“I am sorry, I am trying to take the youngest first, I want to save a nation.”

He failed to save a nation.  But he did save thousands, ten thousands, maybe even up to one hundred thousand.

“He was the most tireless, persistent, stubborn person — he was single minded in his determination for his mission.”

A mission in Life and Death.

We had many long and intimate conversations. He was full of ideas and plans for the future. Although I was a good deal older – you could choose when to do your service – I was enormously impressed by him. He was proud of his partial Jewish ancestry and, as I recall, must have exaggerated it somewhat. I remember him saying, ‘A person like me, who is both a Wallenberg and half-Jewish, can never be defeated’.

Raoul Wallenberg, Healer Idealist, was born in 1912 in Kappsta, Lidingö, near Stockholm, in summer house in 1882. His paternal grandfather, Gustaf Wallenberg, was a diplomat and envoy to Tokyo, Constantinople and Sofia.  His parents, who married in 1911, were Raoul Oscar Wallenberg (1888–1912), a Swedish naval officer, and Maria “Maj” Sofia Wising (1891–1979). His father died of cancer three months before he was born, and his maternal grandfather died of pneumonia three months after his birth. His mother and grandmother, now both suddenly widows, raised him together.  After high school and his compulsory eight months in the Swedish military, Wallenberg’s paternal grandfather sent him to study in Paris. He spent one year there, and then, in 1931, he matriculated at University of Michigan in the United States to study architecture. Although the Wallenberg family was rich, he worked at odd jobs in his free time and joined other young male students as a passenger rickshaw handler at Chicago’s Century of Progress. He used his vacations to explore the United States, with hitchhiking being his preferred method of travel. About his experiences, he wrote to his grandfather saying, “When you travel like a hobo, everything’s different. You have to be on the alert the whole time. You’re in close contact with new people every day. Hitchhiking gives you training in diplomacy and tact.” [Wikipedia, revised]

Raoul was aware of his one-sixteenth Jewish blood, and proud of it.

Healers present a calm and serene face to the world, and can seem shy, even distant around others. But inside they’re anything but serene, having a capacity for personal caring rarely found in the other types. Healers care deeply about the inner life of a few special persons, or about a favorite cause in the world at large. And their great passion is to heal the conflicts that trouble individuals, or that divide groups, and thus to bring wholeness, or health, to themselves, their loved ones, and their community. [Please Understand Me II]

He was a passionate student of the human psyche. He did not want to follow his grandfather into banking, bankers have to say ‘no’ too often, “I am much more a positive person.” It was on these travels that Raoul had learnt and listened to the tales, the people’s stories of the atrocities against Jews. The brutalisation, it had a powerful affect upon him. He impressed people with his passion, his compassion and empathy, his incredible grasp of human nature, and his sincerity.

A man of passionate conviction, enthusiastic with an ability of that as a practical organiser.

During World War II, the persecution of the Jews in Hungary soon became well known abroad, unlike the full extent of the Holocaust. In late spring 1944,  a detailed account of the operations of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp written by two recent escapees. Following the report’s publication, the administration of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned to the newly created War Refugee Board (WRB) and team in search of a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Hungary. In search of someone willing and able to go to Budapest to organize a rescue program for the nation’s Jews, Raoul Wallenberg was recommended.

When Wallenberg reached the Swedish legation in Budapest in July 1944, the campaign against the Jews of Hungary had already been underway for several months. Between May and July 1944, Eichmann and his associates had successfully deported over 400,000 Jews by freight train. Of those deported all but 15,000 were sent directly to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland. By the time of Wallenberg’s arrival there were only 230,000 Jews remaining in Hungary. Together with fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger, he issued “protective passports” (German: Schutz-Pass), which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thus prevented their deportation. Although not legal, these documents looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities, who sometimes were also bribed. The Swedish legation in Budapest also succeeded in negotiating with the German authorities so that the bearers of the protective passes would be treated as Swedish citizens and be exempt from having to wear the yellow badge required for Jews.

With the money raised by the board, Wallenberg rented 32 buildings in Budapest and declared them to be extraterritorial, protected by diplomatic immunity. He put up signs such as “The Swedish Library” and “The Swedish Research Institute” on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings to bolster the deception. The buildings eventually housed almost 10,000 people.

Sandor Ardai, one of the drivers working for Wallenberg, recounted what Wallenberg did when he intercepted a trainload of Jews about to leave for Auschwitz:

.. 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.

At the height of the program, over 350 people were involved in the rescue of Jews. [Wikipedia, revised]

At the height of the fighting for Budapest between the Russians and Germans, on January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was called to the Russian General Malinovsky’s headquarters in Debrecen on suspicion of being a spy for the United States and that the War Refugee Board was engaged in espionage. Wallenberg’s last recorded words were, “I’m going to Malinovsky’s … whether as a guest or prisoner I do not know yet.”  His final fate is unknown.

15 thoughts on “Thousands”

  1. Amen!

    By the way were you planning to write this earlier or inspired by conversations in the blog.

    1. I vaguely remember someone, probably you, suggesting Wallenberg. Goodrum did most of the research, I had never heard of him!? He was a natural once he was mentioned.

  2. Just the incredible stories of courage and sadness, the stories of people, temperament…survival, despair, atrocities and inspiration. I sailed on the Danube, I didn’t realise the secrets it held at that time. Wallenberg’s story is full of every possible human emotion there is. I loved that George could tell his story. Great blog. (Thanks JT).

  3. Well I don’t know what I am being thanked for. I don’t even know if I helped gave David the idea.

    But the article was well worth the writing and Wallenberg was an archetypical INFP.

  4. JT->Remember you brought up Raoul Wallenberg’s name as an example of a comparative to I think Gandhi, (or comment discussion that was about then), possibly the Aung San Suu Kyi blog. Wallenberg’s story had been buried away, time… almost forgotten. Nice that he got to have his own temperament blog. There is so much to tell. An incredible humanitarian.

  5. By the way, I did a mini-bio on TV Tropes. It’s kind of glib given the subject matter but it is reasonably good otherwise.

  6. I could feel how Wallenberg must have felt. A great man that I had never heard about and I was married to a Jewish man. He inspired me to think about doing more for others. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to learn about this remarkable man.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing about this wonderful man. Like Keirsey and Olivia, I unfortunately cannot recall that I’d ever heard of him. Clearly he was an outstanding human being in his courage, but it still very affirming to know that I too, also a Healer, have the possibility to live up to my yearning to do something beautiful and great if I persistently and courageously work for it.

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