Raul Wallenberg “Bohater i ofiara”.

tłumaczenie angielskie dotyczy jedynie fragmentów książki i nie oddaje w pełni charakteru oryginału.

(-) Red.




WallenbergAttila Lajos “Hjälten och Offren” Raul WallenbergAtillalajosHjltenochOffren

Hero and helpless Victims?


By : Attila Lajos

The questions that arose from the current state of research and the theory initially propounded have been posed to identify and apply the concepts of Hero and Victims to Rahul Wallenberg and the Jews of Budapest. The first set of questions concerned the “hero”: How and why was Wallenberg given his mission in Budapest? What role did he himself play in this selection process? To what degree did the power structures that existed in Budapest work for or against him? To what degree did he act in concert with or against the wishes of the social, political and military power structures in Budapest after his arrival there on July 9, 1944? To what extent and in which ways did he act under adverse conditions when these structures turned against him? Did he follow certain uncompromising moral demands which he made on himself? Did he never give up? Did he ever find himself in situations which required heroic interventions of the nature of those mentioned above? Can the way in which he acted be reconciled with the model of the hero initially propounded, or is the figure of the hero a reconstruction after the event that can not be directly deduced from his actions?

The other set of questions concerned the “victims”. Were the Jews totally helpless and at the mercy of the power structures that had been created by the combination of Hungarian anti-Semitism and the German occupation of the country? To what extent did they attempt actively to change these conditions? Were they purely and simply “victims” of a lethal power structure, or did they act more or less as free human beings and endeavour to make choices that would change or at least mitigate the effect of these adverse circumstances? To answer these questions, it is first necessary to summarize the investigation itself and the situation and conditions which existed both around Rahul Wallenberg and the Jews in Hungary during the period examined.

When conclusions are based on an investigation of documentary evidence, there are always certain considerations that must be taken into account. Written communication strives for efficiency: in concentrating what needs to be communicated, it omits important details which otherwise might serve as background information of the kind that aids understanding. Nor do the documents cover all aspects of, or every single incident in a series of events. The yawning gaps they leave need to be filled in with a “cement” that is created by the historians as they establish a context within which we can interpret these concentrated documentary sources. The historian constructs a foundation for interpretation, but it is one which rests heavily on his or her own personality and life experience. Such subjective factors will even affect the way in which


the documentary sources are analysed. Theoretical models also exert a strong influence. Consciously or subconsciously, we seek out certain aspects while neglecting others. The only solution is to leave open the door to other interpretations. But written sources do, at the same time, possess certain advantages. They are permanent, remaining open to examination and reinterpretation even after the information they contain has been communicated to the original recipient.

The aim of the theoretical model and the section with documentary texts was to facilitate a reliable examination of the relation between the main actors and the structure in these events, in this instance by searching for the conditions surrounding the figure of the main protagonist: the Hero. This figure of the protagonist could then be compared to the individual – or the collective individual – who had been robbed of all his characteristics as protagonist/actor: the Victim(s). According to the theoretical model, the hero assumes an active role and takes the initiative. He should act in accordance with the high moral values that he has and he may never choose not to act – not even when the structural circumstances are unfavourable. The Victim, on the other hand, is incapacitated by these unfavourable circumstances.

I searched for traces of evidence in the documentary sources that might show the degree to which Raoul Wallenberg was a free and unrestricted “actor”, a man who always acted in the interests of the weakest, driven by a firm inner conviction of morality. I also searched for documentary evidence which would enable me to discuss the degree to which the Jews allowed themselves to be victims of circumstance, acceding to the place they had been assigned in the (power) structure that had arisen, and deeming any action as futile given the remorselessness of the structural situation in which they found themselves. The method I chose to adopt for source criticism and the search for truth fell -as I demonstrated in the method section – on a phenomenologically influenced analysis: in other words, I endeavoured to use the power of imagination to view the source documents from every angle and under every circumstance that I am able to envisage, and to draw (or rather construct) my conclusions after this operation.

From the documentary sources that I have examined, it is possible to reach certain fairly clear conclusions, but for these to become credible it is also necessary to analyse the general conditions under which the Swedish Legation and Raoul Wallenberg worked in Budapest. As far as Sweden’s interests were concerned and the opportunities for initiating, or rather, supporting Raoul Wallenberg’s rescue actions in Budapest, the Swedish and international situation during the second half of 1944 was especially favourable. But behind the question of whether these actions were the sequel to an already established


