Fifty-five Years Later

Fifty-five Years Later

Confronting the Nazi machinery of death in Budapest in the summer and fall of 1944, Raoul Wallenberg, secretary of the Swedish legation, rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has singled out Wallenberg as a "role model" for "moral behavior in the face of evil and in-justice." But, Annan asked, "why were there so few Raouls?"1 Elie "Wiesel called him "extraordinary," and noted, too, how his initiatives reveal "what could have been done to save Jewish lives if more people had cared."2

Even when the Nazi war machine had almost ground to a halt in Budapest and the Soviet Red Army had occupied most of the city’s Pest area, Wallenberg refused to respond to pleas from his closest colleague to stop risking his life and go into hiding in the Buda area with other members of the Swedish legation. Wallenberg explained: "For me there’s no choice. I’ve taken on this assignment and I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible."3

Wallenberg said this on January 10, 1945. Exactly one week later—January 17—he was seized by Soviet secret police and disappeared into the Kremlin’s infamous gulag.

On the eve of the new millennium, the Holocaust—the greatest horror of a century of horrors—is receding into the past. But for Wallenberg, a moral giant who bestrode the historical stage for only a moment, there is still no closure. Raoul Wallenberg disappeared fifty-five years ago, and despite the enormous amount of detailed knowledge that has accumulated about the Holocaust, the world knows neither why he was taken nor what happened to him.

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