Polish officials, diplomats commemorate Swedish Holocaust rescuer

Radek Pietruszka/PAP

Foreign Ministry, presidential and foreign embassy officials on Friday in Warsaw commemorated Raoul Wallenberg, a Budapest-posted Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in World War Two.

In his address at the ceremony, Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said that all should be done to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. He also warned against tolerance for totalitarianism in the future.

"When we look at the cruel past, we see that it also carries hope that the final word will not belong to totalitarian powers with their armies and monstrous repression and surveillance apparatus. This was so thanks to people, who knew how to sacrifice themselves for others selflessly, to stand up to tyranny with courage, even at the cost of their lives. It is they who are the true victors," Jablonski said.

Recalling Wallenberg's activity, Jablonski said that commemorating people like him was part of Poland's mission to guard the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. He also reminded that three million of them came from Poland.

He added that another reason why Poles held Wallenberg in high esteem was the suspicion that one of the reasons for his 1945 arrest by the Soviets was his knowledge about the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre, in which Soviet security services mass-executed around 22,000 Polish prisoners of war in western Russia.

Presidential aide Wojciech Kolarski said that Poles saw greatness in what Wallenberg did, and reminded that many Poles acted similarly during the Holocaust.

Swedish Ambassador to Poland Stefan Gullgren observed that Wallenberg conducted his operations in extremely adverse conditions. "Raoul Wallenberg showed that courage and determination allow the achievement of great things, even if all the odds appear to be stacked against us," Gullgren said.

Hungarian Ambassador to Poland Orsolya Zsuzsanna Kovacs said Wallenberg symbolised the sacrifice of life to save other lives, and was seen as a symbol of life in Hungary.

Deputy US Ambassador in Poland B. Bix Aliu said Wallenberg's history was well known in America, and reminded that in 1981 the US Congress posthumously awarded him with US citizenship.

Later the ceremony participants laid flowers under a memorial plaque to Wallenberg.

Raoul Wallenberg (4 August 1912 – disappeared 17 January 1945), was Sweden's special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, in which time he saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them with protective passports. He also sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory.

Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviets on suspicions of espionage on January 17 1945 during the Red Army's siege of Nazi-occupied Budapest, and disappeared. He was said to have died on July 17 1947 while in Soviet imprisonment. The circumstances of Wallenberg's arrest, incarceration and death, as well as his ties to US intelligence, remain a mystery and are still speculated upon.