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To remember -- the outstanding deed
By Lenke Rothman
"Suffering being without limits here, one must try to alleviate it." That was Raoul Wallenberg's observation about the situation upon his arrival in Budapest on Sunday, July 9, 1944.
At the Swedish Embassy in Budapest, three individuals are always cited as serving the cause of humanity during World War II: Carl Ivan Danielsson, Per Anger, Raoul Wallenberg. Although others are also recalled. One name comes more often into focus: Raoul Wallenberg. He served for slightly more than six months in Budapest. But during that time, Wallenberg had already become a legend, a central figure in the saving of tens of thousands of Jewish lives.
In her moving book Raoul, his mother writes: "On September 27, 1911, Raoul Wallenberg married Maj Wising. A lovely wedding in Jacob Church. A young bridal couple: he was 23, she was 20, with their lives ahead of them. But on May 10, 1912, the young bride became a widow. And on August 4, 1912, their son Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg was born." Thus commenced the life of Raoul Wallenberg.
The mother maintained a diary about her lonely, beloved son. In November, 1915, she notes: "He thinks so much about everything. And his little reflections are always so very right and sensible. His observations are lightning-quick."
Raoul Wallenberg emerges as a sensitive, passionate and attentive observer of the world around him. And he never did anything casually or superficially; this is so very evident when one reads his numerous letters to his "Beloved grandfather" from his foreign travels between 1924 and 1936. He could put himself into other people's situations, he would take in small events and big, as well as the politics of countries. That he would be a banker and a business man, which was surely his grandfather's wish, stood in conflict with his artistically inclined talents, such as architecture.
He always sought a meaningful mission for his life. A mystic is supposed to have said: "What you seek, seeks you." Wallenberg's deed attests to this.
I am particularly struck by a dispatch from Raoul Wallenberg sent on July 18, 1944 from Budapest to the Foreign Ministry in Stockholm. I found it among the files in the Wallenberg Archives in the library at Uppsala University. This report provides explicit background to his involvement and ceaseless activities. It explains the need for "safe houses" and protective passports to save people from extermination. All the way up to the final dispatch on December 8, 1944, an accounting about SS atrocities, about the career Nazi and Chief Executioner Eichmann and his reign of violence, about all the dead bodies along the highways as victims of the death marches, Raoul Wallenberg was witness to increasingly monumental cruelty. At the same time, he tirelessly sought possible ways to save lives. Aided by many helpers, he was busy day and night. The obvious contrast between the SS's life-extinguishing and heinous actions against helpless humans, and Wallenberg's caring and saving of life, his unique action, awaits to become a collective memory in the healing of our lacerated planet.
A section from the dispatch of July 18, 1944 is now sandblasted onto the protective glass as part of the homage to Raoul Wallenberg in the Swedish Parliament building.
In the spring of 1997, I visited Budapest to look for direct clues and traces of Raoul Wallenberg. I met people he had protected, others who were neighbors of those protected, people who still lived in the houses protected during the persecutions. In Budapest, people speak of Raoul Wallenberg as "dicsoséges ember" -- a glorious human being -- without precedent. "Wallenberg is coming" was an expression among those threatened, which was synonymous with the understanding that help was on the way.
I sought out all of the 34 addresses, street by street, where the safe houses from the war are still found. I photographed doors and house numbers. In a marble frieze above the portal at Pannonia utca 8, I saw a prayer:
Áldd meg Uram ezt a házat
Áldd meg ezt a küszöböt.
Bless, Lord, this house, bless this threshold.
Those who built the house and offered the prayer were rewarded: God blessed the house and the threshold through Raoul Wallenberg.
These doors open and close like all other doors, but when one stands before them, one experiences their very unique message: Remember -- say these doors -- that once upon a time there was a man whose extraordinary mission must become an example for future generations.
I have gathered stones and gravel from the streets of the safe houses. In various districts in Budapest, I looked for candlesticks. As a homage and remembrance of Raoul Wallenberg's magnificent deeds, I have found only one possible way: to work authentically. I regard the candlesticks from Budapest as a tribute to Raoul Wallenberg from those who were saved. And also as witnesses. And according to Jewish tradition, candlesticks have always been lit at ceremonies and thanksgivings for miracles that happened and the saving of life which miraculously occurred.
The almanac of Raoul Wallenberg from 1944 in which he recorded meetings, times, telephone numbers, the meetings with the admiral and head of state in Hungary, Miklós Horthy, with the SS, with so many others, and where he noted his expenses for trips and porters, are among the few possessions left to his family. A replica of this almanac comes to rest on the little stones from Budapest, from the districts where Raoul Wallenberg walked selfsacrificingly, devotedly, with dogged persistence. When his progress was brutally extinguished, it had embodied in it all the tragedies, cruelties and cynicism of human existence which litter the pathway of humanity. It also embodies all the insulting denials of the appalling crimes of our age.
Early on the morning of January 17, 1945, hours before Raoul Wallenberg was taken away, he visited the Swedish hospital and says:" I'm pleased that my mission has not been in vain." And Maria Ember in Budapest writes in the catalogue to the major exhibition Step by step about Rao«1 Wallenberg: "Though he became the archetype for the saving of life, he could not save his own."
Translation: Roger Choate
Photo: Kleb Attila
Production: Sveriges riksdag/The Swedish Parliament, 1998