The dis-oriented author is a history buff. I enjoyed Alex Kershaw’s The Few about American pilots in the Battle of Britain. So when I was looking for a book to read on a trip I bought Kershaw’s The Envoy. The book tells the story of one of World War II’s unsung heroes, Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg.
In the waning days of the second World War, Wallenberg volunteered to go to occupied Hungary and work to save the last remaining enclave of Jews under Nazi occupation. It was Götterdämmerung and the Thousand Year Reich was coming to an end. The architect of the Final Solution, Obersturmbannführer Adolph Eichmann had been dispatched to Budapest to deport the Jews of Hungary to the camps.
For most of the war, Hungary’s Jewish population had been spared the horror of the camps. Up until 1944 Hungarian Jews had not experienced thedeportations that occurred across the rest of occupied Europe. In this environment, Wallenberg went to Hungary on behalf of the US funded War Relief Board. A young Swedish aristocrat, Wallenberg was anxious to make a name for himself apart from his family’s business.
Wallenberg gave himself fully to his work and as a result thousands (maybe 10′s of thousands) of Hungarian Jews survived the Holocaust. Wallenberg went to Budapest as a diplomat from neutral Sweden. He used his status and his country’s neutrality in creative ways to protect Hungarian Jews. He created passes declaring many of them Swedish citizens under protection of the crown. He appropriated buildings that served as protected shelters. He met many times with Eichmann himself.
As the Soviet army came close to Budapest, Eichmann fled but things we only to get worse not better. In the vacuum, the Hungarian fascist party, the Arrow Cross, came to power. While the Germans were intent on deporting the Jews to Auschwiz, the Arrow Cross were simple thugs who would simply march Jews to the banks of the Danube and shoot them en masse. Despite numerous threats to his life, Wallenberg stood up to the Arrow Cross the same way he stood up to the Nazis.
The tragic ending to this story is that after the Soviets liberated Hungary, they arrested Wallenberg (in violation of his diplomatic passport) and transferred him to the Soviet Union. Despite repeated attempts to find out what had happened to him the Soviet (and later Russian) government has refused to this day to even admit that he was in their custody.
Oskar Schindler was made famous by the movie Schindler’s List, and while he deserves the recognition given him, he was a war profiteer and benefited from Jewish slave labor. Wallenberg, unknown even to many Jews, saved more lives and did so by placing his own life in danger and generally gave his life for the Jews of Hungary. A hero in every sense of the word.
|The Envoy gets 4 of 5 dis-oriented smileys
Purchase The Envoy from Amazon.com.