Rauol Wallenberg was born in Lindingo near Stockholm, Sweden to Maria Sofia Wising Wallenberg and Raoul Oscar Wallenberg on August 4th 1912. However, three months before his birth, Rauol’s father had died of cancer. Rauol’s mother married Fredrik von Dardel and gave birth to Rauol’s half-brother, Guy Von Darden. Rauol also had a maternal half-sister, Nina Lagergren (Wallenberg, 2007). Raoul’s mother and Raoul’s grandfather, Gustaf Wallenberg took charge of Rauol’s education.
Raoul spent nine months in the military before attending college (Gann, 2007). Wallenberg went to the United States in 1931 to study Architecture at the University of Michigan. By 1935 he had earned his Bachelor’s Degree from there. While Wallenberg was in college, he learned to speak fluent German, French and English. Some of the research on his life stated that he would use his vacation time to explore the United States. Even though he was from an affluent family, Wallenberg would take up odd jobs like working at the World’s Fair (Wallenberg, 2005).
Wallenberg returned to Sweden where his grandfather helped him secure employment with a Swedish company that sold construction material in Cape Town, South Africa. Six months into this job, his grandfather then helped him to get employment in a Dutch bank office in Hafia, Palestine which is now Israel. Palestine is where Wallenberg first met Jewish people who had escaped Hitler’s Germany. Wallenberg had Jewish ancestry from his grandmother’s grandfather side by the name of Benedict (Haswell, 2007).
Contributions Because it would be impossible to list all but some of the most important contributions Wallenberg made during his lifetime, I will concentrate on his acts as a Swedish humanitarian sent to Hungary where he worked tirelessly in saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jewish people from the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann, a high-ranking Nazi, was planning to exterminate the whole Jewish population in Budapest. He reported that the operation would take only a few days (Haswell, 2007). The U. S. stablished a War Refugee Board (WRB) in 1944 with the purpose of saving Jewish people from Nazi persecution.
This Board then found out Sweden had rescue attempts being organized so the WRB representative in Stockholm called a committee with prominent Swedish Jews to discuss who could lead a mission in Budapest for an extensive rescue operation (2007, Raoul). Wallenberg’s business partner Koloman Lauer, a Hungarian Jew, was chosen as an expert on Hungary. Lauer suggested and had to be persistent that Wallenberg should be asked since some viewed him as too young and possibly inexperienced.
Lauer emphasized that Wallenberg’s was a quick thinker, energetic, brave, compassionate and that he had a famous name. After everyone approved, at the end of June 1944 Wallenberg was appointed first secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest to start the rescue mission of Hungarian Jews. Raoul was very excited (Wallenberg, 2007). Wallenberg, with the help of a staff of several hundred Jewish co-workers, designed “protective passes” made to impress and provoke respect to those who wore them to avoid persecution (Wallenberg, 2007).
Wallenberg seldom used traditional means of diplomacy in saving the Hungarian Jews, instead he used bribes, extortion threats, helped in building over 15,000 Swedish refuge houses for the Jews and Wallenberg even “climbed aboard train wagons, stood on tracks, ran along wagon roofs, stuck bunches of protective passes to people inside. The German soldiers were ordered to fire but were so impressed by Wallenberg’s courage they deliberately aimed too high” (Wallenberg, 2007). Wallenberg has been credited with saving 100,000 Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust (Wallenberg, 2005).
End of Life As much or more attention has been given to the whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg after his heroic efforts in saving Hungarian Jews. There is some question and debate regarding what exactly happened to Wallenberg, I am using the version of the story I feel has the most credibility in my opinion after reading several versions. Wallenberg along with his driver Vilmos Langfedler were arrested and sent to Moscow. They were arrested by an organization that is now known as the KGB.
Eyewitnesses stated that the two were placed in separate cells in Lubjanka prison (Wallenberg, 2007). On February 6, 1957, the Russians announced that they had made extensive investigations and found a document most likely regarding Raoul Wallenberg. In a hand-written document dated July 17, 1947 it was stated that “prisoner Wallenberg passed away this night in his cell” (2007, WLC). It was signed by Smoltsov who was the head of the Lubjanka prison infirmary and the document was addressed to Viktor Abakumov, the minister of state security in the Soviet Union.
On March 8th, 1945 an announcement on Hungarian radio declared that Raoul Wallenberg had been murdered on his way to Debrecen, attributing the murder to either “Hungarian Nazis or Gestapo agents” (Wallengreen, 2007). This created a complacency with the Swedish government, presuming Wallenberg was dead, even though most individuals didn’t take the radio message seriously. However, many have blamed the Swedes for missing the opportunity and failing to negotiate Wallenberg’s release after the war in time to save his life.
Wallenberg has received many post-mortem recognition and honors. He was made an honorary citizen of the United States in 1981, of Canada in 1985 and Israel in 1986. Many Raoul Wallenberg associations continue to work to find more answers to what happened to Raoul Wallenberg. A joint Russian-Swedish panel released a report that did find evidence that Wallenberg was arrested because Soviets were suspicious that Wallenberg was a spy but they did not reach any conclusion as to Wallenberg’s fate (Aftermath, 1999).