This is the year of Raoul Wallenberg, the 100th anniversary of his birth. He is being honored as a hero all over the world.
As everyone knows, there were 425,000 Hungarian Jews killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau in a period of only 10 weeks in 1944. Or was it 475,000? The exact number of Hungarian Jews who were gassed is unknown because the Nazis didn’t keep records on the Jews who were sent to the gas chamber immediately upon arrival.
The Nazis had a plan, called “The Final Solution,” to kill all the Jews — unless, of course, they could show a passport to a neutral country. Raoul Wallenburg came along in the nick of time to save 100,000 Jews from the gas chamber by providing them with fake passports to Sweden. Or was it 20,000 Jews that he saved. The numbers vary according to which news story you read.
Strangely, Hitler was O.K. with this. He wanted to kill all the Jews, but in 1943, he authorized an exchange camp at Bergen-Belsen where Jews could be exchanged for prisoners held by the Allies. At Bergen-Belsen, there was a Sonderlager (Special Camp) where several thousand Polish Jews, who had been deported in mid-1943, were held because they were in possession of temporary passports from South American countries.
In July 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt organized the Evian Conference at Lake Geneva where representatives from 32 countries met to decide where the German Jews could find safe haven from the coming Holocaust. None of the countries, except the Dominican Republic, wanted to accept Jews as immigrants. In America, there were laws, passed by Congress in 1924 which limited the number of immigrants from Germany. These laws had been passed for the purpose of keeping Jews out of America.
In 1942, President Roosevelt violated the fourth amendment to the American constitution with an order to intern Japanese-Americans and German-Americans in camps in America. He could have violated the Constitution again by overturning the immigration law that had been passed by Congress in 1924. But No! Roosevelt did nothing to save the Jews.
Here is a quote from a news article about Wallenberg, which you can read in full here:
By the beginning of 1944, the Allies knew that Germany under Adolf Hitler was systematically exterminating the Jews of Europe. Eyewitness testimonies about the gas chambers of Auschwitz had removed any doubt as to the meaning of “the final solution.”
What eyewitness testimonies had been given in 1944? Rudolf Vbera was a Slovakian Jew who had escaped from the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in April 1944 and had told the world that 1.7 million Jews had already been killed in the gas chambers at Birkenau. How did he know this?
Vrba was a Kapo whose job it was to take the luggage from the Jews when they arrived at the Judenrampe, the ramp where the Jews got off the trains before the tracks were extended inside the camp. Vrba had an eidetic memory (photographic memory) and the arrival of millions of Jews at the Judenrampe was instantly recorded in his brain. The 1.7 million Jews who arrived, while Vrba was at the ramp, were taken in trucks to the Birkenau camp and never seen again by Vrba. What could have happened to them? They were gassed, of course.
This quote is from the Wikipedia entry for Rudolf Vrba:
Mass transports [to Auschwitz-Birkenau] began on May 15, 1944 at a rate of 12,000 people a day; they were led to believe they were being resettled, but most were sent straight to the gas chambers. Details from the Vrba-Wetzler report alerting the world to what was happening inside the camp were broadcast in Czech and Slovak on June 15, 1944, by the BBC World Service and reported several days later by The New York Times, prompting world leaders to appeal to Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy to halt the deportations. He ordered them to be stopped on July 7, fearing he would be held personally responsible after the war; 475,000 had already been deported, but another 200,000 were probably saved.
By April, 1944, Dr. Vrba had calculated that 1.7-million Jews had been killed in the death camps. And from guards he’d overhead, he knew that the number was going to climb, with “a million units” expected to arrive from Hungary.
Wait a minute! Rudolf Vrba and another prisoner named Alfred Wetzler had escaped from Birkenau in April 1944 and 475,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Birkenau before the news that Jews were being gassed was told to the world by the BBC and the New York Times in June 1944? Why didn’t Rudolf Vrba get the news to the world leaders sooner? All it took was a passport to a neutral country to save a Jew from the gas chamber!
I recall reading, years ago, the book written by Rudolf Vrba. I was amazed to read that, after his escape from Birkenau, he went to visit his mother in Slovakia. His mother had not been sent to a camp? What kind of a genocide was this, if not all the Jews were sent to camps?
I was also amazed to read about Vrba’s life in the Birkenau camp. He was feasting on roast chicken and drinking wine! In fact, when he and Wetzler made their escape, their pockets were filled with cigarettes and a couple of bottles of wine. As a Kapo,Vrba had been living well at Birkenau while he counted 1.7 million Jews who were taken in trucks directly to the gas chambers. The official story, as told by the Auschwitz-Museum, is that 1.3 million Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and 1.1 million were gassed.
Here is another quote from the news article about Raoul Wallenberg:
By July 1944, upwards of 400,000 Jewish men, women and children had been deported, in cattle cars, to their deaths in Auschwitz. The man directing the genocide, Adolf Eichmann, now turned his attention to the 200,000 Jews of Budapest.
At this point Raoul Wallenberg arrived as first secretary of the Swedish legation. Scion of a banking family, he had studied architecture in America and done business in Europe. Nothing in his life had demanded particular courage, much less marked him for unique greatness.
Wallenberg came with a single mission: to rescue as many Jews as possible. With nothing more than the authority of his character and a mantle of diplomatic licence, he proceeded to bluff, deceive and defy the Nazis.
He distributed thousands of pseudo “passports” that identified the bearers as emigrants to Sweden. With bundles of such life-saving documents, he appeared at train stations and pulled Jews off death cars. He interceded at forced marches and plucked Jews from death columns. He purchased food and medicine, hired doctors and guards, protected Jews in rented safe houses.
Over a period of six months, at mounting risk to his own life, Wallenberg negotiated with the Nazis, bribed them, intimidated them. Days before liberation, in his most daring stroke, he prevented a massacre in the ghetto by threatening a German general with execution as a war criminal.
Wallenberg’s example inspired similar rescues by neutral Switzerland, Portugal and Spain. His actions are estimated to have saved about 100,000 lives.