Tuesday 16 August 2016

Raoul Wallenberg's Briefcase

The briefcase, cast in bronze, stands on the foundation of an old house in Sweden.  It held history:   documents with important signatures, documents that would change lives, called "schutzpasses".  Its owner would lose his own life in the pursuit of saving tens of thousands of others'.

Raoul Wallenberg was born in Sweden in 1912.  His father died of cancer when he was only 3 years old, leaving his mother to raise him on her own.  He sailed to America to studied architecture at the university of Michigan.  It was there that he learned to speak English, French and German, skills that would serve him well later in life.  Along with other male students at the university, he took a job as a rickshaw driver at Chicago's Century of Progress World's Fair.

Returning to his home country after his studies, Raoul was disappointed to discover that his American degree would not suffice in Sweden.  In 1938 the Swede learned how to speak Hungarian and started working in an import/export business, travelling between Stockholm and Budapest.

Between May and July of 1944, the Nazis deported 400,000 Jews.  It was at that time that Wallenberg was appointed secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest.  In his role he started to issue protective passports to Jews.  He rented 32 buildings and gave them such names as "Swedish Library" and "Swedish Research Institute", hanging large blue flags with the yellow cross over the door, only serving as a subterfuge for the rescue operation.

With each passport that he forged, Wallenberg increased his risk of being caught by the Nazis.  He started to sleep in a different house every night so as not to be caught.  Ironically it was the Soviets who arrested Wallenberg as a spy when they arrived in Budapest in 1945.  Wallenberg was detained in Lubyanka Prison where he was removed from his cell in March of that year, never to be seen again. One report stated the he had died of a heart attack in 1947.  Another said that he had been executed the same year.

Wallenberg will always be remembered for his courage in the face of fear.

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