“No book until this one has offered such an intimate look at who Wallenberg really was.”
— Kirkus Reviews
One of the most remarkable and stirring epsiodes of World War II involved a young Swede from a distinguished banking family. From his neutral country, Raoul Wallenberg had watched with growing horror the treatment of the Jews. When, in June 1944, he was approached to oversee an operation to rescue Hungarian Jews slated by Adolf Eichmann for deportation and death, he accepted the seemingly hopeless mission. Hurriedly accorded diplomatic status by his own government, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in early July of that year. By the time of his arrest by the Soviet army on January 17, 1945, roughly six months later, he had helped save the lives of more than 100,000 people.
What had prepared this courtly, slightly diffident architect and businessman to accomplish his acts of bravery? Who is this man whom many consider one of the great moral figures of the century?
Gathering together several elements of Wallenberg’s written record, this book offers some answers. At the heart of this collection is the correspondence between Raoul and his sternly patrician grandfather Gustaf Wallenberg, who had pledged to support his fatherless grandson so long as Raoul studied and worked outside Sweden. He urged Raoul to go to America. In the fall of 1931 Raoul matriculated at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study architecture, and he spent four years observing and admiring a country lifting itself from the depths of the Depression. He also hitchhiked to California (wearing his American R.O.T.C. uniform), studied New York’s skyscrapers, worked at the World’s Fair in Chicago, and drove a pickup truck to Mexico City, all the while engaged in a spirited exchange of ideas and impressions with his grandfather. Gustaf’s plan was for Raoul to distinguish himself abroad and then, using contracts he himself would supply at the right moment, to go back to Sweden and begin a career. Dutiful, though increasingly restless, Raoul obeyed his grandfather’s directives and worked in South Africa, then at a bank in Palestine, waiting for his foreign apprenticeship to end. When Gustaf died in 1937 his design for his grandson died with him, and for several years after his return home Raoul struggled to find his way.
The War Refugee Board’s offer to send him to Budapest was an opportunity Wallenberg could not refuse, and from the instant of his arrival he worked like a man inspired. As the dispatches in this volume attest, Wallenberg rapidly set up an organization that used any and all available means to save lives. Every aspect of his education, character, and heritage came into play while he cajoled, hoodwinked, charmed, outmaneuvered, outnerved, and sometimes threatened the Nazis and Hungarian fascists in his effort to save a people from extermination.
More than merely fascinating historical documents, these letters and dispatches permit Raoul Wallenberg to tell his own story. They are testimony to the miracles of which ordinary but uncompromising human decency is capable. From the book jacket.
“...Wallenberg clearly deserves recognition...because his story is both remarkable andno other term will sufficegenuinely inspiring.”
— Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Raoul Wallenberg is one of the truly heroic figures of the Holocaust, a shining light in the midst of horror and darkness, showing that one person with conviction and courage could stand up to the most vicious evil—and triumph.”
— Congressman Tom Lantos, who survived because of Raoul Wallenberg’s efforts in Budapest in 1944