Raoul Wallenberg: The Man Who Stopped Death
In the final months of World War II, a young Swedish architect was secretly sent to Budapest by the War Refugee Board of the U.S. Government. He was crazy enough to think he could face down Adolph Eichmann and save the last remaining Jewish population in Europe. With wits, cunning, and the help of the neutral legations, wives of Arrow Cross officers, paid help inside the SS--and mostly, from the newly emboldened Jews themselves--he did what governments and armies claimed was impossible. He faced down the SS--and saved more than 100,000 lives.
How I Became Involved
Many moons ago, I was Features Editor for Scholastic Voice Magazine. Part of my job entailed condensing movie and television scripts for students to read in class. My desk was routinely covered with submissions from the major networks and studios.
Then one day the script for a mini-series about Raoul Wallenberg came in. Mini-series scripts are huge, of course, and seldom do-able during classtime, but I looked at it anyway. It seemed to be about a young man--an architect and a Gentile--who lived safely in faraway Sweden, yet who decided the Nazis simply should not be allowed to exterminate a race of people. His convictions were so strong that he was willing to put himself in harm's way and travel to Budapest--funded by the Swedes, and secretly, the U.S. War Refugee Board--to stop it.
Neither I, of Swedish descent, nor my editor, who was Jewish, had ever heard of this man. But we started digging.
Usually, when we decided to run a script, the studio or network would give us contact information to get further background for support articles. In this case, they gave me phone numbers of people who had worked with Wallenberg in Budapest. Usually, too, I would discover that the writers of the script had used a little dramatic licence to make an okay story into a good story. But in this case, the more research I did, the more I realized that the mini-series had hardly scratched the surface! Wallenberg's true story was much more dramatic than could be told in 4 hours of t.v.
We ended up doing two issues on Wallenberg. They made such an impact that they were subsequently purchased by Congressman Tom Lantos for distribution to every member of the U.S. House and Senate.
"We must tell the children."
One thing that intrigued me was that as I spoke to those Holocaust survivors and diplomats who had worked with Wallenberg, they each said the same thing: "We must tell the children."
Why was that? First, of course, to honor those who had died. But secondly, because a profound example had been set. You can fight evil. You can fight evil--and win. It has happened. And here is the story.
So when the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the U.S. told me that what they needed was a biography of Wallenberg suitable for young people, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew if there was ever a biography that could read like an adventure novel, this was it.
And it was a story that needed to be told. Along the way, I made some friends who changed my life forever--Tom Veres, who, as a young man went with Wallenberg on many missions as his photographer; Elisabeth Kemeny-Fuchs, the young bride who stood up to her husband and forced the Arrow Cross to honor Schutzpasses; and the Kassers, who were with the Red Cross and became close allies of Raoul's.
It is a story that is more important now than ever.