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On Tuesday October 30th 2012, the Peace Palace Library together with the Embassies of Sweden, Israel, Hungary and the United States organized a Lecture on the occasion of 100 years since the birth of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat as well as a business man. In 1944, the United States of America established the War Refugee Board (WRB), an organization whose purpose it was to save Jews from Nazi persecution. When the WRB learned that Sweden was making serious efforts to save Jews in Hungary, it set out to find the right person to launch a major rescue operation in Budapest.
Raoul Wallenberg was offered the job and according to his sister Nina, who sent a special message for this Lecture, ‘he accepted without hesitation and was eager to start his important task’. He was appointed second secretary of the Swedish diplomatic mission in Budapest where he issued protective Swedish passports and rented buildings that were subsequently labelled Swedish houses ( Swedish Research Institute , Swedish Library etc.) and were turned into save havens for Jews to seek shelter and escape persecution. It is estimated that through diplomatic protection, Wallenberg was able to save 100,000 lives. On January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was imprisoned by Soviet forces. To this day, his fate remains unknown. Russia claims that he died in a Soviet prison in 1947. However, many witness reports suggest that he may have been alive as late as 1969.
To commemorate the life and the deeds of Raoul Wallenberg, a tree planting ceremony was held in the garden of the Peace Palace where an oak tree was planted by the Ambassadors of Sweden, Israel, Hungary and the Chargé d’Affaires of the United States of America. The tree planting ceremony also included music by Ms. Reut Ventorero .
After the tree planting ceremony, the guests gathered inside the Auditorium of the Academy building of the Peace Palace to attend the lecture where speeches were given by prominent speakers such as Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Uri Rosenthal, Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) , Wilhelmina Thomassen, and historian Dr. Raphael Vago of Tel-Aviv University and Hungarian Holocaust Survivor Ms. Katalin Sommer. The sister of Raoul Wallenberg, Ms. Nina Lagergren, and US President Barack Obama both sent a special pre-recorded video-message to share their thoughts and feelings about the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg.
Here are some excerpts of some of the speeches given during this lecture.
Ms. Nina Lagergren - Sister of Raoul Wallenberg
”I hope this tree will go strong and for every branch that reaches out, we have reached out to many more people as a reminder of what he did, to be inspired by what he did. To remember, as was inscribed on the granite stone underneath the oak tree, that ‘one individual can make a difference”.
Ms. Wilhelmina Thomassen - Former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and former Judge of the Supreme Court of The Netherlands
“ […] We are reminded of the courage of an individual man who refused to be a bystander and who made the choice to do everything he could do to protect his fellow human beings. […] After the war, governments at the world level were determined to prevent those cruelties from happening again and a few years later, in 1948, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which laid down the fundamental rights of every man and woman, was adopted by the member states of the United Nations. It therefore had the potential to become, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, an international Magna Charta of all people everywhere. […] Europe, building on the Universal Declaration, established the European Convention on Human Rights, in which respect for human dignity and respect for democracy stand side by side.
[...] Also on the national level human rights started to play an important role in the legal debate. Once Constitutions and the international human rights treaties began to be regarded as legal and not only as political instruments and once access to courts for constitutional litigation was made available to individuals, the meaning of the text of human rights documents began to evolve through the case law of the domestic constitutional and ordinary courts as living instruments in present day conditions.
[…] The effectiveness of the system is also dependent on the understanding that new circumstances in society and in the world create new risks for the human dignity of individual men and women and that we need to be vigilant to identify them. Racism has not come to an end after the war, slavery still exists where women and men are traded and forced to serve in private households or in the sex industry, there are prisons where people are held in inhuman conditions, numerous illegal people live in our cities without names and without rights. […] Instead of being indifferent of and looking away from injustice we should take our responsibility. In our own way, in our daily work, in our daily life, each of us can make the difference.” […] We will honor the life and legacy of Raoul Wallenberg by upholding and strengthening the system as it has been constructed after his days.
Dr. Raphael Vago, Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow, Department of History, Tel Aviv University, Israel
[…] A large part of his success was not the result of what we call chance or fate, but the result of the deeds of a young and charismatic person who could project and inject authority in the face of those who disregarded human life, property or any other values – but still had a shade of respect towards a higher authority in whose name Wallenberg handed out his life saving documents. Thus Wallenberg was using personal initiative, improvisation, and an excellent knowledge and feeling for the context in which he understood the situation, analyzed the available information, knew how to use, utilize and manipulate, bribing and charming those whom were facing him. Better than many seasoned diplomats and other trained personnel, at his young age ( he was 32 years old), he had the wisdom how to act in a situation that nothing had prepared him for, and no training could provide guidelines how to react and act.
[…] We have to keep Wallenberg’s memory alive, not only in order to remember a unique person, but as a symbol of a shining light in the darkest moment of Jewish and human history. The towering image of Wallenberg must always remind us of the depth of inhumanity in the Holocaust.
Katalin Sommer, Hungarian Holocaust Survivor
“[…] It is with the most thankful heart that I remember Raoul Wallenberg whom I have to thank for my life, and indeed not only me but many, many others. […] I always think of those who couldn’t be saved: lives cut short, those who were not given the opportunity of life. […]Thinking of them, I would like to believe that these brutal, inhuman events could never be repeated. The memory of Wallenberg will live forever, even when we are no longer here, because this earthly life is transient but the memory is eternal. What happened with us is unforgettable and ineradicable. While we live we will remember and, if needs be, we will warn and remind. Remind people of what happened: this is our duty.
Barack Obama, President of the United States of America (through a pre-recorded video-message)
[…] “I will never be able to go back to Stockholm”, Raoul Wallenberg said, “ without knowing inside myself that I had done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible”. Therein lies the lesson of his life. Not simply to bear witness to man’s capacity for cruelty, but to have the courage to choose, to choose to do all we can do to summon inside ourselves our capacity for good. As we mark the centennial of his birth, as we observe Holocaust Rembrance Day in the United States, we affirm our duty. In the face of indifference, let us choose compassion. In the face of intolerance, let us stand against anti-Semitism and hatred in all its forms. In the face of oppression, let us defend the universal rights of all human beings. In the face of evil, let us refuse to be bystanders. Let us fulfill that solemn pledge: Never Again.
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