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The story of Raoul Wallenberg

Wallenberg, was born on August 4, 1912 to Swedish, Christian parents. He spent three and a half years in the United States, studying at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Upon returning to Sweden, Raoul’s grandfather arranged a position for him at the Holland Bank in Haifa, Palestine. There Raoul began to meet young Jews who had already been forced to flee from Nazi persecution in Germany. Their stories affected him deeply and he was greatly troubled by the fate of Jews in Europe, confiding to actress Viveca Lindfors the horrific plight of Jews under Nazi Europe.


Under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the War Refugees Board was established in January 1944 to aid civilians that fell victim to the Nazi and Axis powers in Europe. One of the War Refugee Board’s top priorities was protection of the 750,000 Hungarian Jews still alive. It was decided that Raul Wallenberg, aged 31 at the time, would be most effective in protecting Jews and victims of the Nazis in Hungary under the War Refugee’s Board. He was recruited by Iver Olsen, an agent for the Office of Strategic Services, and sent to Budapest, Hungary under his official profession as a Swedish diplomat. He was instructed to use passports and other creative means to save as many lives as possible.


Wallenberg created a new Swedish passport, the Schutzpass, which looked more imposing and official than the actual Swedish passport. He reportedly put up huge place cards of it throughout Budapest to make the Nazis familiar with it. He unilaterally announced that it granted the holder immunity from the death camps. The Schutzpasses alone are credited with saving 20,000 Jewish lives. Using the money the United States put into the War Refugees Board, Wallenberg was able to purchase about thirty buildings, which he used as hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, and safe houses for over 8,000 children whose parents has already been deported or killed.


Even as the war was coming to a close, Wallenberg remained vigilant and attentive to the people under his care. Adolf Eichmann, the SS colonel charged with the extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe, was determined to exterminate the 70,000 Jews kept as prisoners in a guarded ghetto in Budapest. As soon as Wallenberg heard of the plot, he sent Pal Szalay, an Arrow-Crossman senior official, who defected and turned to Wallenberg. Szalay was sent to speak to General Schmidthuber, who was ordered to spearhead the ghetto extermination in Budapest. Szalay informed Schmidthuber that, seeing as the war was coming to an end, if the planned massacre took place, Wallenberg would see to it personally that Schmidthuber would be prosecuted as a war criminal and hanged. The plans were ultimately abandoned and considered Wallenberg’s last big victory. Of the 120,000 Jews that survived in Hungary, Raoul Wallenberg, acting under the War Refugee Board, is credited with saving over 100,000 of these lives in a six month period, never once resorting to violence.

Raoul Wallenberg’s fate remains an unknown mystery. In January 13, 1945 he contacted the Russians in an effort to secure food for the Jews under his protection – as he was still working hard to protect them. Four days later he left for a meeting with Marshal Malinovsky, a Russian commander, and was taken into “protective custody” by what would then be known as the KGB. Raoul was reportedly questioned by the Soviet Secret Police on spying for the United States, according to a testimony by Gustav Richter, a former German police attaché. The Soviet Union has produced different accounts of Wallenberg’s fate at different times. In March 1945 it was said that he had been murdered by the Hungarian Arrow-Cross in route to Debrecen to meet the Soviets. It was later asserted that Wallenberg, a healthy man when he was abducted, died of a heart attack in his cell two years later. None of these stories have much merit and have never been fully accepted. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan made Raoul Wallenberg an honorary citizen of the United States, an honor only previously extended to Winston Churchill.

The Commission works on a national campaign to highlight the incredible heroism exhibited by Raoul Wallenberg and to award him with a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously.
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