political stratagem, or the result of public opinion in “The Jewish Question”, we can discern the contours of a rather different answer. It is my opinion that every country’s implementation of its foreign policy should be analysed against a deeper historical background. This applies equally to Swedish foreign policy. I believe that this was basically predicated upon a perception of the Swedish identity that was formulated at that particular time under those particular historical circumstances. Defining identity in a given historical situation is a powerful tool for organizing the world into different degrees of “us” and “them”, and the Swedish definition would seem to include both the racist-inspired opinions and the historical aspects of the 1930s and 1940s. Sweden’s pre-war historical identity embraced an anti-Russian, pro-German attitude that continued to exert a strong presence during the first years of the Second World War. In the world of Swedish historical perceptions Germany was the country’s foremost bulwark against the real threat – Russia, be it the Russia of the Czars or the Russia of the Soviets. It was this perceived historical role bestowed upon Germany that kept Sweden neutral in the conflict between the western allies and the Nazis, but ensured that Sweden sided with Germany in the early years of the conflict with the Soviet Union. This situation did not change until the course of the war made it apparent that maintaining a pro-German line would clearly no longer be in Sweden’s future interests. The other aspect of this process of identity/identification was presumably an awareness of the Swedes’ kinship with the German people, in contrast to the Slavs or Jews, who were perceived as “the others”. Germans could more readily be included in the category of “we”, whereas Slavs or Jews were excluded from this. This antagonism towards the Jews could be tempered if the term “Jew” was combined with epithets closely related to Swedishness, such as “Norwegian Jew”, “Danish Jew”, etc. It was an attitude that was not adequately offset by identification with the political democracies. Sweden was a young democracy, where a part of the nation, primarily among the upper classes, still did not identify with the new system. For that reason, many Swedes saw little to distinguish the dictatorship in Germany from the democracies in the West.

The pre-eminent political category with which Swedish politicians were able to identify in the circumstances was peace – with neutrality as a tool for maintaining peace. These categories were often used to conceal indifference towards the moral aspects that were involved in the other categories. I am tempted to say that the eagerness to keep Sweden out of the war, combined with the identity traits mentioned above, were such that they continued to eclipse universal values such as freedom and the fundamental equality of all human beings long after any real threat to Swedish peace had faded. “Racial identity” (or “ethnic identity”


as we prefer to call it today) and the notion of the value of a “pure race” complemented the historical-political identity and led thoughts and minds in the same direction. The consequence of this was that Sweden did not dissociate itself from the German representatives of this Weltanschauung even when the full horror of their extreme brand of racism was revealed. At the same time, we should not overlook the extraordinary ability that people have to find excuses for dismissing the facts and even to repress them. People could read about atrocities, but they could not see them. Moreover, there was counter-propaganda that repudiated these cruelties and a racist-inspired self-image coupled with a perception of Jews that provided both the will and the theoretical possibility to explain away these cruelties. The idea of the pure, healthy “race” as an object of aspiration existed in Sweden as well, as manifested in the country’s restrictive policy towards refugees and in the shape of the Institute for Racial Biology. There were probably many Swedes for whom the presence of people of another race augured problems, and who therefore believed it was necessary to defend their country against this threat. This created the right climate for a certain, albeit limited, sympathy for the Nazi ambition of making Germany “Judenfrei” by ridding it of the Jews. It was only the means to this end that Swedes like these (including even the anti-Semites among them) refused to identify themselves with – but even such means could, for a time at least, be explained away or blotted out of the public consciousness. Indeed, that is precisely what Sweden’s leading foreign policy­makers did. They either refused to recognize what was happening in Germany, or they made excuses for it, continuing to do business with the country’s representatives and enjoying fairly good relationships with them right up until the end of the war. They did not change the course of Swedish foreign policy (even less so, trade policy) until they were subjected to strong pressure when it became apparent that an allied victory was inevitable. More so than a Germany victory had ever been!

There is one further aspect which revealed itself after the examination of Swedish-German relations and which was to be of decisive significance for my analysis and the conclusions I reached. During the final months of 1944 Germany was forced to show very great consideration for Sweden, leading to a degree of German compliance that had a highly positive effect on the circumstances surrounding the Swedish Legation and Raoul Wallenberg and the opportunities they had to defy the authority of the Hungarian Arrow Cross fascists.

In this way I believe that I have shown that the rescue actions in Budapest were not predicated on any historical tradition in Swedish foreign policy. On the contrary, it was the forward view, the notion of what was now to come,


which in 1944 laid the foundations for Sweden’s readiness to take an active role in the rescue actions that by now had been set in motion in Budapest. They were the result of a pragmatic attitude to the future balance of power in the world, founded on a utilitarian attitude to morality. The most that could have been expected from a retrospective view of Swedish foreign policy was what one Swede expressed in a 1942 Gallup poll: “I’m certainly no friend of the Jews, but I don’t want to be party to such horrors.” However, taking the initiative by choosing sides and actively combating these “horrors” was not within the compass of Sweden’s political culture. The Swedish government’s action in “The Jewish Question” was the result of external initiatives and pressure from outside, combined with internal lobbying from Swedish citizens, other people living in Sweden and private companies that had a direct interest in extricating certain individuals from Budapest.

