Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved the Jews of Budapest

Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved the Jews of Budapest

by Kati Marton

Paperback(Centenary Edition)

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“A fascinating story of an extraordinary man. Kati Marton’s book should be read by anyone wishing to know what could have been done to save Jewish lives if more people had cared.”—Elie Wiesel

New York Times Bestselling Author.

A fearless young Swede whose efforts saved countless Hungarian Jews from certain death at the hands of Adolf Eichmann, Raoul Wallenberg was one of the true heroes to emerge during the Nazi occupation of Europe.

He left a life of privilege and, against staggering odds, brought hope to those who had been abandoned by the rest of the world.

For students of history of the holocaust, or for anyone who wants to read a story of true heroism in the face of evil, here is the gripping, passionately written biography of the courageous man who displayed extraordinary humanity during one of history’s darkest periods.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611453379
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 10/01/2011
Edition description: Centenary Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 198,216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kati Marton, an award-winning former NPR and ABC News correspondent, is the author of Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History, a New York Times bestseller, as well as The Polk Conspiracy, A Death in Jerusalem, and a novel, An American Woman. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Wallenberg Centennial Edition

The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved Thousands of Jews

By Kati Marton

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2011 Kati
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62872-179-9


The Legacy

In Sweden the name is synonymous with capitalism, power and service. Raoul Wallenberg was born into a family of P 1| extraordinary achievers. The Wallenbergs are, and have been for over a century and a half, the Swedish Establishment. It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that they began to carve out a place for themselves as one of the most successful capitalist dynasties in history, to rank alongside the Medicis, the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers. Like those other great clans, they first gathered power and prestige within their own societies, then cast their net over a wider, international sea.

The wealth they amassed along the way was never displayed. They preferred to hold it in reserve, quietly, unostentatiously. The last thing the Wallenbergs wished for was the envy or resentment of their peers. Their strait-laced Lutheranism frowned on a splashy show of property and possessions. "To be, and not to seem" is the family motto. For the past five generations they have never really departed from its message.

A bishop named Marcus really started it all. This patriarch was more interested in Homer and the classics than in making money, but his curiosity about the world beyond his provincial capital of Stockholm encouraged his son Andre Oscar to sail to the New World. There the young Wallenberg found a country bursting at the seams with freshly tapped vitality and newly released capital. It was the eve of the Industrial Revolution. Andre Oscar Wallenberg was impressed by the crucial role America's banks were playing in the transformation of this rough, sprawling former colony into a modern industrial power. He took the lesson home to Stockholm.

Shortly after his return, Wallenberg founded Stockholms EnskildaBank. Today, merged into Skandinaviska Enskilda, it is one of the country's largest and most respected banks. This was the beginning of the family's intimate involvement in their country's capitalist expansion. From shipping to railroads, tobacco and electronics, the Wallenbergs began stitching together their empire, which today embraces fifty thriving enterprises. As Sweden rode the crest of the Industrial Revolution, so did the Wallenberg family fortunes.

The old bishop saw nothing wrong with that. Not as long as his sons and their own children, who would carry on after him, remembered the country whose energy and resources had allowed them to prosper. Ultimately, when the Wallenberg family fortunes were safely sheltered, the progeny were expected to serve Svea Rike, the Swedish kingdom. This they have done with distinction for over a century. With one cautious hand on the tiller of their empire, the Wallenbergs have been bishops, diplomats, counselors to their king and ambassadors-at-large for their prime minister. They made certain Sweden steered a moderate and neutral course. That was good for Sweden and certainly healthy for the Wallenbergs.

If today helicopters collect young Wallenbergs to transport them from boarding schools to their elders' retreats on the French Riviera, they no longer feel shy about this show of wealth and privilege. When the country needed them, the Wallenbergs were ready to serve. Anyway, Marcus, the current head of the family, who was named after the founding father of the dynasty, still drives his own Saab to work, to prove both to himself and his peers that the family motto is alive and well.

