On January 17, 1945, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg is ordered by the Soviet authorities in the recently captured Budapest to report for an interview, and disappears. In March 1945 the Soviets claim that the diplomat and his driver were murdered by fascist guerillas during their travels.
After years of denial, the USSR in 1957 admitted that it had arrested Wallenberg and claimed that he died of a heart attack in 1947. Throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s and even 80s, reports surfaced that he was still alive and imprisoned in a Soviet Gulag. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was admitted that he had been executed at the notorious Lubyanka prison in 1947, having been taken there at the time of his arrest. Many still do not accept this as the final word in the Wallenberg saga.
Sadly, Wallenberg is often remembered for his mysterious disappearance and death, and not for the incredible acts of courage and brazen bluffs with which he saved thousands of lives during the second world war.
Using his role as a junior Swedish diplomat in wartime Hungary to full advantage, Wallenberg issued thousands of essentially worthless but very official looking papers granting Sweden’s protection to local Jews, and through a combination of self assurance and bluff, along with an occasional dose of bribery he managed to get these papers respected and thus to protect “his” Jews from the Nazis and from the Fascist Hungarian regime.
Wallenberg did not stop at this, renting several entire buildings in the capital, draping them with large Swedish flags and posting signs such as "The Swedish Library" and "The Swedish Research Institute”. He then declared these buildings extra-territorial Swedish territory and thus diplomatically immune. Again, his strength of personality sustained this outrageous bluff, and he was able to hide ten thousand Jews in his enclaves.
The Swede's personal bravery was legendary. On one occasion he barged up to a train in which Nazis and local fascist militia were loading Jews for transport to their doom. Wallenberg shoved past the guards and started handing out his 'protection papers' to Jews on the train, disregarding the shouts of their outraged executioners. When these started to fire their rifles over his head he stared them down and then calmly proceeded to hand out the rest of his documents. Once the last of these was in a victim's hands, he ordered all of the Jews with Swedish papers off the train and marched them past the awestruck guards and into a convoy of Swedish embassy cars that he had waiting outside the station.
Credited with saving tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children, Wallenberg remains a shining example of what one exceptionally courageous man can accomplish.
Pictured below: a statue of Wallenberg located at the entrance to Ramat Hachayal in Israel, an area of Tel Aviv that is home to an intense concentration of Israel’s premier high-technology companies.