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Useful Notes / Raoul Wallenberg

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Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat, and humanitarian, born 4 August 1912 to a old and rich family in Sweden. After doing his compulsory military service, he went to school in Paris and at the University of Michigan. The most notable event in his early life was the time he spent Walking the Earth in America. Following this, he got a series of jobs as representative of the Family Business. This dropped him in Budapest in the most inconvenient time possible — World War II. During this time he was made chairman of the local War Refugee Board, a committee with the patronage of several nations, including the United States (which was apparently using it to launder money for the funding of OSS operations, a fact which would be to Wallenberg's misfortune), and Sweden, which made Wallenberg an official part of the local diplomatic staff (a fact which he would find useful).

Upon the attempted defection of Hungary to the Allies, the Germans invaded and conquered the whole country. With the Germans came Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief bureaucrats of the death camps. Eichmann began rounding Jews up to be sent off to their doom. Whereupon, in stepped Wallenberg. Wallenberg rented 32 buildings in the name of the Swedish Legation. With the help of others, he managed to give as many Jews as possible protective passports, the majority of which he had no actual authority to give. When the Nazis protested, he shooed them away by a mixture of bribes, ornate and official looking government papers, and threats (yes, really!) of a neutral nation's disfavor. At some point he even climbed on top of train cars to hand over Swedish passports to Jews bound for the camps, while Nazis were shooting at him. The number of lives he saved can not be determined — estimates vary from around 4500 to over 100,000.

Unfortunately, his was not one of them. When the Soviet Union conquered Budapest, they arrested Wallenberg as a spy for the United States (even though the US was an Enemy Mine at the time anyway; it's complicated). Thereupon Wallenberg disappeared into the gulag. In 1957, Soviet authorities claimed that he died in prison of heart failure in 1947. However, many remained unconvinced and searched for him, including Simon Wiesenthal, and Wallenberg's half-brother, Professor Guy von Dardel. Though several claimed to have seen him, including former KGB spymasters, the exact story of his final fate is unsure. Whatever it is, it was unpleasant.

One theory is that GPU knew well what and who Wallenberg was, and kidnapped him in order to blackmail Sweden after the war. They assumed they would trade Wallenberg on ex-Soviet refugees who had fled in Sweden during the war. As Sweden would not negotiate, Wallenberg was executed.

Wallenberg's name appears on monuments all around the world, including Israel, where he is praised as a Righteous Gentile by the people he died to save. In 1981, he was also granted the special honor of being an honorary citizen of the United States. He is currently the second of seven people granted this honor; only Winston Churchill received it before him. The Representative who pushed this through Congress, Tom Lantos, was one of the Jews saved by him. Wallenberg is also an honorary Canadian citizen (as of 2016, only five other people have received this honor) and has been featured on a Canadian commemorative stamp.

Media about Wallenberg:

  • Wallenberg: A Hero's Story, a 1985 US-made miniseries. He's played by Richard Chamberlain.
  • Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg, a 1990 Swedish film. He's played by Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd.
  • Appears in the 2011 Spanish TV film El ángel de Budapest played by Iván Fenyő - the series features relatives and the Winnipeg lawyer still piloting inquiries into his case, and was released in Canada and broadcast on the Bravo! network.