Raoul Wallenberg was born on August 4, 1912, in Sweden. Raoul’s family was one of Sweden’s most prominent, having given the country several generations of leading bankers, diplomats and statesmen. Raoul’s father, Oscar Wallenberg, was a naval officer and died three months before the child was born. Ever since Raoul’s paternal grandfather, Gustav Wallenberg, took charge of his education. In 1931 Raoul attended the faculty of Architecture at the University of Michigan in the United States of America. In 1935 he received a Bachelor of Science degree and returned to Sweden. Raoul then worked for his grandfather in Cape Town, South Africa, for a company specialized in building materials. He then moved to Haifa, in what is now Israel, to work for a Dutch bank and came into contact for the first time with Jews who had fled from Hitler’s Germany.
In January 1944 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board. The aim of this executive agency was to aid civilian victims of Nazism and it was created under the pressure of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and several Jewish organizations. Following this decision action was taken to support Jewish citizens throughout Europe. Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest, Hungary, in July 1944. The situation was already dramatic: under the direction of Adolf Eichmann the Nazis had deported more than 400,000 Jewish men, women and children. Raoul Wallenberg was assigned to the Swedish Legation in Budapest with the official assignment of a humanitarian mission. Throughout 1944 he organized and participated to several extraordinary rescue actions that saved tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest. In particular, Raoul Wallenberg had the intuition to release, and often personally deliver in extreme situations, fake Swedish protective passports, called ‘Schutz-pass Wallenberg’ or ‘Wallenberg passports’, which identified those who owned them as Swedish citizens and therefore prevented them from deportation. Passports allowed tens of thousands of Jewish families to flee Hungary and escape. Although these documents were not legal, they managed to deceive the Nazi authorities for several months.
At the beginning of 1945, when the Red Army defeated the Nazis and entered Budapest, Raoul Wallenberg was arrested by Russian authorities under suspicion of being a spy. He was brought to Moscow and there he was repeatedly interrogated by authorities regarding his activities in Budapest. In 1947 Raoul Wallenberg was declared dead by Soviet authorities. However, the documents that report Wallenberg’s imprisonment and fate are still today secret and the few that could be accessed and verified, are incomplete and full of anomalies and alterations. It wasn’t uncommon, at the end of the Second world war and beginning of the Cold war, that officials or spies of both sides arrested during war operations were held captive for several months or years, waiting to be used for exchanges. In such cases, documents and reports were often altered so that only high-ranking officials were aware of the real identities.
Swedish authorities attempted several times without success to collect information regarding Raoul Wallenberg’s uncertain fate. The report of the Swedish-Russian working group released in the year 2000 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden accounts for several eyewitnesses throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s of Raoul Wallenberg alive, as well as several uncomplete or modified documents in the Russian archives. Recent historical research – as also stated in a letter by Lovice Maria Ullein-Reviczky, daughter of Dr. Antal Ullein-Reviczky, a well-known opponent of Nazism and a key figure in the Hungarian resistance movement – demonstrates that Raoul Wallenberg had strong bonds with Antal Ullein-Reviczky, the War Refugee Board, the American Office of Strategic Services (former CIA) and several Jewish organizations trying to help Jews escape from the horrors of Nazism.
In 1996, as a consequence of the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA released thousands of documents concerning Raoul Wallenberg which confirm that he was an agent of the Allies, operating in Hungary.
There is a possibility that Raoul Wallenberg was liberated as part of a spy exchange program in the 1950s and lived thereafter under a cover name. There is a possibility that the people he met and the things he saw during his operative years, and above all what he felt during that time, made him take the dramatic decision to never reveal his identity for the rest of his life.
In 2016 Raoul Wallenberg was officially declared dead by the Swedish authorities. In Jerusalem there is a memorial to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Second world war. It is called Yad Vashem and it was erected in 1953. A street called ‘Avenue of the Righteous’ runs through the area. Some six hundred trees line the street in straight rows, and they were all planted to honor the memory of non-Jewish individuals who risked their lives to save Jewish children, women and men from the Nazi executioners. One of these trees bears the name of Raoul Wallenberg. A steady breeze blows through the leaves.