Raoul Wallenberg was singled out for the task by Iver Olsen, the Stockholm agent for the WRB and the OSS, at the suggestion of either the Hungarian businessman Koloman Lauer or the shipping magnate Sven Salen. Olsen’s choice was then sanctioned by the US minister in Stockholm, Herschel Johnson, who also persuaded the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to accept Wallenberg for the job. It was a surprising choice in many ways. There was nothing (as far as I can determine) to suggest that Raoul Wallenberg was a suitable candidate for such an assignment. Despite his name and his age (he was now 32) he had still not begun to carve out a successful civilian career for himself. He had not even been employed within the sphere of influence of the Wallenberg family. While his uncles led one of the nation’s biggest business concerns, negotiating on Sweden’s behalf with the then world’s most powerful men, Raoul Wallenberg worked for a small firm managed by Koloman Lauer, an immigrant Jew from Hungary who did not even possess Swedish citizenship. And even this job had been arranged for him through the good agency of his uncle, Jakob Wallenberg. In other words, Raoul Wallenberg lacked not only a position which commanded respect but also, it would seem, the professionalism, initiative and powers of persuasion that were essential for such a responsible undertaking. It is true that he had visited Hungary on at least two occasions, but only for relatively short periods of time. He spoke no Hungarian at all. So there must have been other factors than his supposed suitability that clinched the choice. One of these was no less than Koloman Lauer himself, who lobbied hard for Wallenberg because he (Lauer) had strong, yet limited, personal reasons for persuading Wallenberg to travel to Hungary. Wallenberg was to bring Lauer’s relatives to Sweden. But there were also business interests at stake, for which Wallenberg began to make preparations to travel to Hungary as early as in May 1944. He was prevented from doing so only by the fact that he did not


receive the necessary German transit visa. A close reading of Lauer’s account of Wallenberg’s journey implies that Wallenberg did not conclude his business dealings in Hungary during his first visit to Budapest in the autumn of 1943. Correspondence between Koloman Lauer and Raoul Wallenberg confirms that they had business interests that needed to be attended to in Hungary, business interests that coincided with those of Sven Salen. This led to the intervention of Salen, whose role in events would appear to be the factor that ultimately convinced both the Americans and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Wallenberg’s suitability for the task. The Swedish Chief Rabbi, Ehrenpreis, expressed doubts to begin with, but in the end he probably had no choice but to accept Raoul Wallenberg.

Wallenberg was appointed Secretary to the Legation and was allowed to travel to Hungary. Being entrusted with such an important assignment – which brought with it diplomatic status – would no doubt have presented itself as a golden opportunity for Raoul Wallenberg in his relatively grey and anonymous existence. But while his willingness to go was one of the necessary prerequisites, that alone would seem to be insufficient reason to be given the task. This willingness was not linked to an ambition to organize a general rescue action for Jews, but sprung forth from a mixture of indirectly personal interests and business interests. It seems as if Raoul Wallenberg was the only person who could be considered and who was willing to take on the task in Budapest. That it was he who was chosen was a combination of happenstance and his interests and readiness to go.

Raoul Wallenberg’s immediate task in Budapest was to lend the War Refugee Boards support to the work of saving Hungarian Jews.’ This work was already under way in Budapest when Raoul Wallenberg arrived, both under the auspices of the Swedish Legation and other neutral countries as well as through the agency of the papal nuncio. His arrival heralded an expansion of this activity but also a tightening of the rules surrounding it at the Swedish Legation. The expansion was, in all probability, an emulation of the example set by the Swiss for whom every Palestine Certificate was regarded as a “family document”: it is likely that this was an initiative of Jewish individuals who already worked with issuing Swedish protective passports at the Swedish Legation. The Hungarian authorities had limited these to a maximum of 4,500, presumably after they had approved the Swedes’ definition of 649 Swedish entry visas as “family visas”, with a corresponding increase in the number of protective documents.

It soon became well known that Wallenberg’s mission had the backing of substantial financial resources. First and foremost this was revealed by the


way he succeeded in financing his actions via local Jewish funds. He had credit and could acquire considerable sums of money or quantities of goods against the promise that the money would be repaid into the relevant Swiss bank accounts. To a very great degree Wallenberg’s influence hinged on this implicit knowledge of his background. He had been sent to Budapest at the behest of the WRB, but with the active involvement of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. He was given Swedish diplomatic status with the rank of Legation Secretary, answering initially to the First Secretary of the Legation, Per Anger, but receiving his instructions directly from the WRB. These included a long list of people whom he should contact, and instructions for organizing a network to protect Jews and to prepare escape routes for them from Budapest. Wallenberg contacted some of the names of the list – along with others who did not figure there – and presumably was even allowed access on one occasion to Horthy Miklos junior, the son of the Hungarian regent. Apart from this, however, there is no documentary evidence that he became involved in the development and coordination of the general rescue efforts in Budapest, nor that he collaborated with or assisted the resistance. On the contrary, it was he who was assisted both by the government and by the resistance in order to protect his wards!

