The Budapest Rescue: Raoul Wallenberg’s Efforts to Save Jews
Born on August 4, 1912, in Stockholm, Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg was recruited by the US War Refugee Board (WRB) in June 1944 to travel to Hungary after studying in the United States in the 1930s and establishing himself in a business career in Sweden. Wallenberg was given diplomatic status by the Swedish legation and tasked with helping and saving Hungarian Jews.
As first secretary to the Swedish legation in Hungary, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944, with no experience in diplomacy or clandestine operations. Despite this, he led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust, working with the WRB and the World Jewish Congress to prevent the deportation of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.
The Hungarian government, under Dome Sztojay, was prepared to deport Hungarian Jews to German-occupied Poland, and by July 1944, nearly 440,000 Jews had been deported, with almost all of them sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the majority were killed upon arrival. Wallenberg distributed certificates of protection issued by the Swedish legation to Jews in Budapest and used funds to establish hospitals, nurseries, and a soup kitchen, as well as designate more than 30 „safe“ houses that formed the core of the „international ghetto“ in Budapest.
After the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross movement seized power with German assistance on October 15, 1944, the Arrow Cross government resumed the deportation of Hungarian Jews. Wallenberg intervened personally to secure the release of bearers of certificates of protection and those with forged papers from the columns of marching people, saving as many as possible.
Wallenberg’s colleagues in the Swedish legation and diplomats from other neutral countries also participated in rescue operations. Carl Lutz, the Consul General in the Swiss legation, issued certificates of emigration, placing nearly 50,000 Jews in Budapest under Swiss protection as potential emigrants to Palestine. Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca posed as a Spanish diplomat, issuing forged Spanish visas and establishing safe houses, including one for Jewish children.
When Soviet forces liberated Budapest in February 1945, more than 100,000 Jews remained, thanks to the efforts of Wallenberg and his colleagues. Wallenberg was last seen in mid-January 1945 and died in a Soviet prison on July 17, 1947, under unknown circumstances.