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 organisations. 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.
At the beginning of 1945, when the Soviet army defeated the German army and entered Budapest, Raoul Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet authorities being a suspect 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 secret and those that have been verified, are incomplete and full of anomalies. 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 in Moscow, 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.
It is not yet clear whether Raoul Wallenberg died in Moscow in 1947 or he was exchanged and protected under a cover name, to outlive his fame. During the Cold War, which began in 1947 and continued until 1991, several prisoners of the Second world war became the subject of secret exchanges between Superpowers. In 1996, as a consequence of the Freedom for Information Act, the CIA published thousands of documents concerning Raoul Wallenberg which confirm that Raoul Wallenberg was an agent of the Allies, operating in Hungary.
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 World War II. It is called Yad Vashem and it was erected in 1953. A street called ”Avenue of the Righteous” runs through the area. 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 the Jews from the Nazi executioners. One of these trees bears the name of Raoul Wallenberg. A steady breeze blows through the leaves.