Raoul Wallenberg was – in comparison with the papal nuncio, other diplomats from neutral powers and other individuals, like Valdemar Langlet, who were already involved in saving Jews – both too young and too inexperienced when he arrived. His callowness was even more striking compared to leading Jews in the Jewish Council and those working at the Swedish Legation. He lacked their extensive network of contacts and influence, especially in high political circles, so it would have been unthinkable for him to have been in charge of the entire rescue operation. This supposition seems to be borne out throughout the entire Horthy regime, for all the documents witness that it was the Swedish Envoy, Ivan Danielsson, and the First Secretary to the Swedish Legation, Per Anger, who handled all the contacts between the Swedish Legation and the government. Nor was there any immediate change in this situation even when the substantial amounts of money that Wallenberg had at his disposal began to pave the way for him to extend his circle of acquaintances and influence. His reports and diaries reveal that he spent relatively heavily on wining and dining, and other forms of entertaining.

It is likely that he received much support from the group of influential Jews headed by Hugo Wohl who had congregated at the Swedish Legation. They had already embarked upon negotiations with the Hungarian authorities and reached some important conclusions with regard to the formalities surrounding their recognition of the temporary passports that were now being issued.


Raoul Wallenberg’s work in Budapest was greatly facilitated by the fact that opinion was divided among Hungarian society at large with regard to the Jews. The Hungarian identity had been dramatically influenced by events following the Peace Treaty of Trianon, and the drift to the right, towards nationalism and xenophobia, had become progressively more emphatic. Hungarians in general believed that the other nationalities with whom they had been living as neighbours for hundreds of years were betraying the Thousand Year Reich and tearing it asunder. The Jews became the victims of this new xenophobia. Germany, the country which had consistently aroused love-hate feelings among many Hungarians ever since its unification, took an active role in fomenting Hungarian xenophobia and channelling it towards anti-Semitism. The overwhelming desire among Hungarians to revise the terms of the peace treaty and the gratitude they felt towards Germany for the help they received from that quarter when these terms were, at least in part, amended, smoothed the way for the Germans’ advance in Hungary and had a severely effect on the plight of the Jews. Most of the assimilated Jews in Hungary remained, almost to the last, “good Hungarians” who cooperated with and retained their faith in those holding the reins of power in the country. Nor did this go unnoticed. Many Hungarians, with Horthy in the front rank, regarded the assimilated, secular Jews of Budapest almost as “adequate Hungarians” and endeavoured to defend them. This did not, however, prevent them from harbouring anti-Semitic feelings and despising the unassimilated “Galicians” who fought to retain their uniquely Jewish identity.

There was a deep schism between the leadership in Hungary and Germany. The Hungarian aristocrats, or the “aristocratic” bourgeoisie, and a portion of the middle class never approved of the German Nazis’ vulgar political populism and its brutal “Judenpolitik”, and many of them refused to be a part of it. In this matter the German Nazis were instead always obliged to rely upon their likeminded Hungarian henchmen. At the same time, the Germans realized, however, that these kindred spirits of theirs were not capable of governing the country and that Germany would not be able to rule Hungary without an occupation force of a size which they could ill afford. So they allowed the elderly Horthy to remain at his post, collaborating with him while retaining some semblance of Hungarian autonomy.

Hungarian politics continued to be characterized by schizophrenia even after the German occupation. The fact that Horthy retained a modicum of power enabled anti-German elements in Hungary to support and to a certain degree even work together with the Jews. And when Horthy resolved to act to prevent the deportations, even some of the Hungarian politicians who previously had been indifferent to or positively hostile towards the Jews, began to adopt a


more helpful attitude to the rescue actions that the International Red Cross (IRC) and the neutral legations had initiated. Once Horthy had put a stop to the deportation orders, the Hungarian authorities did not only give their consent, but on occasions actively encouraged the Swedish Legation to extend its protection to larger numbers of Jews.

The Hungarian authorities had begun to recognize temporary passports even before Wallenberg arrived on the scene, and they were prepared to issue certificates to holders of such passports attesting to this. They also gave indications about which type of document they would accept as foreign identity documents and travel papers. Everything suggests that it was the negotiations between the Hungarian authorities and the Jews at the Swedish Legation that led, in Sweden’s case, to the creation of the later so famous blue and yellow “protective passports”.

