Remembering Wallenberg’s Legacy

“I will never be able to go back to Sweden without knowing inside myself that I'd done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible,”  wrote the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest in 1944. Wallenberg was one of the great heroes of the 20th century. Selflessly and courageously, Wallenberg saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them Swedish protective passports under a program funded by the U.S. government.  Wallenberg disappeared in the early days of the Soviet occupation of Budapest and most likely died in a Soviet prison. Wallenberg received honorary U.S. citizenship in 1981 and in 2012, the U.S. Congress awarded Wallenberg the prestigious Congressional Gold medal.

Wallenberg chose not to be indifferent and to rise to a higher moral calling.  “The importance of not being indifferent” is a timely and relevant operating principle in our relationship with the world today. Advancing human dignity and promoting universal rights is at the core of American -- and Swedish -- values. It’s relevant to the many challenges of our times, be they in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.  Since 2012, the hundredth anniversary of Wallenberg’s birth, our Embassy in Sweden has organized a number of events to honor Wallenberg and ensure his lesson of not being indifferent endures.

Two weeks ago, I was honored to attend a ceremony on the floor Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, where Raoul’s half-sister Nina Lagergren handed the medal over to the speaker of the Swedish Riksdag so the medal could be on permanent display in the Parliament’s room Den Goda Gärningen.  Joining me was Ira Forman, the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. The ceremony, which you can see in this Embassy-produced video, captures the importance of the moment.

Special Envoy Forman also took part in a discussion forum we organized at the Embassy on how to use the memory of the Holocaust to combat anti-Semitism.  Raoul Wallenberg’s story illustrates several of the most important lessons that we should all heed from the Holocaust. On the one hand, his story teaches us about the worst of mankind.  It teaches us about the immeasurable cruelty of the perpetrators and about the shameful silence of those who stood idly by, both during the Shoah itself and when Wallenberg met his tragic end in a Soviet prison.  But Raoul Wallenberg’ story also teaches us about the best of mankind. It teaches us about the difference that one person can make and about a legacy that continues to inspire change to this day.  By remembering stories like Wallenberg’s, we reduce the risk of repeating past mistakes.

About the author: Mark Brzezinski serves as U.S. Ambassador to Sweden.

Posted by Mark Brzezinski
March 25, 2015

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