17 January, 2012

17 January 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
17 January, 1945       1000

Dearest sweetheart –

I should be starting a V-mail because I could probably finish it – but I’ll give this a try, anyway, dear. Believe me when I say that conditions at the present just aren’t very conducive to writing – and when you wonder how my letters managed to stay relatively clean and unsmooched, well – darling – I wonder too. Usually I use another sheet of paper to lean on. The real trouble now, though, is the cold. Some days it’s kind of hard to thaw out.

But I’d say the present military situation looks pretty good and that sweetheart is the most important thing of all.

As I wrote you in a V-mail yesterday, dear, my last 2 letters were from Verna and Lawrence – both dated 1 January. I enjoyed Verna’s letter very much. It was – as usual – a 3-page V-mail and very newsy. She told me about the early part of New Year’s Eve – at your house, and of having a few drinks and of listening to the clock. It all made me damned homesick – but in a pleasant sort of way, if you know what I mean. I could just picture myself being there too and having some fun like we did such a long time ago. Unfortunately the illusion didn’t last long enough, darling, and I ended up feeling kind of blue. I was reading Time Magazine the other day and it said the Nation was knocked for a loop by news of the “breakthrough”. Everyone here has been getting letters from home of various types of celebrations around the New Year – and most of them just wonder. I think, personally, it’s a damned good thing the people at home can’t accurately visualize what goes on; they’ve got enough to worry about now; but my interpretation of what a lot of soldiers feel – is that they’re still in a fog in the States. It’s Europe that’s fighting this war, with England included, of course. We’ve seen the civilian population and we know. They are living this thing out and in stark reality.

Well, I didn’t mean to preach a sermon, dear; excuse it. I have a V-mail and an air mail letter from you of the 21st of December and I know how you reacted to all this. And the fact that you hadn’t got any mail for several days before didn’t help matters, I know. Your knowledge and daily experience with government telegrams – were no help – but darling, you must stop thinking in those terms. Things were confused in those days and you shouldn’t feel cheated about getting 2 day old news at that time. We were in it, sweetheart. I can tell you now and we too – got old news. We knew only what was going on immediately around us and the news wasn’t good for days in a row. Anyway – we’ll probably get another Bronze Star for another Campaign – and I ought to come back with my share of them.

I don’t know how I got this far with this letter, darling, but I’ll have to stop now. Whatever you hear or read, keep a stiff upper lip and remember that wherever I am – I love you more than ever and as constantly and that I think only of you every moment I’m allowed to think. My love to the folks and so long for awhile.

All my everlasting love


about Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg was born in 1912 near Stockholm, where his maternal grandparents had built a summer house in 1882. His paternal grandfather 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 who died of cancer three months before his son was born, and Maria "Maj" Sofia Wising (1891–1979). In 1918, his mother remarried.

In 1931, Wallenberg went to study architecture at the University of Michigan in the United States. In college, he learned to speak English, German and French. He used his vacations to explore the United States. Although the Wallenberg family was wealthy, he worked at odd jobs in his free time.

On his return to Sweden, he found his American degree did not qualify him to practice as an architect. Eventually, his grandfather arranged a job for him in Cape Town, South Africa, in the office of a Swedish company that sold construction material. Between 1935 and 1936, Wallenberg was employed in a minor position at a branch office of the Holland Bank in Haifa, Israel. He returned to Sweden in 1936 and obtained a job in Stockholm at an export-import company trading between Stockholm and central Europe, owned by Kálmán Lauer, a Hungarian Jew.

Beginning in 1938, the Kingdom of Hungary, under the regency of Miklós Horthy, passed a series of anti-Jewish measures modeled on the so-called Nuremberg Race Laws enacted in Germany by the Nazis in 1935. Like their German counterparts the Hungarian laws focused heavily on restricting Jews from certain professions, reducing the number of Jews in government and public service jobs, and prohibiting intermarriage. Because of this, Wallenberg's business associate, Kálmán Lauer, found it increasingly difficult to travel to his native Hungary, which became a member of the Axis Powers in 1940 and joined the German-led invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Wallenberg became Lauer's personal representative, traveling to Hungary to conduct business on Lauer's behalf and to look in on members of Lauer's extended family who remained in Budapest. He soon learned to speak Hungarian, and from 1941 made increasingly frequent trips to Budapest. Within a year, Wallenberg was a joint owner and the International Director of the company. In this capacity Wallenberg also made several business trips to Germany and Occupied-France during the early years of World War II. It was during these trips that Wallenberg was able to closely observe the Nazi's bureaucratic and administrative methods, gaining knowledge which would prove quite valuable to him later.

Hitler ordered the occupation of Hungary by German troops in March 1944. Once the Nazis were in control, the relative security from the Holocaust enjoyed by the Jews of Hungary came to an end. In the spring of 1944, Adolf Eichmann arrived in Hungary with orders to dispose of the country’s Jews. In April and May 1944 the Germans and their accomplices began the mass removal of Hungary's Jews to concentration camps in occupied-Poland, with deportations at a rate of 12,000 individuals per day.

