Synopses & Reviews
One of the most remarkable and stirring episodes of World War II involved a young Swede from a distinguished banking family named Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg had watched the progress of the war and the treatment of the Jews from his neutral country with growing horror and the burning ambition to do something. When in June of 1944 he was approached to oversee a rescue operation of Hungarian Jews being deported to the death camps by Adolf Eichmann, he accepted this clearly perilous and probably hopeless mission without hesitation. Hurriedly accorded diplomatic status by his own government, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in early July of 1944. By the time of his arrest by the Soviet army on January 17, 1945, roughly six months later, he had helped to save the lives of over 100,000 people. Gathering together several elements of Wallenberg's written record, Letters and Dispatches, 1924-1944 marks the fiftieth anniversary of his tragic and still mysterious disappearance and offers some answers. At the heart of this collection is the correspondence between Raoul and his paternal and sternly patrician grandfather Gustaf Wallenberg, who had pledged to support his fatherless grandson so long as Raoul studied and worked outside of Sweden. He urged Raoul to go to America. In the fall of 1931, Raoul matriculated at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study architecture and spent four years observing and admiring a country lifting itself up from the depths of the Depression. He also hitchhiked to California, studied New York's skyscrapers, worked at the World's Fair in Chicago, and drove a pickup truck to Mexico City, all the while engaged in a spirited exchange of ideas and impressions withhis grandfather. Gustaf's plan was for Raoul to distinguish himself abroad and then, using contacts he himself would supply at the right moment, to go back to Sweden and begin a career. Dutiful though increasingly restless, Raoul obeyed his grandfather's directives and worked in South Africa, then at a bank in Palestine, waiting for his foreign apprenticeship to end. When Gustaf died in 1937 his grand design for his beloved grandson died with him, and for several years after his return home Raoul struggled to find his way. The War Refugee Board's offer to send him to Budapest was an opportunity Wallenberg could not refuse, and from the instant of his arrival he worked like a man inspired. As the dispatches in this volume attest, Wallenberg rapidly set up an organization that used any and all available means to save lives. Every aspect of his education, character, and heritage - his grandfather's willfulness included - came into play while he cajoled, hoodwinked, charmed, outmaneuvered, outnerved, and sometimes outright threatened the Nazis and Hungarian fascists in a desperate and valiant effort to save an entire people from extermination. More than merely fascinating historical documents, these letters and dispatches permit Raoul Wallenberg to tell his own story. They are testimony to the miracles of which ordinary but uncompromising human decency is capable.