Jul 4, 2000
Colossal Courage: A Biography of Raoul Wallenberg
As a Swedish diplomat in Hungary, Raoul Wallenberg saved nearly 100,000 lives from execution by the Nazis.
How can a single individual fight tyranny? What can be done for liberty against overwhelming odds? There are few stories as stirring as that of Raoul Wallenberg.
He defied the evil forces of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, two of history’s worst mass murderers. He confronted racists, torturers, assassins and even Hitler’s chief executioner Adolph Eichmann, while saving almost 100,000 lives. More astounding, he saved lives inside enemy territory, since escape was impossible. He was armed only with a pistol which he never used.
Working in Nazi-controlled Hungary, Wallenberg liberated thousands of Jews from boxcars bound for the gas chambers. He pulled Jews out of the death marches. He saved Jews from being shot and dumped into the Danube. He single-handedly thwarted Nazi plans to massacre 70,000 Jews remaining in the Budapest Central Ghetto.
After the Red Army captured Budapest, Wallenberg was taken away by Stalin’s dreaded NKVD secret police. Apparently they tortured him and tried to turn him into a Soviet spy, but he remained defiant.
Wallenberg, greatest libertarian hero of the 20th century, vanished into the wretched Soviet gulag and continues to be an agonizing mystery today. But for people around the world, he is the Angel of Rescue, and the mere mention of his name brings tears.
Wallenberg certainly didn’t look like the stuff that heroes are made of. He was medium height with brown eyes, a large nose, small chin and receding curly brown hair. Tibor Baranski, an associate, described Wallenberg as “a thin man, rather shy and virtually fearless. He dressed elegantly and was always clean-shaven.” He looks like an ordinary person on the 1998 commemorative stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office.
Bjorn Burckhardt, who had met Wallenberg in South Africa, described him this way: “Raoul did not do things in a normal manner. His way of thinking was so winding and involuted. But his intellect impressed everyone. And he could outtalk anyone. Perhaps his greatest asset was his charm, which influenced people to respect him.”
Wallenberg, recalled Swedish diplomat Per Anger, “was not a superman type. We met in Stockholm some years before he came on his mission to Budapest in 1944, and we became very good friends…He spoke with a soft voice and sometimes looked like a dreamer. At heart he was no doubt a great idealist and a warm human being. It did not take long, however, till you discovered that he had a remarkable inner strength, a core of fighting spirit. Furthermore, he was a clever negotiator and organizer, unconventional and extraordinarily inventive. I became convinced that no one was better qualified for the assignment to Budapest than Raoul.”
Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg was born August 4, 1912 in his maternal grandparents’ summer home on Kapptsta, an island near Stockholm. He descended from a long line of Lutheran entrepreneurs who built banks, factories, ships and railroads — some 50 businesses altogether. His father Raoul Wallenberg Sr., a 23-year-old naval officer, died of abdominal cancer three months before he was born. His mother Maj Wising was the great-granddaughter of a German Jewish jeweler. Raoul’s paternal grandfather Gustaf Wallenberg, Swedish ambassador to Turkey, became his mentor. Gustaf was an individualist, an entrepreneur and a free trader who believed people should be bound together by peaceful commercial relations rather than military alliances.
When Raoul was 11, Gustaf arranged for Raoul to broaden his vision by spending summers in France and Germany, and he learned those languages as well as English. To better understand America, he enrolled at the University of Michigan — avoiding elitist schools — where he earned an architecture degree in 1935. He became an intern with a Dutch business in Haifa, Palestine where he heard European refugees tell horrifying stories of Nazi barbarism.
Wallenberg heard about a job with Kalman Lauer, a short and stout Hungarian Jew whose Stockholm-based company Mellaneuropeiska Handelsaktiebolaget (Middle European Trading Company, or Meropa as it was called) mainly shipped grain, chickens and goose-liver pate from Hungary to Sweden. Since Hungary had allied itself with Hitler in 1941, Lauer couldn’t safely travel through Europe, so he needed a gentile fluent in the major European languages and adept at negotiation. Wallenberg went to work. He became skilled at dealing with Nazis, and he got to know the Budapest Jewish community.
