Although in 1944 the allied victory over Nazi Germany was not in doubt, new danger faced the Jews of Hungary. Refugees fleeing from Hitler’s Germany had almost doubled Hungary’s Jewish population to 800,000. Although Hungary was allied with Germany, the Hungarian govern­ment had provided a breathing space for Jews by not enforcing anti-semitic legislation.

In 1944 Hitler insisted that the Hungarian govern­ment enforce the laws against Jews, demanding they wear the yellow star and their property be confiscated. This however, was only the beginning. The Jews were also herded into temporary camps to await transport to Auschwitz. Before the war ended a year later, some 437,000 Jews would be transported from Hungary to the death camps.

Into this dire situation came Raoul Wallenberg, a member of a distinguished Swedish family of statesmen, diplomats, military officers and financi­ers. Wallenberg’s father died before he was born and he was raised under the influence of his mother and grandfather Gustav Wallenberg, a diplomat. As a result, Wallenberg developed a world view based on extensive travel in Europe and the Middle East. Wallenberg had studied in the United States and held an honours degree in architecture from the University of Michigan.

Initially, Wallenberg followed the family inter­est in finance. While working for a bank in Haifa, Palestine, he became aware of the exodus of Jews from Nazi Germany. In the early 1940s Wallenberg visited German-occupied Europe on business and witnessed Nazi brutality toward Jews.

Neutral Sweden was interested in assisting destitute Hungarian Jews and gave Wallenberg full diplomatic accreditation, assigning him the task of establishing a special department for the protection and relief of Jews. When Wallenberg arrived in Hungary’s capital Budapest in July 1944, Swedish diplomats had already begun issuing protective passports to Jews who had personal or commercial links to Sweden. Building on this initiative, Wallenberg designed and printed a protective passport which he issued to Jews.

The same year, the United States established the War Refugee Board and the Board worked with Wallenberg by providing funds for the protection of Jews. Life was difficult for the Hungarian Jewish population which had lost property through confisca­tion and lacked access to basic needs like food and health services. Wallenberg set about building a relief organisation in Budapest which provided food and other basic necessities for destitute Jews. Encouraged by this example, other neutral countries also began to sup­port the Jews through their diplomatic representatives. The Red Cross and even Franco’s Spanish government began supporting and sheltering Jews.

However, with the Russian advance toward Hungary, Germany became desperate and installed a vigorously anti-semitic government led by Ferenc Szalasi of Arrow Cross, the Hungarian fascist party. To meet this new threat, Wallenberg organised protective housing for 20,000 Jews, while the Swiss provided housing for a further 20,000. By the time Budapest fell to the Russians, many Jews had been snatched from certain death by the work of Wallenberg and the neutral countries.

Sadly, Raoul Wallenberg’s story does not end hap­pily. Having done so much to protect and free the Jews, Wallenberg appears to have languished and died in a Soviet prison. Wallenberg was last seen on 17 January 1945. He was in the company of Russian soldiers who were taking him to meet Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, the liberator of Hungary. It is believed that he intended to discuss the rehabilitation of the Hungarian Jewish community with the Marshal.

The fate of Raoul Wallenberg is uncertain. Following his disappearance, the Swedish government made continued representation to the Soviet Union without receiving a convincing response. Until her death in 1979, Wallenberg’s mother believed that her son would one day return. Following the fall of com­munism, a joint working group was set up by Sweden and Russia to investigate the case. The report of the working group, however, was inconclusive and the case remains open.

Raoul Wallenberg was recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations on 26 November 1963. Amongst others, the honours he received are honor­ary Israeli citizenship, honorary American citizenship awarded by the United States Congress, and a street was named in his honour by the grateful surviving Jews of Budapest. Wallenberg has also been recog­nised by Australia as its first honorary citizen1 and a commemorative postage stamp was issued in 2015 by Australia Post.2

When Gog, Prince of Rosh, and his confederacy comes “like a storm [and] like a cloud” to invade Israel (Ezek 38:9) there may not be a Raoul Wallenberg to intervene, but the Lord Jesus Christ – the true Saviour of the Jews – will appear and snatch them from cer­tain destruction by their enemies. For Christ shall deliver Israel “from the hand that [is] stronger than he. “Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion … and they shall not sorrow any more at all” (Jer 31:11-12).

Footnotes

  1. Sharyn Mittelman, “Australia’s first honorary citizen: Raoul Wallenberg”, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, 9 May 2013. [Online] URL: http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/australias-first-honorary-citizen-raoul-wallenbe
  2. [Online] URL: https://shop.auspost.com.au/product/booklet-10-x-70c-raoul-wallenberg-stamps-honoured-by- australia-1870254

References

1. Arthur D Morse, While Six Million Died, London: Secker & Warburg, 1968, p350-374

2. “Raoul Wallenberg: a man who made a difference”. [Online] URL: https://sweden.se/society/raoul-wallen-berg-a-man-who-made-a-difference/

3. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The War Refugee Board”. [Online] URL: http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007749

4. Yad Vashem, “A Swedish Rescuer in Budapest”. [Online] URL: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/wallenberg.asp