NEW YORK (Jan. 14)
“Holocaust, slavery, I-have-a-dream, Selma, Raoul Wallenberg, Howard Beach, the city of Coeur D’Alene, freedom to worship at the Western Wall, apartheid, the right to emigrate — all of these, and much more, all are part of the story of humanity’s struggle for freedom.”
This list offered by Hyman Bookbinder of the American Jewish Committee encapsulated the many themes of freedom, human rights and justice at a ceremony here Wednesday commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the arrest and disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg, who was a Swedish diplomat, is revered for personally aiding in the rescue of more than 100,000 Jews in Budapest, Hungary, during World War II. He was arrested on January 17, 1945 by the Soviets after the Red Army marched into Budapest and disappeared into the Soviet Gulag. His fate remains a mystery. Among those at the ceremony were Jews rescued by Wallenberg and his family members.
Although Wallenberg’s heroism was compared frequently during the ceremony to Martin Luther King’s struggle for civil rights in America, the real focus of the commemoration was on what many called the contemporary expression of Wallenberg’s and King’s spirit, the people of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. King’s birthday, a national holiday, will be celebrated Monday in America.
The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States presented a civic award to the city of Coeur D’Alene, population 22,000, for its definitive opposition to the entrenchment of the white supremacist Aryan Nations in their idyllic Rocky Mountains town.
Coeur D’Alene, has few Jews and few blacks. Its beauty has been compared to the Swiss Alps. And on a mountain overlooking this seeming utopia, a small number of neo-Nazi extremists calling themselves the Christian Identity or Aryan Nations, sought a warm cradle and a fertile ground to plant the seeds of bigotry.
Instead, they were met with grass-roots revulsion and rejection by the people of Coeur D’Alene who let their neighbors on the hilltop know their ideas were not welcome on the streets of the town.
Wednesday, Mayor Ray Stone, Undersheriff Larry Broadbent and Father William Wassmuth of Coeur D’Alene received a heroes’ welcome at New York’s City Hall for fighting on the front line against hatred and prejudice. And it was this fight, many noted, that embodied the legends of Wallenberg and King.
FACED MORTAL DANGER
These three men had faced mortal dangers to stand up against the Aryan Nations. Broadbent was the subject of an Aryan Nations’ assassination conspiracy. Wassmuth’s house was bombed.
“When neo-Nazis tried to make Coeur D’Alene a base of operations, these three men and others in the town made clear that the hatemongers were not welcome,” said Andrew Stein, New York City Council President.
“In essence, the message that the Under-sheriff, the Mayor, Father Wassmuth and the residents of Coeur D’Alene sent to the neo-Nazis was clear and unmistakable: You’re entitled to your views. But damn it if we’re going to stand by passively as you seek to sow your seeds of hate, bigotry and intolerance in our community. We stand against you. We will give you no comfort. And we will resist without end the campaign of divisive hate you seek to sow in this Nation. Your ways are violent. Your views are un-American. Your ideology is repugnant. You will find no home here.”
Coeur D’Alene, like the recent racial killing in Howard Beach, Queens, brought home the reality that the spirit of Nazism, of slavery and of prejudice remains viable in our day, the speakers noted.
Mayor Stone, in accepting the Wallenberg Committee’s award, said the honor was particularly important because the outspoken advocates of human rights in Coeur D’Alene have recently come under fire. “We are going to stand tall and we are going to stand straight against those who preach, teach, or advocate, in any form or manner, the superiority of one group over another and any form of violence to accomplish their aims,” Stone declared.
“Whatever we do, it will be little as compared to the sacrifices made those few years ago by Raoul Wallenberg, and as we learn more and understand more of those circumstances and the courage that was present in those trying times, the award will continue to serve as a light for us in our own way to follow and to emulate not only Raoul Wallenberg, but all who believe in the diviness of the human spirit.”