Because the world may never know everything there is to know about the Holocaust, events like the Raoul Wallenberg Dinner at the Nordic Heritage Museum continue to offer relevant scholarship in an attempt to gain more understanding.
This year’s dinner featured Steven Koblik, internationally recognized scholar on modern Sweden and president of Reed College, speaking on “The Politics of Rescue,” asking the questions, “When did people outside of occupied Germany know and what did they know?”
In addition to excerpts from three definitive documents that were widely circulated in 1942 concerning the extermination of Jews, Koblik reproduced his latest find, a facsimile of a registration card for Wera Fluss, a Jewish woman converted by Swedish missionaries, yet sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau because of her Jewish blood. The missionaries didn’t want to lose track of her, and sent her packages which the Nazis recorded on cards. Her increasingly illegible signature of receipt shows the deterioration of her health in just a few short months at the camp.
“All sorts of non-governmental agencies played a role in World War II,” said Koblik. “This is only one of 1,000 cards that I found. Wera Fluss died in Auschwitz. She was sent parcels between August, 1943, and January, 1944. There was tons of information about what was going on. I happen to be working on Sweden but there was tons of information in the U.S. The question is, How did they put it into context? Because there was tremendous violence going on all over. The ability to kill the Jews depended on other nations. It was an internationally based experience.”
Koblik, who is the author of The Stones Cry Out: Sweden’s Response to Persecution of the Jews, 1933–1945, is currently researching Swedish policy toward Scandinavian and European Jewry during those same years.
“Although the Jews were persecuted in the 30s,” said Koblik, “it is the policy decision to go from persecution to extermination. It was a modern, western, legal, step-by-step process. People knew. It’s not the camps but the policy decision to establish killing centers. So far, there is no smoking gun connecting Hitler to the decision. And what was the Swedish response to the final solution? In the politics of rescue, it’s very difficult to present history and separate it from the representation of history.”
Koblik admits frustration when it comes to the Hollywood “screenplay” versions of historical events because it oversimplifies very complex, international events.
In the case of Raoul Wallenberg, the first-hand accounts of his bravery from survivors are numerous, claiming that he would lie, cheat and bribe if that’s what it took. Wallenberg, who went undercover as a Swedish diplomat sent by the United States to save Jews in Hungary in 1944, is credited with saving the lives of an estimated 100,000 Jews in Budapest between 1944 and 1945.
He created and issued 4,500 counterfeit Swedish passports as one successful way of saving Jewish lives and persuaded diplomats in the Swiss and Spanish governments to do the same. Because of his determination, the Red Cross eventually became involved in their own rescue efforts.
One evening when Hungarian Nazis roped and shot groups of Jews directly into the Danube River, Wallenberg had his employee dive into the water after them and together they pulled 50 people to safety as they were picked up by Red Cross vehicles.
And finally, in his final act of heroism, Wallenberg saved 69,000 Jewish lives when he discovered a plot by Adolf Eichmann, a man hand-picked by Hitler to carry out the deportation of the remaining Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Eichmann planned to massacre them rather than deport them; when Wallenberg, using his Swedish diplomat status, personally visited the SS troop commander and declared that he would be hanged as a war criminal if he committed the massacre. Eichmann withdrew and Russian forces liberated the Jews of Budapest two days later.
Wallenberg was last seen on January 17, 1945, leaving Budapest escorted by Russian troops in an attempt to appeal to the Soviet commander for food and medical supplies. He was never seen again. Some evidence suggests he was imprisoned in the Soviet Union but his whereabouts remain a mystery.
State Sen. Ken Jacobsen, whose wife is Jewish, originally had the idea for the event and believes that it represents the blended heritage of his own family, the common heritage of the two communities and the vision Wallenberg had for eradicating intolerance and bigotry.
The proceeds from the 10th annual Wallenberg dinner benefit the Anti-Defamation League’s Holocaust Fund and the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center. The event was attended by an audience of over 150 people who included Holocaust survivors and guests, City Councilman Jim Compton, former Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, Marvin Stern, from Insurance Commissioner Kreidler’s Holocaust Survivor Assistance Office, and Miriam Greenbaum, executive director of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.
“I think it’s really admirable that he does this,” commented Greenbaum about Jacobsen’s efforts. “He gets IKEA to donate the food and to really make an event of it. There are so many members of the community who are involved in this event and Senator Jacobsen has been really helpful to our center. ”