BUDAPEST (May. 7)
Jewish leaders representing their communities in 26 countries in the West and Eastern bloc, stood at attention in a downpour of rain here Thursday to pay solemn tribute to Raoul Wallenberg who, as a young Swedish diplomat more than 40 years ago, saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from deportation and certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
The assembled 92 leaders, delegates to the meeting of the enlarged Executive of the World Jewish Congress, watched in solemn silence with bowed heads as WJC president Edgar Bronfman placed a wreath of white poppies at the foot of a newly erected statue of Wallenberg.
On the wreath was the inscription, “Those who set out on a mission of humanity can be assured of God’s special protection.” They are the last message the WJC sent to Wallenberg as he left on his humanitarian mission during the final months of World War II.
The words brought tears to the eyes of Hungarian Jews present, not only because they owe their lives to Wallenberg but for the sad fate that was the reward for his selfless humanitarian acts.
Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet authorities when the Red Army entered Budapest in 1945 and has not been heard from since. The Soviets claim he died in Lubyanka prison in 1947. But many reports over the years said he was seen alive long afterwards and may still be alive.
‘RAOUL CANNOT WAIT’
The president of the Swedish Jewish community, Stefan Meisels, read a message from Wallenberg’s sister, Nina Lagergren. It said: “Let Raoul’s statue mean more than just a tribute to him and his deeds. Let it be a summons that no efforts be spared on his behalf. Raoul cannot wait. He will be 75 on August 4.”
Lagergren is convinced her brother is alive. But when Bronfman was asked by reporters if anything new has transpired to determine Wallenberg’s fate, he replied, “No, nothing.” Asked if anything is known of his possible whereabouts, the answer was, “I am afraid not.”
The Wallenberg statue stands on a quiet residential street on the Buda side of the Danube River. It consists of a bronze figure, slightly larger than life, standing on a pedestal. Next to the figure is a seven-foot marble plaque which appears to be cracked in the middle by an act of violence.
The figure of Wallenberg holds a snake by the neck in his left hand, the reptile covered with swastikas. The right hand wields a sword, poised to sever the snake’s head. The sculptor, Imber Walda, explained the symbolic meaning to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
He said he wanted to show the man fighting to release the victims of Nazism but stricken in the middle of the act. Walda worked two years on the statue which will be formally unveiled by the Mayor of Budapest on May 15. A plaque about 18 inches from the statue, is inscribed with Wallenberg’s name and a quotation in Latin, translated into Hungarian: “While good fortune stands by your side, friends are plenty but should gray skies gather, you stand alone to withstand the storm.”
The WJC meeting here is the first ever to be held in a Communist-bloc country. Its purpose is to examine the issue of Soviet Jewry, East-West relations and other matters of international Jewish concern.
UN URGED TO OPEN WAR CRIMES FILES
On Thursday, the final day of the two-day meeting, Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, called on the United Nations member states and the UN Secretariat to open the archives of the United Nations War Crimes Commission for study by scholars, historians and journalists so that the public may know their contents.
The matter is “as urgent as ever” and of crucial importance for the world’s understanding of the Holocaust and of the individuals who were part of the Nazi crime machine, Steinberg said. The WJC hopes that U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz will support the WJC’s stand on this matter and instruct the American delegation to the UN to call for the release of the files which “have been lying dormant and in half secrecy for 40 years now.” (See related stories from the UN and Washington.)
Most of the delegates to the WJC meeting backed initiatives taken by Bronfman to affect drastic changes in the Soviet attitude toward Russian Jews and Jewish emigration. They urged the organization’s leadership to pursue its contacts in Moscow.
The only discordant note at the meeting was sounded by the Czech delegate, Barian Eller, who contended that the issue of Soviet Jewry was a false one, used to discredit the Soviet Union on human rights and to worsen East-West relations.