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Raoul Wallenberg

Author of Letters and Dispatches 1924-1944

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The year 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the disappearance in a Soviet prison of Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. His family and historians are still demanding that Russia provide details on his fate.

Wallenberg was born near Stockholm to one of the most prominent families in Sweden. His father, an officer in the Swedish navy, had died three months before. His mother, Maj Wising Wallenberg, remarried to Fredrik von Dardel in 1918. After high school and compulsory military service, Wallenberg studied in Paris for a year, and then went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study architecture. In 1935, he graduated with honors after only 3-1/2 years, and won a prize for the most impressive academic record. He returned to Sweden, but finding the job market for architects limited, went to Cape Town, South Africa, and then to Haifa, Palestine (now Israel).In Palestine, he met Jews who had escaped alive from Nazi Germany, and the stories of their experiences affected him deeply. Back in Sweden, he became the business partner of Koloman Lauer, a Hungarian-born Jew, who ran an import and export company. Within eight months, Wallenberg was a joint owner and international director of the Mid-European Trading Company. He made trips to Nazi-occupied France and to Germany, where he learned how the bureaucracy functioned. He also made trips to Hungary and Budapest, where he visited Lauer's family. Following the German Occupation of Hungary in 1944, Jews desperately began seeking help from the embassies of neutral countries to save them from deportation and death. The Swedish legation in Budapest negotiated a deal with the Germans that the bearers of their provisional identity passes (the brainchild of Per Anger) would be protected as Swedish citizens. To help deal with the great number of Jews looking for help, the legation requested immediate staff reinforcements from Stockholm. Raoul Wallenberg -- recognized as a quick thinker, energetic, brave, and compassionate, from a distinguished family -- was appointed first secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest and charged with starting a rescue operation for the Jews. By the time he arrived in Budapest in July 1944, the Nazis had already deported more than 400,000 Jewish men, women and children. Only about 230,000 Jews were left. Under these desperate conditions, Wallenberg used every method at his disposal, including bribes, threats, and promises to help save Jews. He managed to raise the quota of passes allowed by the German and Hungarian authorities to 4,500 but unofficially issued three times as many. He started sheltering Jews in the Swedish legation and building "Swedish houses" around the city where Jews could seek refuge. He even climbed onto the tops of trains being used to deport Jews and stuck bunches of protective passes down to the people inside. According to Per Anger, Wallenberg's friend and colleague, Wallenberg must be honored with saving at least 100,000 Jews. The Red Army arrived in Budapest in January 1945, Wallenberg, who spoke fluent Russian, was given permission to visit the Soviet military headquarters in the city of Debrecen east of Budapest. On January 17, 1945, on his way out of the capital with a Russian escort, Wallenberg and his driver stopped at one of the "Swedish houses" to say good-bye to his friends. He disappeared from history after that.

The Soviets probably suspected Wallenberg of being an American agent. They claimed later that Wallenberg died in Russian captivity on July 17, 1947. However, a number of reliable eyewitnesses said that he was still alive after that date and that he could still have been alive into the 1980s. A leading theory is that once the Soviets had kidnapped him, it would have been embarrassing to admit it and let him go; and the longer they delayed, the more embarrassing it became. So they reported that he had "died."
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