University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Raoul Wallenberg

    Raoul Wallenberg


    Raoul Wallenberg was born on August 4, 191, in Stockholm Sweden. The exact date or circumstances of his death are unknown.

    By the spring of 1944 Nazi extermination camps, roving squads of executioners, and the German Army had nearly annihilated most of Europe's Jewish population. The largest remaining Jewish community was in Hungary - about 700,000. In March 1944 Adolf Eichmann entered Budapest, behind the German Army during the occupation of Hungary, charged with rounding up and overseeing the deportation of Hungary's Jews.

    A variety of international agencies began to look for someone to attempt to save Hungary's Jewish remaining community.

    In the United States, on 22 January 1944, President Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board (WRB) to "take all measures ... consistent with the successful persecution of the war [to] rescue the victims of enemy oppression." In March 1944, the WRB requested support from the International Red Cross (IRC) based on the theory that "the presence of foreigners in official or unofficial capacities would have a deterrent effect" in Hungary. The IRC rejected the request.

    The WRB sent similar requests to the diplomatic missions of neutral countries still in Hungary, including: the Vatican's Papal Nuncio, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and Sweden. All but Sweden replied with vague and uncertain answers. Unbeknownst to the the WRB, however, the US Department of State had urged the neutral countries not to recognize the new government in Hungary - a true Catch-22.

    Sweden's reply, however, was more receptive. Already issuing protective passports to Jews in Budapest, and working with Valdemar Langlet of the Hungarian Red Cross to prevent the deportation of Jews, the Swedish Legation requested additional assistance immediately.

    At the same time, through the WRB's representative in Sweden, Ivar C. Olsen, put together a committee of prominent Swedish Jews to advise the WRB. The group consisted of: Norbert Masur, World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Stockholm; Dr. Marcus Ehrenpreis, the Chief Rabbi of Sweden; and a Swedish businessman with connections and "experience" in Hungary, Koloman Lauer. This committee selected Folke Bernadotte, the head of the Swedish Red Cross and a relative of King Gustav V, to go to Budapest and provide additional assistance with efforts already underway. The newly-formed Hungarian government refused to admit Bernadotte. As the Hungarian "expert" on this ad hoc committee, Koloman Lauer suggested his business partner as a replacement candidate, Raoul Gustav Wallenberg. However, there was skepticism among other members of the committee because of Wallenberg's lack of diplomatic experience and young age - he was 32 at the time. Wallenberg, however, had two important qualities on his side: first, his family name was well known and respected throughout Sweden and Europe; and second, he had quick wits, energy, courage, and compassion.

    In June 1944, Wallenberg was appointed as a Secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest, and in July he entered Budapest. Upon his arrival in Hungary, however, the provincial Jews had already been deported (approximately 400,000) to the death camps in Poland and only the Jews in Budapest remained (approximately 180,000).

    During his six month stay in Budapest, Wallenberg was responsible for saving nearly 100,000 Hungarian Jews.

    Budapest was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in January 1945. On his way to Soviet military headquarters in occupied Hungary, Wallenberg disappeared into the Soviet gulag system and was never heard from again.

    Robert D. Levy

    Links to Sites