Following the change of government in August 1944 Hungarian policy towards the Jews mellowed. The government in Budapest regarded a relaxation in the plight of the Jews as one step in the process of moving closer towards the western powers, and it showed a keen interest in alleviating the situation for them. As a result, the Hungarian authorities were easily persuaded to accept, consider and treat as foreigners thousands of Jews with Hungarian citizenship. However, the conditions that Jews were required to meet in order to apply for a Swedish protective passport were such that it was almost exclusively the well-to-do among them who qualified. The favourable Hungarian attitude was compounded by a more tractable disposition on the part of the Germans from August 1944 onwards and also by the enhanced bargaining strength of Sweden’s position vis-a-vis Germany. By this time Germany had become increasingly dependent on Sweden’s continued neutrality. The structures in Budapest were, therefore, singularly propitious for the Swedish attempt to exempt certain categories of Jews from the fate that so many of their fellow believers had suffered. No particularly great efforts were required in order to help well-to-do Jews in Budapest at this time. It was more a matter of “red tape” and issuing protective passports, a task which, to a great extent, was managed by the Jewish volunteers “employed” in the humanitarian section of the Swedish Legation. The good results that were achieved during this period proved to be of decisive significance even after the Fascists took power on October 15, 1944. The Szalasi government’s accession to power marked the end of these favourable circumstances, even if the change in attitude was less abrupt than it first appeared. The new government’s ambitions to acquire broad international recognition gave the neutral legations and the IRC an opportunity to continue their rescue activities in Budapest. The Szalasi government was prepared to recognize the same numbers of foreign protective passports under the same

conditions as the previous government in exchange for political recognition from the governments of the neutral states issuing such documentation. Raoul Wallenberg’s good relations with Foreign Minister Kemeny paved the way for face-to-face negotiations with him, and the result of this was that, in the first instance, it was the Swedish “wards” who were most favoured. However, the early discussions that were held directly between Szalasi and the papal nuncio and representatives of the other neutral legations ensured that all foreign papers were soon recognized by the Arrow Cross government. At the very highest level it was still the papal nuncio and the IRC representative Fredrik Born who exercised the greatest influence. It was their personal interventions that had the greatest effect on Szalasi and that saw that the favourable conditions were restored. The forthcoming rescue efforts were facilitated by the order that Szalasi issued on November 17 that all Jews with foreign documents should be handed over to the relevant legation.

Raoul Wallenberg’s role in the process began to assume greater importance after October 15, but everything suggests that he continued to use his influence and his access to large sums of money primarily in order to protect those in possession of Swedish papers. This is the case in both instances where the documentary sources attest to his direct intervention to save Jews. However, Wallenberg did not risk coming into conflict with the Hungarian authorities, nor did he contravene the rules that had been laid down. In both documented cases where he directly led a rescue action, he first applied for permission to do so and received approval both from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the other authorities involved. He even received official assistance from the Hungarian authorities to carry out these rescue actions for as long as the Szalasi government continued to hope for Swedish recognition. The entire existence of the Swedish action rested upon the say-so of the Hungarian government -and, after October 15,1944 the approval of the “Leader of the Nation”, Szalasi. It would have been extremely imprudent to risk forfeiting the collaboration by conducting illicit actions that could be traced back to the Swedish Legation. Even Per Anger concedes this towards the end of his book, when he writes about the number of protective passports issued, despite the fact that he contradicts himself on the very same page and gives the wrong number of approved passports:

“We had an agreement with the Szalasi government for the approval of 5,000 such passports …Of course, things did not stop there. Many times this number of passports were being issued in secret all the time, albeit limited to individuals who could prove that they had some kind of connection with Sweden. If we had succumbed to the temptation to issue


passports to everyone from the ranks of the Jewish population, the papers would most certainly have lost their value. Moreover, it would not have taken long for the Nazis to understand that we were sabotaging the agreement we had reached with them about limiting numbers, and they would have seen to it that we could no longer be of help to anyone … Wallenberg was as aware as we were that no one must jeopardize the legation s  existence “2

The situation deteriorated at the beginning of December when the Hungarian government understood that the conditions of the agreement were being flouted by the Swedish government and gave up hope of a Swedish recognition. This did not, however, herald any radical change in the situation for the Swedish legation and the Jews under its protection until the government had left Budapest. When that happened, respect for the Swedish diplomats’ immunity evaporated, and the Swedish Legation was occupied by Arrow Cross forces. There are no documented rescue actions after the opportunities for legal intervention to help the Jews were exhausted, and Wallenberg himself gave up hope of being able to be of any assistance once the Swedish Legation had been occupied. The rescue actions were not revived until one of Wallenberg’s assistants, Szabo Karoly, succeeded in currying favour with the moderate Arrow Cross leader, Szalai Pals. But even that did not help. Despite Szalai’s assistance the attacks against the “Swedish” houses and the terrorization of Jews nominally under the protection of the Swedes continued. Hundreds of Jews were executed in late December 1944 and early January 1945 by Arrow Cross mobs that by then were running out of control. The terror these mobs spread was not stilled until the Russians entered the city – and then only to be replaced by the terror conducted by the Red Army.