January 20, 1942: in a villa at 56 Am-Grossen-Wannsee, Wannsee, a town outside Berlin, Adolf Hitler met with high-ranking officers of the SS, his elite secret police. Among those present were General Reinhard Heydrich and SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann. They agreed it wasn’t practical to rid Europe of Jews through emigration. The Jews had to be deported east and exterminated. In his conference notes, Eichmann described this as “the final solution.” The killing agent would be Zyklon B, a compound of hydrogen and cyanide which had been developed to kill rodents. Orders went out to build gigantic gas chambers.
By 1944, the only European Jewish community which hadn’t been wiped out was in Hungary, an Axis power which still retained some independence from Germany. Following German losses on the eastern front, Hungarian diplomats started sounding out the Allies for an armistice. This would have cut off Germany from its Axis allies Rumania and Bulgaria — and from vital oil supplies – so Hitler ordered his soldiers to occupy Hungary on March 19, 1944.
Among the arrivals was Adolph Eichmann who came with a mile-long column of his special forces. He had a sharp nose, thin lips and a contorted mouth. His black SS uniform had a death’s head insignia on the epaulets. Eichmann headed the Gestapo’s Section IV B4 (Jewish affairs) and organized the extermination of Jews in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. It was only because of Nazi infighting that he didn’t exterminate Jews in Poland, too. He had developed a four-step killing process: mark Jews by requiring them to wear a yellow Star of David patch on their outer garments; collect Jews from their scattered residences, commonly in the middle of the night; isolate Jews in ghettos; and finally, deport them to the death camps.
Eichmann didn’t want Jews to panic and disrupt his plans before he was ready, so he ordered leading members of the Budapest Jewish community to form a “Jewish Council.” He told them, “I will visit your museum soon, because I am interested in Jewish cultural affairs. You can trust me and talk freely to me — as you see, I am quite frank with you. If the Jews behave quietly and work, you will be able to keep all of your community institutions.”
On May 15th, death trains began rolling to Auschwitz. There were as many as five trains a day, each with about 10,000 Jews. By June 13th, 147 trains had taken 437,000 Jews. “It went like a dream,” Eichmann bragged.
At last, the Allies stirred. The American Air Force and Britain’s Royal Air Force bombed Budapest, but this didn’t work. It was decided that the U.S. would support an effort to save some Jews by working within Hungary. Funding would be provided through the War Refugee Board whose representative in Sweden, Iver Olsen, was assigned the task of finding somebody from a neutral country. This person had to be a gentile, fluent in European languages, capable of dealing successfully with the Nazis — and unimaginably courageous. Olsen heard 31-year-old Wallenberg’s name in the elevator of the eight-story building on Strandvagen Street where American diplomatic offices were located. He heard it from Kalman Lauer whose import-export company’s offices were in the same building. Olsen met Wallenberg for dinner at Saltsjobaden, a summer resort built by Grandfather Gustaf.
Wallenberg spelled out his terms. He must have diplomatic status — he was named Second Secretary of the Swedish legation. He could send his own messages by diplomatic courier. If funds provided by the U.S. War Refugee Board and the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee were inadequate, he could raise funds by other means. He could contact anyone including the ruler of the country and the anti-Nazi underground. He could use whatever means he considered necessary, including bribery. He could provide asylum to persecuted people with Swedish documents.
On July 6, 1944, Wallenberg caught an airplane from Stockholm to Berlin, and two days later was on a train for Budapest. His train probably passed the 29-boxcar train carrying the last of Hungary’s rural Jews to Auschwitz. Eichmann boasted that it was “a deportation surpassing every preceding deportation in magnitude.”
According to Nazi statistics, there were about 230,000 Jews left in Budapest. Eichmann relished the prospect of shipping them out in a few days, but 75-year-old Regent Miklos Horthy still retained nominal independence from Germany, and he suspended the deportations. While he was certainly anti-Semitic — he had approved laws persecuting Jews — he feared execution as a war criminal by the Russians advancing in the East or the Americans and English who had landed in Normandy.
