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Raoul Wallenberg Arrives in Budapest

Survivor recalls rescue activity in Budapest and the role of Raoul Wallenberg —US Holocaust Memorial Museum


Budapest is uh, two cities, and in the middle is the so-called Blue Danube, for me it is the Red Danube, but that's what it was, and they took people down there, the Hungarian Nazis, and they roped three people together, and they shot the middle one, so they all fell in. And if they saw a movement, they shot again so they'd be sure. But many people by themselves somehow got out. But it was a terribly cold winter, as I said, and the Danube was frozen with big slabs of ice. So Raoul came home the third night, and there was no moonlight, no stars, just cold and dark. And he turned to us the first time, usually he only talked to the men and the Red Cross, and "How many of you can swim?" I have a big mouth, I put up my hand, I said, "Best swimmer in school." He says, "Let's go." And as you saw me coming in like a teddy bear, that's how I was dressed, and a hat and a glove. And we went down on the other side, the Hungarians didn't even hear us coming because they were so busy roping and shooting, and we stood on the left, way over, we had doctors and nurses in the cars and then we had people outside to pull us out. Four of us, three men and me, we jumped and thanks to the icicles, the the ropes hang on to it, and we saved people out, but only fifty, and then we were so frozen that we couldn't do it anymore. But without Raoul Wallenberg, we wouldn't have saved even one single person.

July 9, 1944

Raoul Wallenberg arrives in Budapest as first secretary to the Swedish legation in Hungary and with financing from the US War Refugee Board.

Along with numerous other legations, including the Swiss, the Turkish, the Italian, and several Latin American legations, the Sweden delegation, inspired by the activism of Wallenberg, effectively protected tens of thousands of Budapest Jews endangered by German and Hungarian plans to deport them. Assigned as first secretary to the Swedish legation in Hungary, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944. Despite a complete lack of experience in diplomacy and clandestine operations, he led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust. His work with the War Refugee Board and the World Jewish Congress prevented the deportation of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.