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>Israel Faxx
>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 "hot potato."

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 persons themselves."

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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