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Searching for Wallenberg

Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Intrepid Documentaries, Inc. in association with The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States
Directed by Robert Kimmel
VHS, color, 58 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Holocaust and Genocide Studies, History

Reviewed by Karen Plummer, University of Akron, Akron, OH

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

The Holocaust was a dark time, full of brutality and hopelessness. There were few shining lights in this time of horror. One of those shining lights was Raoul Wallenberg who risked his life to save tens of thousands of Jewish lives in Hungary from 1944 until the end of the war.

Wallenberg was born into privilege and wealth in Sweden, educated in the United States, and traveled extensively. While in the Haifa, he met many of the Jewish refugees escaping from Hitler's Europe and grew increasingly concerned with the tales of horror he heard from them. Wallenberg knew he had to do something to help these people. As fascism gained strength in Hungary and the Germans essentially took over the country, the Jews were increasingly brutalized, restricted by curfew, removed from jobs, and crammed into ghettos. Deportation and eventual extermination was the Nazi's plan.

On his return to Sweden, Wallenberg became involved in a plan to save the 200,000 Jews in Budapest, the last Jewish community in Hitler's Europe. This effort was funded by the War Refugee Board of the United States and organized through the Swedish government. Eli Wiesel remarks that Wallenberg "... could have lived his entire life in Stockholm, in security, maybe even luxury, and surely in a state of happiness and joy with his friends, with his family. But when he heard the story of what was going to happen to Hungarian Jews, he left everything and went there." In July 1944, Wallenberg entered Budapest as a Swedish diplomat and immediately began working to protect the Jewish residents of the city.

The Swedish embassy had a policy of issuing the "Schutz-Pass," a protective document originally given in limited number to Jews with Swedish connections. Once Wallenberg examined the situation, he immediately implemented a more widespread policy of issuing passes. He recruited Jewish professionals and managers who had lost their jobs to assist in running his rescue operations. He worked to establish diplomatic safe houses, which he filled with Jews holding Schutz-Passes. He used intimidation, diplomacy, manipulation, and any other means he could think of to save the Jewish community of Budapest, even walking alongside the death marches and offering to trade captured German officers for some of the Jews. He also met with Adolf Eichmann and tried to convince him to end the deportations, with no effect.

In 1945 as the Soviet army advanced on Budapest, Wallenberg redoubled his efforts to save the Jews as the Germans were determined to eliminate all of the Jews in Hungary before they left. The Swedish delegation moved underground for safety as the Soviets closed in on Budapest. When Wallenberg visited his colleagues for the last time, they tried to convince him to stay with them and be safe. Wallenberg's answer was typically selfless. He answered that he couldn't do that. He couldn't stop his rescue efforts. He couldn't return to Sweden without knowing that he had done all that he could to save these people. Soon after, Wallenberg disappeared, apparently taken into "protective custody" by the Soviets.

What happened to Wallenberg from this point on is a mystery. Efforts to uncover the truth were only sporadic in the years immediately following the war. The Swedish government as well as the United States government did little to pursue this with the Soviets. Conflicting stories emerged from the Soviets, including a story that Wallenberg was unknown to the Soviets and was never arrested; another story that he died after being attacked by robbers; and finally that he died of a heart attack after two years in a Soviet prison. The evidence does not support any of these theories. Finally in 1991, a Russian/Swedish Working Group instituted to investigate the Wallenberg disappearance provides yet another story after 10 years of investigation. In the paranoia of the Cold War era, the Soviets thought Wallenberg was a United States spy, working to avoid Soviet occupation of Hungary in the post-war years. He was arrested, imprisoned, interrogated, and eventually killed by the Soviets. But, is this the truth? Again, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory either. Reports of Wallenberg sightings continued to occur many years after his supposed death.

While his fate remains a mystery, Raoul Wallenberg will always be remembered as someone who made a difference in the lives of thousands of people. His actions were selfless and heroic. He exhibited the best qualities of humanity, without thought of any risk to his own life. How do the survivors remember this man? Hungarian Holocaust survivor Elizabeth Kardos tearfully states, "He came to Budapest and he saved people single-handedly... He is the biggest hero of the twentieth century." Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace laureate Eli Wiesel simply states, "He was a man who proved that it was possible to stop the killing. It was possible to save the victims. All that was needed was some compassion and courage and he had both."

An essential contribution to Holocaust studies collections, this documentary features interviews with Wallenberg's relatives, Holocaust survivors, former Swedish diplomats, and members of the Swedish-Russian Working Group. Searching for Wallenberg could be used with junior high and high school classes, as well as college/university classes and general adult groups. Highly recommended