Saturday, August 4, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg. The annual Wallenberg Medal and Lecture [http://www.wallenberg.umich.edu/index.html], organized by the Rackham Graduate School, honors his memory.
The scion of one of Sweden’s pre-eminent families, Wallenberg came to the University of Michigan in 1931 to study architecture. He lived in boarding houses on Haven, Hill and Madison streets and breakfasted in the Michigan Union. He rode his bike everywhere. He watched football in Michigan Stadium and enjoyed canoeing in the Huron. He sat under the trees of the Law Quad to sketch its ornate Gothic style, and joined in the performance of Handel's Messiah in Hill Auditorium. He had a gift for languages and developed a fondness for hitchhiking, following the highways to Chicago and the West Coast during his summers in Ann Arbor. He had many friends who admired his quick intelligence, humor, ingenuity, fearless self-assurance, and fascination in the world around him.
Nine years after graduating at the top of his class, Wallenberg was sent to Budapest on a diplomatic mission from neutral Sweden to save the last large surviving community of Jews in Hungary. In six months of frenetic activity, he bought houses which he declared to be under Swedish extra-territorial protection, and crammed them with as many of Budapest’s Jews as possible. He fabricated and distributed official-looking Swedish Protective Visas, ignoring warning shots from SS guards to shove life-saving papers and into the hands of frantic families forced into train cars heading to death camps. He bluffed, bribed, and cajoled. He threatened to see the head of the SS in Budapest hang for war crimes if he carried out orders to liquidate the Budapest ghetto. In six months, Raoul Wallenberg rescued 100,000 lives.
Summoned by Soviet authorities after the Germans had been driven from the city, Wallenberg went to arrange food, supplies and protection for the people he had saved. But he disappeared into the Soviet gulag and was rewarded with an anonymous death that remains a mystery to this day.
Raoul Wallenberg is a world hero. He is the second person to receive Honorary U.S. Citizenship from Congress, and is also an honorary citizen of Canada, Hungary and Israel, where his memory is preserved at Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among Nations. Memorials and statues have been raised in countries around the world.
It was here that he found his footing and headed out into the world. Remember him.
About the Author
John Godfrey, Assistant Dean, Rackham Graduate School
Published in: Graduate School News