Wallenberg arrived in Budapest July 9th. The city had representatives from five neutral nations — Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey as well as Sweden. There were also representatives from the International Red Cross and the Pope. Some of these had already made limited efforts to save Jews. Wallenberg spent a couple weeks finding recruits and building an organization. Budapest Jews were so demoralized, and Wallenberg looked so unfit for the task, with his fresh face and clean-cut dark blue suit, that he had considerable difficulty persuading people they could help themselves.
Wallenberg recognized there were several ways he could appeal to those in power. First, Horthy’s puppet regime did want the legitimacy that comes with international acceptance. Second, Swedish representatives handled Hungarian and German business in several countries. Third, many in the puppet regime feared possible execution by the Allies after the war. Finally, there were many others whose cooperation could be bought with food or cash bribes.
Wallenberg took immediate steps to make his mission look impressive. He designed a Schutz-Pass certificate which was much snazzier than the drab Swedish passport. He gave it an official-looking triple crown of the Royal Swedish government. He had it printed in Sweden’s colors, yellow and blue. He embellished it with seals, stamps and signatures. These passes suggested the holder had some kind of connection to Sweden and intended to leave Hungary for Sweden. Until that could happen, the holder was under the protection of the Royal Swedish Legation. Although these Schutzpasse had no standing in international law, Wallenberg had thousands produced, and they worked. One of Wallenberg’s drivers noted that he “understood the German mentality. He knew that Germans reacted to formal documents and authority.”
It’s likely, too, that the Nazis tolerated the passes as long as they affected a minority of the Jews. The Nazis probably figured they could disregard the passes whenever they wished, but Wallenberg’s strategy was delay. With the Allies winning the war, he believed that the longer people could be maintained under Swedish protection, the more survivors there would be.
But Jews couldn’t leave Budapest, and their situation became ever more desperate. Wallenberg stockpiled food, clothing and medicine. He built up a staff of around 400 people with shifts working around the clock, and they established nurseries and food distribution points. They set up hospitals on Taytra and Wahrmann streets, serving 200 patients at a time. He tried to get as many Jews as possible under international protection. He needed housing. This meant dealing with Eichmann who controlled properties taken from Jews. Eichmann liked to spend evenings at Budapest’s mirror-lined Arizona nightclub, and Wallenberg observed him closely there — twice bribing headwaiters to seat him at a table next to Eichmann who proposed a get-acquainted discussion. Wallenberg explained he wanted about 40 Budapest buildings for his operations, and he offered the equivalent of $200,000 in Swedish kroner. Eichmann was willing to talk, because he figured he would get the Jews wherever they lived. Wallenberg rented 32 Budapest buildings, each displaying the Swedish flag. They became the core of the “international ghetto” which eventually accommodated some 50,000 Jews. Usually, they were moved in under the cover of night, so they would be less vulnerable to attack, and the government wouldn’t be aware how many Jews were sheltered
He hit on a brazen strategy which saved more and more Jews from the death trains. As one of his drivers explained: “Raoul usually had with him a book with names of passport holders. Sometimes the book had all blank pages. When he arrived at the train, he then made up Jewish names and began calling out. Three or four usually had passports. For those who didn’t, I stood behind Raoul with another fifty or more unfilled passports. It only took me ten seconds to write in their names. We handed them out calmly and said, ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry you couldn’t get to the legation to pick it up. Here it is. We brought it to you.’ The passport holder showed it to the SS and was free.”
On October 15th, Horthy announced his government was negotiating with the Russians for an armistice. This news triggered a Nazi coup. Horthy was out, and fanatical Arrow Cross [Hungarian fascist party] head Otto Skorzeny was in command. He ordered that the deportations of Jews be resumed. Wallenberg’s whole campaign was in jeopardy.
