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October 20, 1989 - Image 20

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-10-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I BEHIND THE HEADLINES

Now Even Soviets Want
Answer To Wallenberg

HELEN DAVIS

Foreign Correspondent

F

October
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354.6060

our elderly Swedes
flew to Moscow this
week for a series of
meetings with Soviet politi-
cians and senior KGB offi-
cials in a final, desperate at-
tempt to resolve one of the
most enduring enigmas of
World War II.
The Swedes, all in their
70s, were united by a single,
unshakeable belief: that
Raoul Wallenberg, the
Swedish diplomat who dis-
appeared mysteriously into
the darkness of Stalin's
Russia after saving tens of
thousands of Jews in Nazi-
a occupied Hungary, is still
alive.
Wallenberg, scion of a
wealthy Swedish family,
was 32 years old when the
Nazis invaded Hungary in
1944. Backed by the World
Jewish Congress, the Joint
Distribution Committee, the
U.S. State Department and
President Roosevelt's War
Refugee Board, the young
envoy successfully appealed
to King Gustav to be posted
to the Swedish mission in
Budapest.
Hungary presented the
Nazis with the last substan-
tial urban Jewish communi-
ty under their control, and
Adolf Eichmann, the chief
administrator of the
Holocaust, set about his
murderous task of destruc-
tion with all the vigor and
efficiency at his command.
At the peak as many as
five trains a day, each carry- .
ing up to 4,000 souls, were
leaving Budapest for
Auschwitz. Later, when roll-
ing stock was not available,
Eichmann organized a pro-
gram of deportations by foot
— death marches — to an ex-
termination center 120
miles away, across the
Austrian border.
For seven turbulent mon-
ths in 1944, Walleitberg ap-
plied himself with single-
minded determination to the
task of subverting the Nazi
plans and saving Hungarian
Jews.
Operating in open defiance
of the Gestapo — ignoring
threats and often attempts
on his life — the envoy from
neutral Sweden cajoled,
bribed and bullied officials
who tried to stop him from
extending his personal pro-
tection to anyone in danger
of being caught up in
Hitler's death machine.

Raoul Wallenberg:
Fate hot topic.

He established a substan-
tial network of safe houses
for Jews, handed out
Swedish passports to those
in imminent danger, and,
when his supply of passports
ran out, he produced citizen-
ship papers as fast as his
primitive duplicating
machine could print them
and as fast as he could sign
them.
Wherever Wallenberg
found Jews in danger — at
the Budapest railroad
station where they were
herded into railcars bound
for Auschwitz, or along the
road, where they were force-
marched in pitiful columns
toward the Austrian border
— he thrust his precious
scraps of paper at them,
almost literally snatching
them from the jaws of death.
According to Gideon
Hausner, chief state pros-
ecutor at the 1961 trial of
Eichmann and later Israel's
attorney general,
Wallenberg saved some
30,000 Hungarians from the
Nazi death camps. Others
put the figure as high as
100,000.
On Jan. 17, 1945, with the
Red Army on the outskirts of
Budapest, the young
Swedish envoy made his way
through the lines and
presented himself to the
Soviet commander with the
intention of informing him
of his activities. Raoul
Wallenberg was never seen
again by his family, his col-
leagues or his friends.
For 12 years after the war,
the Soviet authorities denied
any knowledge of
Wallenberg's existence. It
was not until 1957, after
persistent inquiries by
Swedish Prime Minister
Tage Erlander, that Soviet
Deputy Foreign Minister

.

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