In a bid to mount a secret rescue effort, the USA’s newly formed War Refugee Board (WRB) approached neutral Sweden with a plan to send an agent to Budapest to work under diplomatic cover in the Swedish embassy. Intelligent, determined and – as a member of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, sure to impress the Nazis – Raoul Wallenberg emerged as the ideal candidate. By the time he reached Budapest in July, some 400,000 Hungarian Jews had already been sent to Auschwitz for extermination. Approximately 200,000 Jews remained, and Wallenberg determined to save them all.

Together with fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger, he issued "protective passports", 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 Germans 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.

He cajoled, intimidated and bribed Axis officials. He established an elaborate network of spies within the Hungarian fascist party and the Budapest police. When Jews had no authentic identification papers, Wallenberg forged documents and flourished them authoritatively – even placing himself between Nazi officials and Jews. Upon receiving a threatening message from Eichmann – “Accidents do happen, even to a neutral diplomat” – Wallenberg ignored it. “When there is suffering without limits,” he countered, “there can be no limits to the methods one should use to alleviate it.”

With the money raised by the War Refugee 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.

The pressures on Wallenberg intensified in October 1944 when the Hungarian Nazi Party, the Arrow Cross, seized power and vowed to finish what Eichmann had started. With Budapest’s remaining Jewish population in danger of imminent deportation, Wallenberg and his staff – including many Jews he had recruited – embarked on the large-scale issuance of forged passports that carried the protective Swedish royal seal. The Hungarian Nazis were at first duped by the flashy objects, but they soon grew intolerant of the impudent Swede. With his own life in ever-increasing danger, Wallenberg refused to abandon his crusade – but by the end of 1944, he was forced to retreat into Budapest’s dangerous underground network of safe houses. And so it was with great relief that Wallenberg greeted the occupying Russians. Although his mission was officially over, he requested a meeting with the new liberators to discuss the resettlement of Jewish refugees. The Soviets – who hated Jews almost as much as the Nazis – were equally eager to speak with this suspicious American-associated savior.

On 17 January 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was summoned to Red Army headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. Before setting off, he confided to one of his closest associates: “I do not know whether I am a guest of the Soviets or their prisoner.” Wallenberg was never seen a free man again – disappearing forevermore into the Soviet Gulag. It was a cruel fate for this wealthy, soft-spoken thirty-two-year-old Swede who had saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from certain death. Wallenberg had miraculously survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary and Adolf Eichmann’s personal threat to kill him. He’d also survived the equally ruthless and fascistic Hungarian Arrow Cross regime. So when the Soviet Army entered Budapest in January 1945, Wallenberg’s superhuman mission to save the Hungarian Jews was seemingly over – 100,000 Jews were still alive in the capital, and most owed their lives to the fearless efforts of the Swedish diplomat. Wallenberg should have returned home to Sweden in honor. He had gone to Hungary, in his own words, “to save a nation” – and survived one unfathomable tyranny only to fall victim to another.

For years after the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, the Russians maintained that he was not in their custody. On February 6, 1957, the Soviets released a document dated July 17, 1947, which stated "I report that the prisoner Wallenberg who is well-known to you, died suddenly in his cell this night, probably as a result of a heart attack or heart failure. Pursuant to the instructions given by you that I personally have Wallenberg under my care, I request approval to make an autopsy with a view to establishing cause of death... I have personally notified the minister and it has been ordered that the body be cremated without autopsy." However, the last reported sightings of Wallenberg were by two independent witnesses who said they had evidence that he was in a prison in November 1987. In 1989, the Soviets returned Wallenberg's personal belongings to his family, including his passport and cigarette case. Soviet officials said they found the materials when they were upgrading the shelves in a store room.

In May 1996 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released thousands of previously classified documents regarding Raoul Wallenberg, in response to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents, along with an investigation conducted by the publication US News and World Report, appeared to confirm the long-held suspicion that Wallenberg was an American intelligence asset during his time in Hungary. This disclosure has given rise to speculation as to whether, in addition to his efforts to rescue the Hungarian Jews, Wallenberg may have been pursuing a parallel clandestine mission aimed at politically destabilizing Hungary’s pro-Nazi government on behalf of the OSS. It also adds some credence to the suggestion that it was his association with US intelligence that led to Wallenberg being targeted by the Soviets in January 1945. In November 2000, Russia announced that Wallenberg had in fact been executed by KGB agents in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison. No date was given, and no documented evidence for this claim has been found thus far.

Memorials to Raoul stand in the following nations: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, German, Hungary, Israel, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. Schools were named for him in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Uruguay, the United States and Venezuela.

The United States Congress made Wallenberg an Honorary Citizen of the United States in 1981, the second person to be so honored, after Winston Churchill. In 1985, the portion of 15th Street, SW in Washington, D.C. on which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is located, was renamed Raoul Wallenberg Place by Act of Congress.

This Memorial to Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest
was removed by the communist regime
and restored on the 50th anniversary of its demolition

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