The banker Andre Oscar laid the foundations for today's dynasty. His two sober, purposeful wives gave birth to a total of twenty children. Banking, diplomacy and the church were all equally well served by the next two generations of Wallenbergs. The Wallenberg women were not content to be mere breeders of perfect upper-middle-class children. Like the female members of other families in their social class, they played music and painted. Only these ladies did both extremely well. Wallenbergs are not supposed to do anything by halves. Some of the landscapes and portraits these ladies produced would not look out of place in an art gallery.

For generations the Wallenbergs have been seafaring people, with an eye on the rest of the world and an immense curiosity about how other people manage their affairs. Just as the Wallenberg family insists on discretion and reserve, so the family demands of its members an internationalism that stretches far beyond the European mainland.

When the children are gathered together for family reunions at one of several Wallenberg mansions, they are expected to show a command of several languages and cultures. The Wallenbergs are not meant to see the world as spectators. They have always been expected to participate, to learn to live in discomfort if necessary and then to return to Stockholm armed with the newfound knowledge. The price of privilege is hard work.

One of Andre Oscar's sons, the bulky-framed, bearded Knut Agathon Wallenberg, became Sweden's Foreign Minister during World War I. He already had an astonishing record in business and diplomacy behind him. "K.A.," as he was known, steered his country between the two hostile powers and helped it to emerge in remarkable financial health at the end of those cataclysmic years. The family's own wealth, managed by K.A.s brothers, kept in step with the country's sturdy finances.

Andre Oscar, the patriarch whose face of pale leather stares down at his large brood at family gatherings, would be pleased at the Wallenbergs' contemporary image. Their own countrymen know precious little about the famous family's private life. Depending on a Swede's own politics, he utters the Wallenberg name with either reverence or distaste. No Swede is oblivious to the special role the family continues to play in shaping modern Swedish society. The Wallenbergs are inextricably entwined with the transformation of Stockholm into a graceful, cosmopolitan city, combining the colors of Central Europe with the architectural elegance of the West.

Nor are Swedes remotely aware of how the Wallenbergs live, where their homes are, or who designs the women's wardrobes or coiffes their prematurely gray heads. No sign marks the imposing Renaissance fortress on Stockholm's prestigious Kungstradgards-gatan, the headquarters of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken, the family's flagship enterprise. They do know that when Marcus, or before him his brother, Jacob, makes a statement about Sweden's role in the world, he is reflecting the view of both the Crown and the Cabinet. It is impossible to imagine either of those two institutions ignoring the advice or the interests of this influential family.

Today it is no longer the bishop or the foreign minister or the banker who is most respected by his countrymen. The Wallenberg who is best known and most admired in this family of remarkable characters is one who was never fully accepted into their ranks. Raoul Wallenberg did not have the total support of his powerful relatives in his early professional struggles. More tragically, the Wallenbergs failed to play a vital, positive role in the life of their cousin, the Soviet captive. They have done precious little to win his freedom.

When, in 1947, President Harry Truman offered Marcus Wallenberg his personal help in extricating Raoul from Soviet custody, the elder Wallenberg thanked the American but declined the offer. "Raoul," he told Truman, "is probably dead by now." There is no record of Marcus Wallenberg ever urging his old friend Finnish President Urho Kekkonen, a confidant of Leonid I. Brezhnev, to intervene on RaouFs behalf. Is it pure pragmatism on the part of a family that owes its name and fortune to practical, profitable decisions and to neutrality to have literally written off one of its own members? The Soviets are important Wallenberg trade partners. But the West is even more important to the family. The fact remains that outside RaouFs immediate family — his mother, his stepfather, half-brother and half-sister, the dynasty has a record of callous indifference to his fate.

RaouFs mother, Maj, the great-granddaughter of a highly successful German Jewish jeweler who emigrated to Sweden, never recovered from her son's imprisonment. Though she was blessed with a devoted husband and two talented, loving children, Raoul, her firstborn, was never out of her thoughts. Toward the end of her life, Stockholm society avoided this sad woman. Her almost obsessive preoccupation with her missing son made many uncomfortable. Maj likened herself to a handicapped person. "People are afraid to talk to me about Raoul," she used to say, "but they are also afraid not to talk to me about the one subject which I live for. So, really, it's much easier for them just to avoid me." Until the very end she never stopped fighting to get him free. She never hesitated to touch the powerful, to write letters to Brezhnev or Kissinger, a. mother who wanted to hold her son in her arms one more time. But the letters of an old lady are easy to ignore.

