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>JN April 28, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 75
Wallenberg Honored on Postage Stamp
By Judith Latham (VOA-Washington)
Only two non-Americans in U.S. history have been made honorary
citizens. One is the British statesman Winston Churchill, who was
prime minister during the Second World War. The other is the
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited with saving the
lives of 100,000 Hungarian Jews during the Nazi occupation.
Wallenberg was arrested by the Russians in 1945 and for many years
was held in the Soviet Gulag. It was largely due to the efforts of
Annette Lantos and her husband, Congressman Tom Lantos of
California -- both of whom are Holocaust survivors -- that Raoul
Wallenberg was given honorary American citizenship. A U.S. postal
stamp has been released in his honor, and a ceremony at the United
States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, marked the occasion.
Swedish diplomat Wallenberg would probably have been consigned to
the dust bin of history, were it not for the efforts of the
Hungarian-American former teacher Annette Lantos. Both Mrs. Lantos
and her husband, Tom, chairman of the Congressional Human Rights
caucus, are Holocaust survivors. And they owe much to the young
diplomat who in the name of the Swedish king issued protective
papers to 100,000 Jewish residents of Budapest during World War 2.
Wallenberg had stood up to the Nazi officers, demanding the release
of those who were being deported to concentration camps. He bought
32 apartment houses in Budapest to house Jews in the so-called
"international ghetto." He threatened the German military
commander in Budapest with retribution after the war, if he did not
rescind his order to dynamite the ghetto.
Twenty-five years ago, when their two daughters were young, Mrs.
Lantos decided she would tell them the story of the Holocaust
through the life of Raoul Wallenberg, the "hero of Budapest" who
had saved the lives of their father and many others. Except for
one chapter in an obscure book published in the late '50s, she
could find no information on Wallenberg. However, in 1977, Nazi
hunter Simon Wisenthal discovered that the Swedish diplomat, who
had been captured by the Russians toward the end of World War 2
and imprisoned in the gulag, was interned in a mental hospital in
Irkutz. Annette Lantos said that discovery marked the beginning of
her campaign to get Wallenberg released.
In 1981, President Reagan signed the bill making Wallenberg an
honorary citizen. That same year Mrs. Lantos went to Sweden to
testify at a tribunal concerned with the Wallenberg case. She
believes it was about that time the Russians finally decided to
kill the man who had become too much of what she calls a Cold War
Mrs. Lantos says the last reliable account of Wallenberg's
condition came from the ex-head of the Soviet medical association
at a convention in Leningrad, where he told the doctor of the King
of Sweden and of Wallenberg's mother that the former diplomat was
in a nearby mental hospital.
The doctor who made this statement was called into Khrushchev, and
in the presence of Khrushchev and in the presence of this other
doctor, had to retract his statement, saying that he was
misunderstood because his German was very poor and he didn't
understand what the question was. For years and years they had
conversed in German. And after he retracted his statement, within
six weeks he was dead -- the Russian doctor, a young man."
"More important than the lives that he saved, he saved our faith in
humanity," Mrs Lantos said. "In the darkest moments of history, he
rose to a height of brotherhood and caring that is really almost
unprecedented in the history of the world. All those young people
who study about him and who read about him are so moved and so
changed, and they all testify to the fact that, because they have
become involved in the story of Wallenberg, they have become better
Annette Lantos says, although she and her colleagues were not able
to save the life of America's second honorary U.S. citizen, the
story of his heroism will never die.
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