Why Raoul Wallenberg’s Centennial Matters
he 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 June 26, a symposium in his memory was 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.