WASHINGTON (Aug. 5)
Nine members of Congress held a 75th birthday party Tuesday for Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of nearly 100,000 Jews during World War II before mysteriously disappearing in the Soviet Union.
“He put his own frail body against the Nazi war machine and he triumphed,” Rep. Tom Lantos (D. Calif), who hosted the event, told the some 70 individuals, including the Swedish Charge d’Affaires, gathered in the sweltering heat on the steps of the Capitol. “In 1945 Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet authorities and he has been languishing ever since. We call upon the Soviet authorities to let him go so he can live his remaining years among his friends, among his family and among his people.”
“Raoul would want us to be hopeful,” said Lantos as he lead the crowd in singing Happy Birthday. “This is not a solemn occasion.”
A petition urging Wallenberg’s release will be sent to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The Wallenberg story became known through the efforts of Annette Lantos, who, along with her husband, was among the many Hungarian Jews saved by Wallenberg. Mrs. Lantos knew only vaguely of the Swedish diplomat ten years ago when she chanced to read about him. She was determined that his story become known. “At a time when the world was blind and deaf to the suffering of millions, Wallenberg fought like a tiger,” she said. “He was a figure of life and he will stand as a witness to many more who could have been saved if only a few more could have been willing to help.”
Wallenberg was made an honorary U.S. citizen in 1980 by Congress, a distinction given previously only to Winston Churchill. In addition, the site of the Holocaust museum here will be constructed on a street bearing his name.
Wallenberg, a wealthy Swedish businessman, went to Budapest in 1943 where he made it a personal mission to save as many Jews as possible. Known as the “Angel of Rescue,”he issued thousands of Swedish visas and even pulled Jews off trains headed for concentration camps. In 1945 when the Soviets liberated Budapest, Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet officials and disappeared. Under pressure by the Swedish government for news of his whereabouts, Soviet officials said he had died in 1947 of a heart attack.
But several former inmates of Soviet prison camps and a former KGB agent say they have seen Wallenberg alive and that he is being kept in isolation in a Siberian prison camp.