Monday, January 17, 2005

Raoul Wallenberg -- Chassid Umot Ha'Olam

Please spare a thought tonight for Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved, at the very least, 100,000 Jews in the Second World War. Today is the 60th anniversary of this Righteous Gentile's arrest by the Soviets (probably because they suspected he was an American spy and because they were suspicious of his contacts with the Germans). He disappeared without trace.
Most people know about the fake passes he produced, have heard the stories about Wallenberg climbing onto the roofs of trains while the Germans were shooting at him. The Chicago Sun Times tells a less well known story which epitomises the extraordinary lengths to which he was prepared to go to save human -- Jewish -- lives. It comes from his then-assistant, Agnes, today in her mid-80's:
Toward the end of 1944, Nazis decided an efficient way to murder Hungarian Jews was to take them to the shore of the icy Danube River, tie three together, shoot the middle one, and toss them in.
Two weeks before Christmas 1944, Wallenberg walked into his offices at the Swedish Legation in Budapest and asked who among his aides could swim. Agnes, then 26, raised her hand. (She had been the best swimmer in her high school class.)
What happened next is nothing short of superhuman.
"Raoul said, 'Let's go!' Two diplomats and myself, we went down to the Danube with the Swedish Red Cross, we turned off the lights and we synchronized with the shooting. And the three of us jumped in fully clothed. I was in a fur coat," Agnes was telling me the other day, recounting her amazing tale with the enthusiasm of, well, a 26-year-old.
Agnes, who was Wallenberg's assistant, and the two diplomats dived into the freezing river, over and over again, untied the ropes, and swam the victims to safety.
"Anyhow, we saved about 80 people," she said, nonchalantly.
Will we ever find out what happened to this extraordinary man?


Soccer Dad said...

His niece is married to the modern day defender of Jews: Kofi Annan.

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