Correction appended: A story in Wednesday’s edition of the Daily (State honors ‘U’ alum who saved lives in Holocaust) incorrectly stated that days after Raoul Wallenberg’s arrival in Debrecen, the Russian Army seized Budapest and its surrounding areas. It should have said Raoul Wallenberg was imprisoned by the Russian Army in October, months after the Soviets seized Budapest and its surrounding areas.
Known as a Swedish version of Harriet Tubman, Raoul Wallenberg saved about 100,000 people from Nazi execution during World War II. Today, Michigan will recognize the accomplishments of the University alum as it celebrates the first-ever Wallenberg Day.
Last month, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, proclaimed Oct. 5 Wallenberg Day, in honor of the World War II hero. Oct. 5 will mark the 60th anniversary of his capture in the second world war by the Russian army.
Born in Sweden in 1912, Wallenberg traveled to Ann Arbor to study architecture in 1931, where he later received a Bachelor of Science degree after four years at the University.
During World War II, Wallenberg was a as Swedish diplomat and risked his life by attempting to rescue many Hungarian Jewish victims during the height of the war. He often issued Swedish protective passports, which allowed Wallenberg to evacuate refugees to safehouses.
In January of 1945 he traveled to Debrecen, east of Budapest. But days later after his arrival, the Russian Army seized Budapest and its surrounding areas. In October he was imprisoned by the Soviet army, which accused him of being an American spy. He told his friends he would return from Debrecen, the town in which he was imprisoned, within a week – but he never returned. The whereabouts of Wallenberg are still unknown, but Russian authorities claim he died in a Soviet prison in 1947.
“October 5th is a significant date to mark,” said Art School Prof. Jon Rush. “It’s more of a sad day because that man who saved 100,000 people was captured to rot away in a Russian prison. It’s a heroic story but ends tragically.”
In 1995, Rush created a sculpture titled Koszonom Raoul Wallenberg in honor of his heroic history. “Koszonom” is Hungarian for “thank you.” The sculpture is located at the west front entrance of the Art and Architecture building.
“One person came all the way from Sweden to see the memorial I made,” he said. “Wallenberg’s history is a great story of sacrifice.”
Daniela Bajar, spokeswoman for The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, said since Wallenberg’s name has been unfortunately kept from many history books, her organization hopes the day will finally give Wallenberg his long-deserved recognition.
“This year marks the 60th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s capture and disappearance,” Bajar said. “It is therefore more important than ever before to mark October 5th in a meaningful way.”
Along with asking Granholm to help in Wallenberg’s recognition, the IRWF also asked members of the media, community leaders and educators to help raise awareness about the life of Wallenberg.
“Michigan’s schools and synagogues have been contacted about this unique educational opportunity for students to discuss issues such as human rights, courage and personal integrity within the framework of learning about the holocaust,” Bajar said.
“He is one of the University’s international heroes,” Rush said. “The world is much aware of him. I thought the University should have been too, that’s why I made the sculptor.”
As part of the initiatives undertaken by the IRWF on the 60th anniversary of Wallenberg’s disappearance, an international campaign was launched entitled:
“100,000 names for the 100,000 lives.”
Headed by U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos and his wife, Annette, they are fighting to find out the unknown fate of the Swedish diplomat. The petition can be signed online at www.raoulwallenberg.net