Right now I am 150 pages into the book Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved the Jews of Budapest by Kati Marton. Raoul Wallenberg was the Swedish diplomat who traveled to Hungary during World War II and saved 100,000 Jews before being picked up by the KGB… and I have not read his fate yet, but it is grim. Yet what I am struck by, besides the tragic probability that he died in Stalin’s death camps, is his inscrutable goodness. I remember hearing a fellow classmate in High School say of Mother Teresa, “There are some people who are too darn good.” I feel that way about him, and it is because he had no private life, or if he did it only got the surface treatment. Oskar Schindler besides being a Holocaust rescuer was essentially playing a con game with the Nazis. Janusz Korczak who died with the Jewish children in one of two orphanages he ran (the other orphanage being for Polish children), was mentally ill and found children more easily understood than adults. Yet Raoul Wallenberg, without being nobler, was a man without complexity: he grew up in privilege and put off his private ambitions in order to save Jews from being killed by Hitler.
I noticed in my reading of him that he was very obdurate as a boy, and thought a “serious” girl was one whom he could talk to seriously–not the other way around. He loved hiking. Yet before he was asked to help save Jews, he was not really that easily recognized for the greatness he would show. As it turned out, he went above and beyond expectations in saving Jewish people, giving out Swedish passports to every Jew he could, including those for whom there was no “justification” for letting them go to Sweden. It was his kindness for which he deserved to be remembered–that and the fact that form him caution was not the better part of valor. To the end he showed courage and tenacity for that single goal: getting Jews out of Hungary so they could not be sent to Auschwitz or other concentration camps.
I will write my last thoughts about him tomorrow on-line. In the meantime, though, I will say that I was pleased to read that Franklin Roosevelt himself was involved in the scheme which Wallenberg was picked for. Though it was perhaps too late for comfort, it justifies some of the hero-worship I had of Franklin Roosevelt as a girl, and still do now. I have always felt that Franklin Roosevelt’s personal life often disappoints, but his love for the American people his love was real. I feel this way because my Grandma Williams lived through the Great Depression and idolized both Franklin and Elinore Roosevelt. I also learned about Wallenberg because of Grandma Williams. I was at Lindsborg, a Swedish tourist trap my family used to frequent, when I saw the book Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved the Jews of Budapest. I simply had not read it until now.