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date: 23 July 2017

Wallenberg, Raoul

Source:
A Dictionary of Contemporary World History
Author(s):

Christopher Riches,

Jan Palmowski

Wallenberg, Raoul (b.Stockholm, 4 Aug. 1912; d. Moscow, 17 July 1947?) Swedishdiplomat 

Born into a family of financiers, he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1935, and established a Swedish export business together with K. Lauer, a Hungarian Jew. Given the nature of the business, he often travelled to German-occupied Europe. In 1944, after the Nazi occupation of Hungary, he took action to try and save the Jewish population there from near-certain death in the Nazi concentration camps. Through the Swedish legation at Budapest, he designed a special passport and set up 30 ‘e’ houses whose residents were covered by diplomatic immunity. Through his contacts, bribery, and his sheer personality he managed to persuade the Germans to leave the houses untouched. Directly or indirectly, he thus saved the lives of over 30,000 Jews. When Soviet troops occupied Hungary, he was taken to their army headquarters, and disappeared. His whereabouts have attracted continued speculation. In May 1996 it emerged that, while in Budapest, he had also been supplying US intelligence through the Swedish embassy about the state of the Hungarian resistance movement. Consequently, he had been arrested by the USSR as a US spy, which both the USA and Sweden had denied in embarrassment. He became an honorary citizen of the USA, Canada, and Israel in absentia, and a tree in Jerusalem's ‘avenue of the righteous’ commemorates his courage and sacrifice for the Jewish people. In 2001, a Swedish–Russian team of historians accepted that he was most probably shot by the NKVD.

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