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Clifford Savage on Raoul Wallenberg during the Holocaust in Hungary

Raoul Wallenberg's 1944 passport photo

On February 17, 2016, retired high school teacher, linguist, and history enthusiast Clifford Savage provided the CNS with an illustrated lecture on Raoul Wallenberg. Mr. Savage clearly has a passion for this extraordinary subject and has acquired a detailed knowledge of the events of 1944 and 1945 in Nazi-occupied Hungary through extensive reading and research, including personal visits to Hungary.

Mr. Savage laid the groundwork for his talk by setting the stage in Hungary before Raoul Wallenberg arrived on the scene. We learned that the borders of Hungary had been considerably reduced by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, the peace agreement to formally end World War I between the Allies and the Kingdom of Hungary. Hitler restored some of the lost territories back to Hungary and as a result, the Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy, in power from 1920 to 1944, was on good terms with Nazi Germany. It was not until March 1944 that the Nazis invaded and occupied Hungary and began preparations to annihilate its entire Jewish population. Adolf Eichmann was in charge and he worked with the co-operation of the Hungarian authorities. The process of first restricting the activities of the Jews and then rounding them up for transport to the concentration camps, where they would either work as labourers or be killed, began.

On July 9, 1944, Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest from Berlin. He was a wealthy Swedish businessman who had done business in Budapest in the past. The Swedish government gave him a diplomatic cover, but he had actually been sent to Hungary at the behest of Jewish-American organizations.

Wallenberg was able to save an astonishing number of lives by creating very official-looking Swedish provisional passports, which he provided to Jews at every opportunity. He stockpiled enormous quantities of food to distribute to them. Even after the passports were no longer accepted, he used his ingenuity and bravado to bluff and bribe his way to saving countless more.

By late December, 1944, Budapest was encircled by Soviet forces. On January 17, 1945, the Soviets arrested Wallenberg and informed Sweden that he was in protective custody. His ultimate fate remains a mystery.

During the question and answer period that followed Mr. Savage’s talk, we learned that a Hungarian Jewish survivor of the Bergen Belsen camp was in attendance. This was certainly a poignant moment for all of us there that evening. This survivor (unfortunately I did not get her name) noted that there will be a Round Table in Budapest on May 20 and 21 this year, with the aim of establishing once and for all what happened to Raoul Wallenberg. It was very clear to us all that Wallenberg is still greatly revered by those who survived due to his extraordinary heroism, as well as by their descendants. CNS President Tim Mark, in thanking Clifford Savage, noted that although it is very sad to hear about the grim events of the Holocaust in Hungary, the figure of Raoul Wallenberg remains as a beacon of hope in this grim chapter of European history.

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