The final conclusion from my analysis of written sources is that none of the main actors could fully meet the criteria for bearing the descriptions that constitute the title of this thesis: Hero and Victim. We can not maintain that Raoul Wallenberg acted freely and in accordance with his own convictions against the structures that were in place. Instead, he skilfully exploited the favourable power structures that did exist for his rescue actions and, when these ceased, so too did his rescue actions.

Nor did the Jews fulfil the criteria for “out and out victims”. Even if a large portion of the Jews in Budapest seemed to be severely restricted in their ability to act and therefore fell victim to the existing structures, a considerable number of individuals were saved as a result of their own efforts. Generally speaking, those who succeeded were those with the greatest financial resources and the

most ready access to the corridors of power. These people were already negotiating with the German and Hungarian authorities even before Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest. They made use of the power invested in them by the neutral legations to extend the rescue operations clandestinely, and they strove to change the adverse circumstances by allying individuals in positions of power with their cause. In other words, they tried to change the power structures. Even if the freedom with which they were able to act was drastically curtailed by the hostility of superior forces, they acted nevertheless, attempting to improve the conditions and increase their chances of survival. Many of them committed acts of heroism, endangering and even laying down their own lives to save those of their fellow believers.

The result of my investigation is perhaps not unexpected. Concepts often lack any direct equivalents in real life. What the analysis of the documents has not succeeded in showing is why Raoul Wallenberg was perceived as a hero even during his time in Budapest and has continued to be so perceived ever since. We can only form an opinion about this by studying interviews with Jews involved in the events in Budapest and by reading the literature about Wallenberg. As a historian, one is inclined to believe that concepts are created after the event, either in the memories of the survivors or via literary manipulation. However, we must not forget that history and its structures are, first and foremost, human creations that must be repeatedly confirmed through human activity. Behind this activity lie both thought and myth. If we wish to pursue our analysis further in order to form an opinion of why Wallenberg was perceived as a hero, we must also look at these documents in the light of our human inclination to restructure certain incomprehensible situations in which we sometimes find ourselves in order to lend coherence to them. The extremity of the situation in which the Jews found themselves in Budapest during this time meant that it was, quite literally, a matter of life and death for them to know where the borderline between good and evil ran – and to respect the limits it demarcated.

It was a matter of survival, pure and simple, to be able to distinguish between those who belonged to the good side, and those who were on the side of evil. Wallenberg was, without doubt, a “good” figure, although this may have seemed inconceivable for most people at the time: an Aryan of high birth, who arrived from a country which, for the majority of Jews, was a place of almost mythical proportions and set about saving them. Employing the “hero template” to explain such a phenomenon seems almost inevitable, and maybe essential as well. The hopes of the victims and their willingness to act willed the hero into existence. They needed, at least in their own minds, to have something against which to balance the lethal structure that seemed to point inexorably to their annihilation.


They wanted to believe that it was possible to act and to change the circumstances, and that there were people who were in a position to do so. The victims yearned for a hero in whose limitless inner resources they were almost compelled to believe in order to keep that hope alive. And, in their minds, this hero must act unconditionally, prompted only by an unyielding inner conviction and moral strength. Only a figure like that could keep hope alive. In Budapest it was Wallenberg who was assigned this role, and the further away from what Bergman & Luckman call the “face-to-face meeting”, the more stereotyped he became and the greater dimensions his personality acquired. Herbert Mead summarized the phenomenon by explaining that, in certain frequently recurring situations, social behaviour patterns are stabilized in the force of mutual expectations, creating a social role that reflects an intentional orientation to the expectation rather than the actual act. The figure of Wallenberg the Hero existed, therefore, and acted his part in Budapest, but this figure was, to some degree, independent of Raoul Wallenberg – and it is this figure that the hagiographic literature has captured. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance have, however, prevented posterity from undertaking a more penetrating analysis of his work and deeds in Budapest. One good example of the way in which the myth of Wallenberg was created occurs in the following excerpt from a story told by a Jewish academic who came to Sweden after the Second World War and who rose to a very elevated position in Swedish academic circles. He spoke among other things, of how Raoul Wallenberg intervened in events in the days immediately before the coup staged by the Arrow Cross forces on October 15,1944, when the synagogue in which the Swedish group was housed, was surrounded by Arrow Cross members:

“… The door opened and in stepped Wallenberg, cool, calm and collected – but pale. Most of us knew him by sight. Every one of us stared at his face, as if he held our fate in his hands. Then suddenly the guards disappeared. At that moment everyone believed that the mere sight of Raoul had so terrified the infamous Arrow Cross legions that they had fled. That was the moment when this Swedish civilian became a magician in our eyes, a maestro. Later, we found out that his arrival and the disappearance of the guards was mere coincidence. The Arrow Cross were still not masters of the city. At that critical moment in time they had been forced to concentrate all of their small number of regular forces to key points in the city’s defences. There was a barracks next to the synagogue and it was here that our guards had been ordered to appear. ” 3


This brief anecdote reveals a great deal about the creation of the mythical figure Raoul Wallenberg. It reveals the general mechanisms that set in motion the creation of myth: an inexplicable event is ascribed to the power of something or someone in whom individuals or a group want to believe without searching for any further explanations. If the retelling of the tale then meets certain “expectations” or satisfies (often unspoken) needs, the event is “refined” and adapted in accordance with archetypal templates that imbue it with ever greater dimensions the further away from the event that the subsequent retelling takes place.

The existing myth meant that the figure of Wallenberg also assumed exaggerated proportions in the eyes of the perpetrators of the crimes against the Jews and exerted a certain inhibiting effect on their activity. Presumably the regard in which Raoul Wallenberg was held also had an effect on the way he himself acted. His existence became radically different after his arrival in Budapest. He was transformed from a simple businessman into the only visible manifestation of hope for hundreds of people. He was given both money and influence – and by his own admission money was something that he had long yearned for. But at the same time, the demands made upon him were enormous. Even if, to begin with, he regarded himself as nothing more than an intermediary for the help being provided by the WRB, his standing grew immeasurably and his self-image and actions could not deny what he saw “in the eyes of others”. We all identify ourselves with the reflected image we see in the eyes of those observing us and try to live up to this reflection. And when Wallenberg did the least of what he could be expected to so, his action immediately confirmed the myth of the almost independently existing, hope-inspiring hero. That what he did was merely the job he had been given and that he was actually paid to fulfil these very expectations was either unknown or forgotten. The application of the “hero” label was also facilitated by the fact that this Wallenberg figure was multifaceted. It fit both of the basic “hero” templates, enabling whoever was telling the tale to choose to lay weight on either one aspect or the other. He fit the picture of the knight errant or the legendary prince, the leader figure who descended among the lowly oppressed victims and lifted them to their feet. He fought with the villains “from above” and sought support solely in the authority that his own status bestowed upon him. At the same time, with his rucksack and the worn-out windcheater that he is sometimes described as wearing, he also fits the role of the popular hero who emerges from the broad masses, allying himself with the victims and using his cunning, shrewdness and skills to hoodwink the powerful villains. He himself has no real power to back up what he says, but is forced constantly to refer to the powers that he represents in order to carry out his assignment. He exploits


the villains’ fear of this power in order to strengthen his own authority. All these aspects combine to create the picture of Wallenberg that literature has later chosen to reproduce.

Levai’s summary of the importance of the presence of Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest points, however, to yet another aspect. He wrote:

“The greatest significance lies the fact that the Nazis and the Arrow Cross legions were not able to run riot as they pleased – they were forced to see that every step that they took was observed and followed by this young Swedish diplomat. For Wallenberg there were no secrets. The Arrow Cross fascists could not fool him. They could not act with impunity, but would be held accountable for the lives of the people whom they persecuted and sentenced to death. Wallenberg was ‘the watchful eye of the world’ that constantly brought the criminals to book. That is the greatest import of Wallenberg’s struggle in Budapest”.

Thus the third secretary at the Swedish Legation became the “watchful eye of the world”, as if the papal nuncio, the numerous other neutral diplomats, thousands of Jews and the hundreds of thousands of other inhabitants in Budapest were incapable of fulfilling this role themselves. What was needed was a hero, someone who would not under any circumstances conceal the truth, someone who made sure that the perpetrators of the atrocities could harbour no hope that anything would be brushed under the carpet. The hero was, in other words, conceived in the minds of the victims at the very moment when they came to regard themselves as mere victims, without hope beyond that afforded by an autocratic Saviour. It is not surprising that in many of the interviews with Jewish survivors – particularly women – the description of Wallenberg acquires messianic traits. Nor did the picture of this Saviour leave the perpetrators of the crimes unmoved. Raoul Wallenberg was “stigmatized” as a hero and the concrete characteristics disappeared – or were transformed – by this a priori “stigma”.