“I was forced out of one of the Swedish safe houses and taken to a brick factory yard,” Ferenc Friedman remembered. “It would be only minutes before we boarded the death trains. Suddenly two cars drove up. There was Wallenberg in the first one, with Hungarian officials and German officers in the second car. He jumped out, shouting that all those with Swedish papers were under his protection. I was one of 150 saved that day. None of the others ever came back.”
Dr. Stephen I. Lazarovitz described what it was like to be saved by Wallenberg: “I was an intern, just before my final exams. When the Arrow Cross came to power I was not allowed to continue my studies and was drafted to as forced labor camp in Budapest. On October 28 we were yanked to the freight railway station of Jozefvaros, where we boarded the freight wagons. The doors of the wagons were locked from the outside.
“Suddenly two cars drove up between the railway tracks. Wallenberg jumped out from the first car, accompanied by his Hungarian aides. He went to the commanding police officer in charge, talked to him and presented official papers. Soon the officer made an announcement. He said that those who had authentic Swedish protective passports should step down from the wagon and stand in line to show their papers. Should anybody step down from the cattle cars who had no Swedish protective passport, he would be executed on the spot. The authenticity of the passports would be checked by him and by Wallenberg from the books of the Swedish embassy, which Mr. Wallenberg had brought with him.
“In the meantime, Mr. Wallenberg’s aides pulled out a folding table from the car, opened it, placed it between the rail tracks, and put the big embassy books on top of it. The commanding Nazi police officer put his gun in front of the books. We, who were in the cattle cars, watched all this from the small barred windows of the cattle cars. The doors were opened.
“I did not know what to do because my protective passport was not authentic but forged. Suddenly I saw from the window that one of the aides was Leslie Geiger, a member of the Hungarian national hockey team, a patient of my father and a personal friend. I decided to step down from the cattle car…I stood in line for an hour because I was at the end of the line. When I was close to the table, I stepped forward, went to Leslie Geiger, and whispered in his ear that my passport was forged. I asked him if he could help me. He said that he would try. When it was my turn, Leslie Geiger whispered a few words in Wallenberg’s ear. Raoul Wallenberg looked at me, holding my forged passport in his hand, and said, ‘I remember this doctor. I gave him his passport personally. Let’s not waste our time because it’s late. We need him now at the Emergency Hospital of the Swedish embassy.’ The Nazi commanding officer then said, ‘Let’s not waste our time! Next.’”
On another occasion, according to Wallenberg driver Sandor Ardai, “we had come to a station where a train full of Jews was on the point of leaving for Germany and the death camps. The officer of the guard did not want to let us enter. Raoul Wallenberg then climbed up on the roof of the train and handed in many protective passports through the windows. The Arrow Cross men fired their guns and cried to him to go away, but he continued calmly to hand out passports to the hands which reached for them. But I believe that the men with the guns were impressed by his courage and on purpose aimed above him. Afterwards, he managed to get all Jews with passports out from the train.”
In early November, Nyilas, as Arrow Cross goons were called, held several hundred Jews at Dohany Synagogue. Joseph Kovacs recalled that “on November 4, Wallenberg burst into the temple and stood himself in front of the altar and made this announcement: ‘All those who have Swedish protective passes should stand up.’ That same night a few hundred Jews were freed, and they returned to their houses under the protection of Hungarian policemen.
“People often ask me,” Kovacs continued, “ ‘Why did Raoul Wallenberg succeed?’ The way I saw it, Raoul Wallenberg was forceful, determined, and never hesitated in saying what he had to say and doing what he had to do.”
Dr. Jonny Moser, one of Wallenberg’s assistants: “I remember when we were told…that 800 Jews were to be transported away. The deportations had started on foot to Mauthausen. Wallenberg caught up with them at the frontier. ‘Who of you has a Swedish protective passport? Raise your hand!’ he cried. On his order I ran between the columns and told the people to raise their hand, whether they had a passport or not. He then took command of all who had raised their hand, and his attitude was such that nobody of the guards opposed it, so extraordinary was the convincing force of his attitude.”
