallenberg remarried (Fredrik von Dardel in 1918) when Raoul was six years old. Raoul’s paternal grandfather Gustav Wallenberg took charge of the boy’s education. Raoul graduated in 1930 with outstanding grades in Russian and drawing (Granddad wanted him to be a banker). After his army service he traveled to the USA and graduated with top honors from the U. of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He received a degree in Architecture and worked for six months in South Africa selling building materials. Following that, his grandfather arranged a job for him at a Dutch bank in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel). There he first met Jews who had escaped Hitler’s Germany. Their stories affected him deeply (Raoul's maternal great, great grandfather was a Jew). Raoul, together with Koloman Lauer, a Hungarian Jew, became partners in the Mid-European Trading Co.
In 1944, Jews in Hungary were threatened with annihilation when Hitler invaded Hungary. It was at that time that the deportation of Jews began. The Swedish legation negotiated that Jews who had been given protective passes would be treated as Swedish citizens and were to be exempt from wearing the yellow Star of David on their chests. Since Hitler and the Nazis were so impressed with symbols, Raoul and his followers invented official looking passes, making instant citizens of Sweden. With these “documents”, the Jews who had them were to be untouched by by the Nazi executioners. Wallenberg was appointed first secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest to start rescue operations for the Jews. When Raoul arrived in Budapest in July 1944 Adolf Eichmann and his henchmen had already deported 400,000 Jews to their deaths. Only 230,000 Jews were left when Raoul arrived in Budapest, Hungary. Through threats to the Germans, his diplomatic skills, and the courage to use whatever means possible despite threats to his own life, he managed to rescue innumerable Jewish men, women and children. Raoul kept on fighting in spite of the ruling powers of evil and appeared often as an unwelcome witness to the unimaginable atrocities perpetrated on the innocent Jewish people. Raoul built his “Swedish houses”. These were some thirty houses in the Pest part of Budapest where the Jews could seek refuge. A Swedish flag hung in front of each of the thirty doors and Wallenberg declared the houses Swedish territory. Other neutral legations in Budapest started to follow Wallenberg’s example and issued protective passes.
Eichmann started his brutal death marches. The first march started on November 20, 1944. These included thousands of Jews that were lined up and forced to march in never ending rows of starving and tortured people. Wallenberg was in place all the time to hand out protective passes, food and medicine. He threatened and bribed the perpetrators to save his fellow human beings, incurring unspeakable danger to himself. He exhibited enormous courage to achieve his goal. When Eichmann’s killers transported the Jews in full trains, Wallenberg climbed the train wagons, stood on the tracks, ran along the wagon roofs, and pushed bunches of protective passes down to the people inside. He tried everything and succeeded frequently in a number of his rescue attempts. Wallenberg saved the lives of at least one hundred thousand Jews.
On January 13, 1945, Raoul Wallenberg, in fluent Russian (he was an unusually gifted and talented man and spoke many languages), explained that he was Swedish charge d’affaires for the Russian liberated parts of Hungary. Wallenberg requested and was given permission to visit the Soviet military headquarters in the city of Debrecen, east of Budapest. On his way out of the capital on January 17 with a Russian escort, Wallenberg and driver stopped at the “Swedish Houses” to bid farewell to his friends. To one of these friends he said that he was uncertain if he was going to be the Russians' guest or their prisoner. Raoul Wallenberg thought he would be back within eight days but he has been missing since then.
Whether Raoul Wallenberg died a natural death or was murdered is uncertain. The Russians claimed that he died in Russian captivity on July l7, 1947. What we do know is that he is one of the greatest Zadikim (Just and holy men) of the 20th century and those of our people who survived because of him will never, never forget him!
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).