Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raoul

Sixty seven years ago today, on January 17th 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was detained by Soviet soldiers as they took control of Budapest. Raul was never heard from again.

In June of 1944 Raoul had been recruited by the U.S. War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary, and establish a covert operation within the Swedish embassy for the protection of Hungarian Jews. At the time of his arival in Budapest on July 9th 1944 he had absolutely no experience in diplomacy or clandestine operations. Raoul was assigned as First Secretary in the Swedish legation to Budapest from August 10th 1944 (four days after his 32nd birthday) until his detention by the soviets a little less than six months later.

During that time Raoul is credited with saving well over 10,000 people.

Raoul and fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger devised the creation of official looking “protective passports” (Schutz-Pass). Although not legal the Swedes worked to have the bearers of these documents treated as Swedish citizens. Raoul did all he could to distribute the Schultz-Pass as quickly as he could get them printed. On one occasion he intercepted a train headed for Auschwitz. His driver recounted what happened:

“.. he climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head, as not one shot hit him, which would have been impossible otherwise. I think this is what they did because they were so impressed by his courage. After Wallenberg had handed over the last of the passports he ordered all those who had one to leave the train and walk to the caravan of cars parked nearby, all marked in Swedish colours. I don’t remember exactly how many, but he saved dozens off that train, and the Germans and Arrow Cross were so dumbfounded they let him get away with it”


The Schultz-Pass program quickly became more than Raoul and Per could run by themselves. At the height of the effort over 350 people were diligently working on the program; including diplomats from countries other than Sweden. Raoul rented 32 buildings in Budapest and declared them extraterritorial, and therefore protected by diplomatic immunity. He put up oversized Swedish flags on them, and posted signs on their doors like: The Swedish Library” and “The Swedish Research Institute”. The buildings were said to house over 10,000 people before the war ended.

On February 6, 1957, the Soviets released a document dated July 17, 1947, which stated:

”I report that the prisoner Wallenberg who is well-known to you, died suddenly in his cell this night, probably as a result of a heart attack or heart failure.”

Today Budapest is counted as having the largest Jewish population per capita of any European city. .

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