I am convinced that myth has an extremely important part to play in the creation of history. Mythologization stems from a fundamental human need to explain and exercise control over one’s surroundings. Although the myth may be imagination, it nevertheless possesses a creative power that can transform human reality. It forms the basis for the laws and rules that govern people’s daily existence and influence their thoughts and ways of looking at the world. In everyday life these laws and rules become far more important and far more real than any ontological truth about the nature of the world. What is so very important in this respect is that the truth that the myth creates possesses a


significance both for the world and for the individual. At the same time it gives the individual an identity that resists the mutability of everyday life and reinvests the individual with the qualities of a “being” with an immense, unifying power around which the happenstances of life are centred. Myth lends meaning to what has happened (history) and what is yet to come, and the meaninglessness of everyday life is dissolved in the sense that the mythical story makes of one’s own life. This is often to provide hope in hopeless situations. In this story there are always certain deep-rooted feelings and reactions to outward signs; these are “the active essence of identity” – almost unconscious, fundamental traits which form the source for all our spontaneous comments about ourselves. These are “The Myths We Live by”.4

But the literature had – and still has – a particular purpose. Initially the aim was a noble one: to galvanize public opinion, governments and authorities in order to liberate Raoul Wallenberg from his incarceration in the Soviet Union. Later this goal was modified, and the struggle for Raoul Wallenberg became one aspect of the fight against the newly appointed Evil that the Soviet Union represented in the dramaturgy on the Cold War.

In one sense my thesis deals with extremes. At the one extreme, the Hero, a historical figure who, in his purest incarnation is a symbol of Eternal Goodness. He is the human being – and a lonely human being at that – who acts in accordance with what Kant called the categoric imperative, namely in a way that ensures his actions could become a universal law. The Hero must therefore be able to recognize Universal Goodness – with the help of his powers of reasoning, if we are to follow in Kant’s footsteps – and to act in accordance with it, regardless of the conditions and regardless of the consequences that this action can have for his own person. He must not act in his own interest, but only in the interest of others. These “others” are one of the three essential prerequisites for the existence of the Hero, as the Hero representing the force of goodness must have someone upon whom to exercise his goodness. And for this to happen, the person or people who form this focus for his goodness must find themselves in a specific situation: they must be in the grip of Evil, either the evil of nature or the evil of human violence. They must be in danger. Thus is established the necessary menage a trois, where – paradoxically – the quintessential ingredients are Evil and its Victims. It is evil that creates victims and without victims there is no evil. And the more frequently the victims are subjected to the violence of evil, the easier it becomes for the hero to stand forth as a hero. True victims suffer in extremis, which precludes them from


doing anything themselves to combat evil. They lose all hope. The prime signal that the emergence of a hero sends out to them is the rekindling of lost hope in their hearts. This does not take much: all that is required is to open their eyes to other alternative ways of acting or to demonstrate that something can be done by actually doing it, by letting the unexpected happen. The hero is the figure who acts in a situation in which others find themselves paralysed. When the balance of power is upset, the hero brings his power to bear on behalf of the weaker party and endeavours to restore what we all long for: harmony between hope and reality. If no hero exists, he has to be invented. It is possible to make a strong case for claiming that this is what happened in Budapest. Wallenberg helped the Jews of Budapest to help themselves, not least by serving as the basis for a universal hero figure. But the reciprocity between Hero and Victim is so strong that the ephemeral hero figure must often be transformed into a victim in order to be resurrected as a symbol, an eternal hero. That is what happened in the case of Raoul Wallenberg, and that is why he is perceived as one of the Second World War’s greatest heroes.


1 Details of his possible intelligence work are still uncertain, but it was quite
likely that this was also part of his brief. See Redovisning p. 44.

2 Per Anger, p. 151.

3 Quoted in Philippe, p. 107. Rudolph Philippe does not give a source.

4 See Raphael, Samuel & Thompson, Paul, “The Myths We Live by”.




2 Responses to Raul Wallenberg “Bohater i ofiara”.

  1. dziadkjack 13/10/2013 at 10:10 #

    Panie Redaktorze, dziękuję za te szabesgojskie (żydowskie?) widzenie sprawy R.W.
    I bardzo proszę Pana o przedstawienie jego osobistej opinii n/t:
    Dlaczego rosyjska żydokomuna zniszczyła Wallenberga?

  2. KSC 13/10/2013 at 11:50 #

    ten zrobił, kto skorzystał.
    RW zgromadzil wielki majątek, który przesłał na swoje konta w Szwecji i Szwajcarii, reszte -- klejnoty -- przewoził swoim samochodem.
    O kontach w bankach ani śladu!
    Czy to NKWD?


Leave a Reply

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE