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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Raoul Wallenberg’

Happy Birthday, Mr. Wallenberg, and Thank You for All Those Lives

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

It was a full house despite the inclement winter weather Tuesday night, Dec. 17, at Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, where an impressive gathering of political and rabbinic leaders, as well as prominent members of the local Jewish community, took place.

The dinner was a centennial tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who went above and beyond the call of duty during the Second World War, rescuing tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

Wallenberg 2

Tuesday night’s event attracted prominent individuals from the local community and beyond. From left to right: Rabbi Gershon Tennenbaum, Director of the Iggud HaRabbonim; Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, Young Israel of Jamaica Estates; NY Daily News Columnist Denis Hamill; Dr. Joe Frager, Emcee for the evening; popular media personality and author Michael Reagan; dinner committee member Dr. Paul Brody; noted surgeon Dr. Irvin Spira

Rabbi Tannenbaum, served as the evening’s master of ceremonies. Delivering the event’s keynote address was Michael Reagan, son of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan.

One of the first to address the crowd, Rabbi Tannenbaum, offered a summary of Wallenberg’s life and deeds. With numerous relatives whose lives had been saved by the Swedish diplomat, Tannenbaum testified to his “direct connection to the Wallenberg impact.” Tannenbaum went on to tell the harrowing true story of a man who frequently found himself on the wrong end of Nazi guns, and despite the constant threats and harassment (and even an assassination attempt!) “didn’t flinch.” This was a man, notes Tannenbaum, who was born into an affluent Swedish family, the equivalent of “a Rockefeller or a Kennedy,” who nonetheless abandoned a life of luxury and put his own neck on the line to save lives during the Holocaust.

Marking the event for posterity, Assemblyman Weprin presented a proclamation on behalf of the New York State Assembly. In it, Young Israel Chovevei Zion, the organization behind the gathering, was lauded as “an extraordinary organization … worthy of the esteem of the country, the community, and the great State of New York.” One of the evening’s highlights was the speech by media personality Michael Reagan. Reagan recounted how his father praised Wallenberg as a man who truly understood the meaning of human rights, being someone who was “willing to plant a tree knowing that he will never sit under it.” He went on to stress the need for “more Wallenbergs” in a world where so many are “planting trees” only for themselves.

Reagan went on to tie his father’s legacy as president to that of the Swedish civil servant, the former having posthumously granted honorary U.S. citizenship to the latter – a rare honor. Though the two had never met, Reagan notes that they were united by common cause, a fearless dedication to “freedom for all people” that led to extraordinary achievements in both cases.

Addressing the audience directly, Reagan declared that “My legacy is to make sure that people never forget Ronald Reagan. Your legacy is to make sure that no one ever forgets Raoul Wallenberg, and that this story is told beyond this room.” Indeed, this emphasis on education was a thread running throughout the evening’s proceedings. In a similar vein, Rabbi Tannenbaum declared that it was “our mission to make everyone a potential Wallenberg.” In a private interview, event co-chair Dr. Frager offers a bit of background on the event, as well as his own perspective on its ultimate purpose.

Describing his level of personal attachment to Wallenberg’s legacy, Frager notes that at one point he had intended to name his son “Raoul,” but that Mrs. Frager had vetoed the idea. “This was 31 years ago that we had this discussion,” says Frager, “so it’s not like this was an overnight event for me. “I’ve been wanting to do something to honor Wallenberg for a long time,” Dr. Frager recalls, but, being mostly preoccupied with Israel activism, he “didn’t have the right group to do it with” until recently.

When asked what his goals were vis-à-vis the Wallenberg centennial dinner, Frager said that he is “not trying to start a new foundation. Right now we’re working alongside the National Council of Young Israel.”

“I’m just trying to make sure that everyone gets to know who Raoul Wallenberg is; to reacquaint people with Raoul Wallenberg – a great man, a liberator who gave his life for our people.”

A Unanimous Senate Awards Wallenberg Congressional Gold Medal

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously to award Raoul Wallenberg the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by Congress.

The vote was part of an effort to confer the honor upon Wallenberg in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth in August. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved awarding the medal in April. The measure now goes to President Obama for his signature.

“Raoul Wallenberg’s courageous actions were a shining example of selfless heroism at a time when others stood mute in the face of unimaginable horror,” said Kathy Manning, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America, which had led advocacy for the medal. “That this legislation passed with such broad bipartisan support is a reflection of how deserving Raoul Wallenberg is of the Congressional Gold Medal.”

The legislation was introduced in September by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat in Budapest during the German occupation in 1944, issued Swedish travel documents – known as “Wallenberg passports” – to at least 20,000 Jews, and also set up more than 30 safe houses for Jews. Other diplomats from neutral countries collaborated in the effort.

The details of Wallenberg’s fate have remained a mystery. He disappeared while being escorted out of Hungary to the Soviet Union. The Soviets claimed that he died of a heart attack in 1957, but other evidence indicated that he was killed in Lubyanka prison or that he may have lived years longer.

The Congressional Gold Medal has been conferred since the American Revolution to honor “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.” It was first awarded to George Washington.

Awardees need not be Americans. Past honorees include Simon Wiesenthal, Natan and Avital Sharansky, the Dalai Lama, and Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Why Raoul Wallenberg’s Centennial Matters

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

The Swedish rescuer Raoul Wallenberg was born 100 years ago this summer, and his centennial is being commemorated with events in many cities across Europe and North America. On July 26, a symposium in his memory will be held at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research in Jerusalem.

Wallenberg, whose birth date is Aug. 4, 1912, is one of the approximately 24,000 individuals who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, the honor bestowed by Yad Vashem and the State of Israel upon non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

Why is his centennial the cause of so much commemorative activity?

Certainly part of the answer lies in Wallenberg’s tragic fate. Early in 1945, after having been involved in rescuing Jews in Budapest since the previous summer, Wallenberg was arrested by the conquering Soviets.

Explanations ranging from the banal to cloak and dagger have been advanced as to why he was arrested. It could simply be that as a foreigner carrying a variety of currencies and official documents on his person, he may have aroused suspicion. It could be that as a Wallenberg, whose family like many neutral Swedes had engaged in business with Germany during the war, he was an intentional target of the Soviet security apparatus. And it may even be that the Soviets suspected that he was being used as an intermediary between the Nazis and Western Allies to arrange a separate peace, so that both sides could then turn against them.

None of these reasons, even if one may be the correct one, sufficiently explains why Wallenberg was held in captivity after the war ended, and why neither the Soviets nor their successor regime in Russia have provided the full documentation they most likely still hold regarding his fate. All we know for certain is that at some point, Wallenberg died in Soviet captivity.

In addition to his disappearance, other facets of the story rivet our attention on Wallenberg. In many ways he has emerged as an icon of the Holocaust, one of a select group of people through which people understand the cataclysmic events. Along with Oskar Schindler, Wallenberg has become the best known and therefore the foremost symbol of the rescuers.

Wallenberg was among a handful of neutral diplomats engaged in a rather wide-ranging rescue operation that evolved after the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. One could say that effort reached its pinnacle during the period of the Arrow Cross regime in the autumn of that year, and that it continued until the conquest of Budapest by Soviet forces in mid-January and early February 1945.

This was not a single coordinated rescue operation. Rather it was composed of different groups and many individuals, often in a kind of confederation, all trying to do the same thing. They strove to keep Jews alive and out of the hands of their persecutors until the Germans and their Hungarian allies were defeated. The rescuers were many and varied, among them neutral diplomats, adult Zionist activists, Zionist youth movement members of all persuasions, church people and others. Through the use of diplomatic protection, (relatively) safe refuges and the provision of the basic necessities of life, they helped to keep alive more than 100,000 Jews in Budapest.

A cardinal reason that Wallenberg is so venerated is bound up in his character and the nature of his mission. In the late spring of 1944, Wallenberg was approached by the Swedish government, which in turn had been approached by the American rescue agency the War Refugee Board. He was asked to go to Hungary as a certified emissary of the Swedish government, and his job was to help Jews.

Wallenberg readily volunteered to enter the conflagration. If this was not enough, unlike other diplomats who confined themselves to rescuing Jews by diplomatic means – certainly a laudable enterprise – Wallenberg at times was out on the streets proffering his aid, in the midst of extreme danger and again on his own volition.

Not only was Wallenberg an emissary of his government, essentially he was an emissary of the Western world. In the name of the Western world, he not only engaged in rescue, but displayed the best in Western values in doing so – courage, compassion and ingenuity. He was the ideal to which the Western world would like to have lived up to more during those dreadful war years.

Raoul Wallenberg’s 100th Birthday: Iranian Participation, New Investigation

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

A celebration of the 100th birthday of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of over 20,000 Hungarian Jews in the final days of World War II, also marks the renewal of investigations into the events surrounding his death.

The event, which took place in the portrait hall of Budapest’s National Museum in Hungary, was attended by a slew of international representatives, including the wife of late Congressman Tom Lantons, who was saved by Wallenberg, and Holocaust survivor and Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled.  A surprise to attendees was the participation of Iranian Ambassador to Hungary Seyed Agha Banihashemi Saeed, who remained throughout the duration of the ceremony, including during a speech made by Peled.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an open Holocaust denier and has made frequent calls for the destruction of Israel.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who was also in attendance, has asked experts to open a new probe into what happened to Wallenberg after his capture in 1945.

Wallenberg was personally responsible for the issuing of Swedish diplomatic papers to Hungarian Jews beginning in July 1944, as well as for establishing hiding places for Jews throughout Budapest.

Wallenberg was arrested by Russian officers on January 17, 1945.  He was never heard from again, and his whereabouts or circumstances of death were never established. He was 32 years old at the time of his disappearance.

The new investigation will be led by Hans Magnusson, who began his inquiry into Wallenberg’s whereabouts in the 1990s along with Russian experts.  At the time, the Russians said Wallenberg was probably killed on June 17, 1947 in Soviet custody.  At the time, the Soviets said Wallenberg died of a heart attack in prison.  However, some evidence and eye-witness reports suggest he may have survived beyond that date.

Moreover, two US researchers are now saying a recently discovered Swedish document shows that the KGB intervened to thwart Magnusson’s investigation of Wallenberg’s disappearance.

At the ceremony, Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi admitted that Hungary played a role in the deaths of 600,000 Hungarian Jews, and reaffirmed Hungary’s current support for Israel.

The year of Wallenberg’s 100th birthday will include a Hungarian commemorative stamp, a national competition for high school students on Holocaust history, and an event honoring Hungarian non-Jewish “Righteous Among the Nations” at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/raoul-wallenbergs-100th-birthday-iranian-participation-new-investigation/2012/01/19/

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