Wallenberg - A Major Test of Glasnost

By Spencer Warren. Spencer Warren, formerly a. member of the Policy Planning Senator, lives . | The Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 1990 | Go to article overview

Wallenberg - A Major Test of Glasnost


Spencer Warren. Spencer Warren, formerly a. member of the Policy Planning Senator, lives ., The Christian Science Monitor


GLASNOST has brought commendable openness to Soviet history. The Kremlin has owned up to the 1939 pact with Hitler partitioning Poland, and has admitted the 1940 Katyn Forest massacre of 15,000 Polish officers and other prisoners.

But there is another crime it has to face. It didn't involve whole nations, but only one man, probably the noblest figure of the 20th century: Raoul Wallenberg.

The exploits of this selfless man are now well known. A 31-year-old architect and businessman, scion of a wealthy Swedish diplomatic and banking family, he traveled to Hungary in July 1944 as a special attache to the Swedish legation in Budapest. Hungary at the time was an ally of Nazi Germany and was home to the last surviving large Jewish community in Europe. Wallenberg, who had studied in the United States, had been encouraged to undertake his mission by a representative of the US War Refugee Board, which had been created by President Roosevelt, belatedly, in January 1944. The board financed much of Wallenberg's efforts.

When Wallenberg arrived in Hungary, the government of Admiral Horthy had just halted, under international pressure, the Nazi mass deportations (directed by Eichmann), which in two months had carted about 400,000 Jews off to the ovens at Auschwitz. Most of Budapest's 230,000 Jews remained in the capital. With a staff of about 300, mostly Jews, he set up safe houses under Swedish diplomatic protection and gave out Swedish passports by the thousand, saving at least 20,000 people.

In October, the Germans overthrew Horthy after he made armistice overtures to the Allies, installing the fascist Arrow Cross party in his place. Arrow Cross gangs were turned loose against the Jews, massacring 10,000 to 15,000. On Christmas Day 1944, 78 children in one of Wallenberg's shelters were machine-gunned and beaten to death. He forestalled other attacks, however, confronting armed thugs and intervening with authorities, threatening them with retribution after the war.

In November, with the collapse of the rail system, the Nazis forced about 40,000 Jews on a death march west toward Austria. Wallenberg drove along the columns, giving out food, medical, and other assistance, and succeeded in pulling out hundreds and returning them to refuge in Budapest. "He ... showed us that one human being cared," said one survivor. As the Russian armies approached, the S.S. and Arrow Cross were planning to kill the 70,000 Jews remaining in the ghetto, but Wallenberg's threat of postwar retribution may have been crucial in averting this horror. …

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