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  • Ari Lieberman

With Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest ,Per Anger

Updated: Mar 7, 2021


When we were children, our father, of blessed memory, would tell us stories portraying life in pre-war Europe; he would paint a vivid picture of his experiences during the Holocaust. Disguised as a Christian in Nazi occupied Budapest, our father had the means, opportunity and daring to enter the Swedish Legation with the intent to secure “protective passports” which he smuggled into the Jewish ghetto. He would describe the scene in the legation offices as a " hectic pandemonium" with literally hundreds and hundreds of Jewish refuges crowding, sleeping, and living on the floors of the office. Per Johan Valentin Anger served in the Swedish foreign service for forty years and was stationed in Budapest, Hungary during the war. His book, With Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest, Holocaust Library, New York, 1981 (translated from Swedish by David Mel Paul and Margareta Paul) is a personal, intimate account of the heroic efforts by the Swedes to save the doomed Hungarian Jews. On March 19th 1944, a little over a week after the Purim holiday, the German army entered Hungarian soil and took over their wartime ally, Hungary. Immediately thereafter, Adolf Eichmann set up SS headquarter offices in Budapest and began to implement the systematic slaughter of Hungarian Jewry. Deportations commenced in May and within just eight short weeks 424,000 Jews had been exterminated with another 140,000 dead by the end of the war. The Swedish Legation, as described by Anger, swung into action in an attempt to save lives. Those efforts, involving the issuance of provisional passports, were herculean but limited. Anger is clear that the turning point in the rescue efforts occurred with the arrival of 32-year-old Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg on July 9, 1944. What made Raoul Wallenberg the chosen candidate of the Swedish foreign ministry to head the rescue efforts? Anger, was his work colleague and close friend and he contends that Wallenberg possessed:

  • Exceptional negotiation prowess

  • Immense organizational skills

  • Ability to understand and leverage the nuanced relationship between the powers at play (Hungarian and German)

  • Innovative out-of-the box thinking

  • Daring and bravery

  • An ability to bluff his way out of seemingly impossible situations

  • A cool, collected head in the face of life-threatening danger

But what clearly emerges page after page in this short but detailed must-read book is Wallenberg’s humanity. Anger credits Wallenberg with directly saving up to 25,000 Jewish lives. And he convincingly argues that when the fanatically fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross decided to massacre 70,000 Budapest Ghetto Jews towards the end of the occupation, it was Wallenberg who “threatened” German General Schmidthuber and prevented that slaughter. Jewish tradition extols the attribute of Hakarat HaTov – Gratitude to others. It is a mainstay of what it means to be a true Jew. The concept is so integral to Jewish thought that, according to the Midrash, it extends even to inanimate objects. The great Jewish thinker, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, explains that Hakarat HaTov, internalizing and expressing gratitude, is a vehicle to move our hearts and emotions beyond the intellect; it is the gateway enabling us to forge a closer intimate relationship with G-d. It is the key to developing our own humanity. Jewish sources teach that if one saves a life is it as if she / he saved the entire world. So how do we begin to express our gratitude for someone who saved so many people? Books such as With Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest are critical reading enabling us to begin to appreciate the enormity of what was accomplished and sacrificed by just a handful of men and women throughout history. With Raoul Wallenberg heightens our enormous regard, and our awe, towards one of history’s most extraordinary personalities. The book can and should serve as a pathway to help us develop and find tune our own deep feelings of Hakarat HaTov.

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