She and her husband died within just a few days of each other in 1979. They were both in their eighties, weary of the fruitless campaign to jar the world from its apathy, tired of life without Raoul.

The recent family elder, Jacob Wallenberg, who died the following year, attended the funeral of Raoul's mother and stepfather. The prisoner's childhood hero and godfather spent an unusually long time taking his leave of the old couples' twin coffins. Some who were present felt Jacob was apologizing to them for his many years of indifference.

In 1976 Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter who led Adolf Eichmann to his final judgment in Jerusalem, traveled to Stockholm. Years before, he had joined RaouFs mother's campaign to free her son. "If you could find Eichmann," she had written to Wiesenthal, "surely you could locate my son." He agreed to try, and has been devoted to the cause ever since. So, when he went to Stockholm he wanted to form a high-powered international commission which, under one letterhead, would take over the mother's lonely, fruitless efforts. Wiesenthal telephoned Marcus Wallenberg, the other head of the family, and an obvious choice to lead the influential commission. Wallenberg asked Wiesenthal to send him a memo on the subject, before he would give an answer. Wiesenthal drafted a long, carefully composed proposal. He already had several Nobel Prizewinners as volunteers to head a Free Raoul Wallenberg Committee. His memo to Marcus Wallenberg was never answered. Simon Wiesenthal abandoned the idea of the commission.

If the Wallenbergs' prestige and influence have not done the prisoner much good, the name may in fact have done him harm. During the war Marcus, who lived in London, and Jacob, in Stockholm, were the major Western contact points for the German anti-Nazi underground. Through their vast global business connections the Wallenberg brothers had formed a close friendship with Karl Goerdeler, the mayor of Leipzig. This headstrong, upright conservative was among the first German public figures to break with the Nazis. He became disenchanted with them in 1936, when their anti-Semitism began to show the first signs of the barbaric form it would eventually assume.

Goerdeler then started a rather futile campaign to arouse the Western powers to the danger of Hitler's anti-Semitism to all, not just to Germans. Dashing between European capitals, he was almost universally greeted with bland indifference. But Goerdeler never abandoned the idea of ridding the world of Hitler. By 1942 he had a plan. He could still travel, so he went to see his powerful friend Jacob Wallenberg in Stockholm and asked him to act as liaison between the underground and Winston Churchill. Goerdeler and his fellow conspirators needed advance assurance from the Allies that they would make peace with Germany if Hitler was overthrown. The assurance was not forthcoming, but even so, by February the following year Goerdeler and his companions were ready to unleash Operation Flash, their carefully planned coup against Hitler.

Goerdeler again traveled north to see Wallenberg and gave his friend precise details of the plot. The conspirators were pinning their hopes on Hitler's disillusioned generals to help topple the Fiihrer. Wallenberg made sure the Allies had advance notice. But the Goerdeler plan, like several others, was unmasked by infiltrators inside the conspiracy. Hitler took his bloody revenge and put a price of one million reichsmarks on Goerdeler's head. The former mayor of Leipzig assumed a new name and identity and waited for the war to end. He changed residences every few days. He trusted no one.

One day an old family friend spotted the bearded, run-down fugitive sitting in a small roadside tavern. The Gestapo arrived before Goerdeler had finished his meal. A People's Court sentenced Goerdeler to death in September 1944. The intervention of Hein-rich Himmler kept the prisoner alive until the last days of the war. Himmler himself was looking for a way to get off the sinking Nazi ship in those days. He had hoped to use Goerdeler's contacts with the West, and particularly with the Wallenbergs, to reach some kind of eleventh-hour unconditional-peace agreement. The Reichs-fiihrer SS had even made his own overtures to the Wallenbergs. The Allies showed no interest in striking a deal of any sort with representatives of a country that was fast crumbling.