Tibor Vayda, another assistant, recalled: “I was selected to work for Wallenberg because I was blond and didn’t look Jewish. This made it easier to carry out the rescue work. Every morning about six or seven of us met with Wallenberg and then left to aid those Jews who had trouble at the hands of the SS or Nyilas. One day at the end of November, I left at 5 A.M., accompanied by a fellow worker. We headed for a trouble spot on Jokai Street. Wallenberg told us he would be there before 8 A.M. We waited and waited, and there was still no Wallenberg. Some three hundred people were being lined up for deportation to Jozefvaros. We were ready to leave. Frankly, we were afraid that we might be in trouble, to. Out of nowhere came a black car with Wallenberg, at one minute to eight.”
But Eichmann faced serious obstacles. Since the Red Army was advancing from the east and south, roads to the Polish death camps were blocked. The German military needed all available railroad capacity for moving war material. The only way out of Hungary was to Austria, so Eichmann decided Jews would walk — the death march to Hegyeshalom, 125 miles away near the Austrian border. Between mid‑November and mid-December, some 40,000 Jews were ordered to march in frigid weather. A quarter of them died.
Often Eichmann himself was at Hegyeshalom. According to Per Anger, “The persecuted Jews’ only hope was Wallenberg. Like a rescuing angel he often appeared at the very last moment. Just when a deportation was about to start — some people were actually also sent by train — he used to arrive at the station with a written — false or genuine — permission to separate and set free all Jews with Swedish protection passports. If his protégés had already been brought out of the city, he hurried after them and conducted back as many as he could on hastily procured trucks. His movable and always accompanying chancellery manufactured all kinds of identification and protection documents on an endless scale. Uncountable were those Jews who during the march toward Vienna had given up all hope, when suddenly they received from one of Wallenberg’s ‘flying squadrons’ a Swedish protection document, like their ancestors once upon a time during their long journey were rescued by manna from Heaven.”
Susan Tabor remembered: “My mother, my husband, and I had been two nights without food. Then we heard words, human words, the first we had heard in what seemed like an eternity. It was Raoul Wallenberg. He gave us that needed sense that we were still human beings. We had been among thousands taken to stay at a brick factory outside Budapest. We were without food, without water, without sanitation facilities. Wallenberg told us he would try and return with safety passes. He also said that he would try to get medical attention and sanitary facilities. And true to his word, soon afterward some doctors and nurses came from the Jewish hospital. But what stands out most about Raul Wallenberg is that he came himself. He talked to us, and, most important, he showed that there was a human being who cared about us.”
Wallenberg even tried to influence Eichmann himself. Shortly before Christmas, he invited the Nazi to dinner. “The war is over,” Wallenberg told Eichmann. “Why don’t you go while you still can and let the living live?” Eichmann: “I have my job to do.” Swedish diplomat Lars Berg reported that “Wallenberg fearlessly tore Nazi doctrines to shreds and predicted that Nazism and its leaders would meet a speedy and complete destruction. I must say that these were rather unusual, caustic words from a Swede who was far away from his country and totally at the mercy of the powerful German antagonist Eichmann and his henchmen.”
Stunned by Wallenberg’s bold attack, Eichmann reportedly replied: “I admit that you are right, Mr. Wallenberg. I actually never believed in Nazism as such, but it has given me power and wealth. I know this pleasant life will soon be over. My planes will no longer bring me women and wines from Paris nor any other delicacies from the Orient. My horses, my dogs, my palace here in Budapest will soon be taken over by the Russians, and I myself, an SS officer, will be shot on the spot. But for me there is no rescue any more. If I obey my orders from Berlin and exercise my power ruthlessly enough here in Budapest, I shall be able to prolong my days of grace.” Eichmann added: “I warn you, Herr Legationsekretar. I shall do my very utmost to defeat you. And your Swedish diplomatic passport will not help you…Even a neutral diplomat might meet with accidents.” Several days later, a big German truck smashed into Wallenberg’s car. Wallenberg wasn’t inside, and Eichmann vowed: “I will try again.”
The Red Army began its seige of Budapest on December 8th. That day, Wallenberg wrote his last letter to his mother: “I really thought I would be with you for Christmas…I hope the peace so longed for is no longer so far away.”
Wallenberg’s people were increasingly at risk. Tibor Vayda: “There were more than three hundred men and women at our office, which was also a Swedish protected house at 4Ulloi Street. The Nyilas stormed in and shouted, ‘Wallenberg is not here. Everybody, get out. Swedish protection means nothing. Protective passes mean nothing.’ People wanted to take their luggage, but the Nyilas sneered. ‘You don’t need luggage because you will be dead soon.’ About noon we were marched to SS headquarters. We expected to be shot after being thrown into the Danube. Somehow — and I still do not know how — a message was gotten to Wallenberg. At 2:00 in the afternoon his car roared through the courtyard. Not one of the three hundred was lost. He simply put it straight to the SS commando: ‘You save these men, and I promise your safety after the Russians win the war.’”
Eichmann fled Budapest on December 23rd, but the crisis for the Jews got worse. Wallenberg moved to Pest, east of the Danube, where 70,000 Jews had been forced into the Central Ghetto without diplomatic protection. On Christmas Day, Arrow Cross goons seized some of Wallenberg’s staffers from a hospital. Dr. Stephen I. Lazarovitz, whom Wallenberg had already rescued from a similar episode on October 28th, described what happened: “They planned to take us to the Danube, where thousands of people had been executed. One of us was able to get in touch with Wallenberg, who arrived within ten minutes with his aides and the books of the embassy. He argued with the Arrow Cross people with calm and determination, showing them official papers. Finally, the Nazis left. Wallenberg had saved the life of my parents, and had saved my life — for the second time!”
Paula Auer, who had sought refuge in a Swedish house: “When the Russians reached the gates of Budapest, the Nazis broke into this and other Swedish homes and like crazed beasts shot all the Jews they saw. Then they threw the bodies into the Danube. Somehow I escaped the Nazis’ search and got word to the Swedish legation. Wallenberg and his assistants arrived in time to prevent the massacre of the remaining 160 Jews in the home.”
The Nazi frenzy against Jews intensified as Russian guns pounded Budapest. Nyilas pulled children out of an International Red Cross children’s home and a Jewish orphanage, and many were shot. The Institute of Forensic Medicine, Budapest, reported: “In the most brutal manner, the Nyilas made short work of their victims. A few were simply shot, but the majority were mercilessly tortured…Shooting out of eyes, scalping, deliberate breaking of bones, and abdominal knife wounds were Nyilas specialties.”
Wallenberg organized a new campaign to help save Jewish children. Working with the International Red Cross and the Swedish Red Cross, he provided food, shelter and medical care for some 7,000 children.
Finally, just days before the Russians entered Budapest, Wallenberg learned that about 500 SS and Arrow Cross soldiers were preparing to murder all 70,000 people in the Central Ghetto, “this being the particular wish of Hitler and Himmler,” according to the German General of Police. Wallenberg contacted German General August Schmidthuber, an SS commander, and demanded that he stop the planned massacre. Wallenberg warned that he would make sure the general got hanged as a war criminal if the bloodbath occurred. Apparently frightened at that prospect, Schmidthuber ordered the conspirators to desist. This was Wallenberg’s crowning achievement, a single negotiation which saved the lives of 70,000 people.
“It is of the utmost importance,” wrote the Hungarian author Jeno Levai, “that the Nazis and Arrow Crossmen were not able to ravage unhindered — they were compelled to see that every step they took was being watched and followed by the young Swedish diplomat. From Wallenberg they could keep no secrets. The Arrow Crossmen could not trick him. They could not operate freely…Wallenberg was the ‘world’s observing eye,’ the one who continually called the criminals to account.”
Wallenberg looked forward to better times following the defeat of the Nazis. “Now the bad dream will soon be over,” he told his driver Sandor Ardai. “Now we will soon be able to sleep.” But the Russians came in the tradition of conquerors, not liberators. They considered the local population as an enemy. They seized thousands of Budapest civilians for forced labor, many never to return. Accustomed to the misery of Stalin’s socialist paradise, Russian soldiers went wild robbing people everywhere. They broke into apartments — “bourgeois” janitors’ apartments were especially vulnerable, since they were invariably on the first floor. Most Budapest women had horrifying stories to tell about brutal rape by Russian soldiers.
On January 13, 1945, Russian soldiers banged on the door of the Benczur Street cellar apartment where Wallenberg was sleeping. He showed his papers and asked to see the division’s commanding officer — he hoped to discuss plans for relieving the Jewish population. Asked why he was staying in Pest instead of Buda where all other diplomats were located, Wallenberg replied that he wanted to be near the Jewish quarters, which mystified the Russians. They drove him to Russian quarters on Erzebet Kiralyno (Queen Elizabeth) Street. They indicated that he would be taken to see General Rodion Malinovsky. Colorblind, Wallenberg probably didn’t notice red tabs on the shoulders of his new escorts, identifying them as officers of a dreaded Soviet secret police, NKVD. Their mission was to turn Hungary into a Soviet puppet regime, which meant suppressing any potential dissidents or independent leaders. Wallenberg was someone to reckon with, since thousands of documents circulated around Budapest with his signature. The Soviets considered him a capitalist adversary because of his well-known entrepreneurial family and his education in the United States, and they were convinced he must be a spy. Reportedly it was the future Soviet boss (1964-1982) Leonid Brezhnev who issued the direct order for Wallenberg’s arrest.
On January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was taken to Budapest’s Eastern Rail Road Station and a train bound for Moscow. Then they were driven to Lubyanka Square where a five-story hotel had been converted into NKVD headquarters and dungeons for political prisoners. He was taken to Cell 123. The NKVD tortured and interrogated Wallenberg. By April 1945, he was transferred to Leftortovo Prison.
Soviet officials refused to answer inquiries about him. Osten Unden, the Marxist Foreign Minister in Sweden’s socialist government, defended Stalin by saying that if Wallenberg hadn’t done anything wrong, then the Soviets couldn’t have imprisoned him. In August 1947, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Vyshinsky, who had served as prosecutor during Stalin’s purge “trials,” told the United Nations: “There is no Raoul Wallenberg in any Soviet prison.” But many former political prisoners in the Soviet Union reported having had contact with Wallenberg, and on February 6, 1957, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko admitted Wallenberg had been in Lubyanka Prison but claimed he died of a heart attack in July 1947, when he would have been 35. Nobody ever produced witnesses, a body or death certificate.
Spurred by reports that he might still be alive in the 1970s, Wallenberg Committees were formed around the world. The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States organized an exhibition which travelled across the country. Schools, hospitals, parks and streets were named after him. Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov demanded that the government turn over its Wallenberg files to independent investigators. President Ronald Reagan pushed the Soviets for answers and urged Congress to pass a bill naming Wallenberg an honorary U.S. citizen, signed into law on October 5, 1981. A bust of Wallenberg, by the Israeli sculptor Miri Margolin, was placed in the U.S. Capitol. In 1984, Wallenberg was the first person named an honorary citizen of Israel. The following year, NBC broadcast a two-part, four-hour miniseries, Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story, starring Richard Chamberlain.
Wallenberg’s half-brother Guy von Dardel and and half-sister Nina Lagergren got no new information when they visited the Soviet Union in October 1989, although they were given Wallenberg’s diplomatic passport, diary, address book, cigarette case and some foreign currency. President Reagan discussed Wallenberg with Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev when he visited the United States in December 1989, but again nothing. Nor has the collapse of the Soviet Union brought any news. Observers like New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal believe the Soviets murdered him, and coming clean would be too embarrassing because “they were all involved.” Guy von Dardel says human rights activists continue to pore through archives.
Raoul Wallenberg long ago joined the ranks of immortals. People will continue to be inspired by his heroism which saved so many human beings from hideous evil. Wherever this beloved man is now, he will endure as the great Angel of Rescue who redeemed hope for humanity and liberty.