On January 17, FSWC encourages all Canadians to reflect on and celebrate the life of one of the most heroic and tragic resistance figures of the Holocaust, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
During WWII, Wallenberg served as Special Envoy to Budapest and in this role took action to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis and Hungarian fascists (the Arrow Cross). Between July and December 1944, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings around Budapest designated as Swedish territory. His efforts are considered by many to be the largest and arguably most impactful example of humanitarian aid to Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Stories of Walleberg’s quiet heroism during the Holocaust are numerous. Sandor Ardai, one of the drivers working for Wallenberg, provided insight into Wallenberg’s actions when he recounted what happened when Wallenberg intercepted a trainload of Jews about to leave for Auschwitz:
..he climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them.
On January 17 in 1945, Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet authorities during the occupation of Hungary on allegations of espionage. He was never heard from again. Although there continues to be debate around the circumstances of Wallenberg’s death, it is believed that he was murdered in a Soviet labour camp in 1947.
Wallenberg has been honoured throughout the world for his moral courage and resistance during the Holocaust and became a Righteous Among the Nations honouree in 1986. Wallenberg was in fact the first person to become an Honorary Citizen of Canada in 1985 and he has been commemorated across the country in street names, parks, schools, and even a 2013 stamp.
The Holocaust is recognized as a historical moment that exemplifies some of the worst failings of humanity: our propensity for hatred, our lust for violence, our occupation by fear and self-interest. The collaboration and inaction of so many makes it even more important that we examine and celebrate the compassion and heroism demonstrated by Raoul Wallenberg and other rescuers.
Every day, FSWC facilitates workshops that illuminate these stories of rescue and resistance. Through education we must ensure that future generations understand the dangers of fascism and racial hatred while showing them that it was and is possible to act with courage even in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Wallenberg’s actions speak to the underlying themes of real-world heroism and leadership that serve as the foundation for several FSWC workshops, and his story is one of many that we use to inspire students to stand together against intolerance and embark on their own journey of social action and leadership.
Contact our education team to learn how you can discover more about heroes like Raoul Wallenberg through FSWC programs.