On February 2, 1945, three months before the official end of the war, Himmler gave the order to have Karl Goerdeler executed.

There is little doubt that SMERSH, the energetic Soviet counterintelligence service, followed these attempts at a separate peace between the Allies and the Third Reich. They were, in fact, one of the main reasons for Stalin's paranoia toward his allies at wars end: he feared that the Anglo-Americans would leave him out in the cold and arrange their own armistice with the Germans.

When Raoul Wallenberg was led to his first interrogation by the NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB), the plain-clothes major he faced greeted him with an ironic expression. "Ah yes, Wallenberg. That capitalist family is well known to us."


The Youth

Raoul Wallenberg Sr., grandson of the patriarch Andre Oscar and the son of one of Sweden's most distinguished ambassadors, was young, gifted and in love. That he was blessed with wealth and good looks did not hurt. He followed the tradition of service in the Royal Navy before marrying one of Stockholm's prettiest girls.

Raoul was only twenty-one when his ship was struck by an epidemic off the French port of Cherbourg. Wallenberg's commanding officer wrote the young man's parents of "the exceptional courage and sangfroid" with which Raoul cared for his stricken shipmates. Using his fluent French to interpret for the medics that had come on board, Raoul often kept vigil through the night at the bedside of his ill comrades, and displayed "a rare energy." Thirty-five years later, precisely the same adjectives would be used to describe his own son combating an even deadlier epidemic. But Raoul Wallenberg Sr. would not be alive to hear those words, or even to see the birth of his first son.

Two years after the Cherbourg episode, the naval officer with the brilliant future ahead of him finally married his beloved Maj Wising. She was the daughter of a celebrated neurologist and had gone to school with her fiance's cousins. The best of Stockholm society toasted the young couple at the elegant Grand Hotel. The union was considered acceptable, if not brilliant, by the exigent Wallenbergs. It was a genuine love match between the twenty-one-year-old Maj and her Raoul. The naval officer with the far-off, dreamy expression had inherited much of his grandmother's artistic ability — that was clear from the graceful, Doric-columned family tomb which he designed shortly after the wedding. It was a prophetic work. Two months later a tumor in his abdomen was diagnosed as malignant. Raoul Wallenberg, aged twenty-three, died of cancer three months before the birth of his son.

For the young, newly married Maj, her confinement was a time of deep gloom, a feeling that life would hold nothing more for her. It had all happened so quickly. The wedding, her darling Raoul's illness and death, and now the baby. On black-bordered stationery the young widow wrote her mother, "I feel an enormous emptiness inside," an emptiness not filled by the daily growing child she was carrying. "I don't know if I will be competent to raise this child," she confessed to her mother.

On August 4, 1912, Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg came into the world without much struggle. He was born in the Victorian comfort of his maternal grandparents' summer home in Kapptsta, in the archipelago outside Stockholm. The house is long gone, mysteriously burned down sometime in the thirties. Only the foundation is left, overgrown with moss and lush white anemones. The view from the island, with a minuscule Stockholm off in the distance, is nearly unspoiled and hypnotically calm. The rough, sloping terrain has not changed much since the little boy stumbled among the beech trees, nearly seventy years ago.

Little Raoul, as the child was called, loved this bit of land at the mouth of the Baltic. It was here that his mother returned to life, transformed by the birth of the son she had not been sure she wanted to bear alone. "I have never known such happiness could exist," the new mother wrote her own mother, no longer on black-edged stationery. The little boy did not have his father's dreamy, far-off look. The boy's eyes seemed to fix on every detail of the world around him.


Excerpted from Wallenberg Centennial Edition by Kati Marton. Copyright © 2011 Kati. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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11 OCTOBER 15 I,
13 THE BARONESS | 101,

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Elie Wiesel

A fascinating story of an extraordinary man. Kati Marton’s book should be read by anyone wishing to know what could have been done to save Jewish lives if more people had cared.

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