OSA | Second Life | Schutzpass


Schutzpass to a second life*

[Raoul Wallenberg (RW) is dictating to his secretary, walking up and down the room; in the background, we hear the clatter of a typewriter and music imitating the sound of warplanes hovering over the city]

...I am back, Hedda. Let's keep on writing. Where did we stop? Yes. "It will be difficult to leave after the Soviet occupation." When I wrote this a few days ago, the situation was risky and tense. German patrols and Arrow Cross thugs were roaming Budapest beating, torturing, and shooting people. Among my staff alone there had been forty kidnappings and beatings. [Hedda sighs and begins to weep] I understand how you feel, Hedda. [RW pauses] But we need to finish this report before the chauffeur arrives. I have always taken diplomatic reporting seriously; in this crucial moment of our mission we have serious issues to reflect upon.

Circumstances are equally confusing now. Several days after their intrusion, we are under the "protection of the Soviets. Tomorrow, the 17th of January, 1945, I will be escorted to their command center some 200 km east of here. In fact, I initiated this contact with Marshal Malinovsky in order to learn about their intentions regarding the Hungarian Jews. [Aside] But frankly, I don't trust them either. [Laughs] How could I? I don't know if they are here to protect me or to guard me. I don't know if I'm a guest or a prisoner.

When I arrived in Budapest on the 9th of July, 1944 to work on behalf of the War Refugee Board as a second secretary and humanitarian attaché at the Swedish Legation, the deportation of the Hungarian Jews was in full progress. Under the direct supervision of Adolf Eichmann, and with the enthusiastic support of the local authorities, freight trains packed with Jewish men, women and children were leaving the country by the dozens to destinations already known from eyewitness accounts: the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. My only goal was to rescue as many people from the murderers as possible.

It was clear from the outset that traditional diplomacy would not be enough to stop the Nazi death machinery. This is why I had asked for full authority and unlimited financial and organizational means: to be able to do what was necessary and when it was necessary, without having had to obtain permission every time. I am aware that my methods might have seemed rather unorthodox at times. [Proudly] I used virtually everything to achieve my goals: from bribery to blackmail, from flattery to cajoling.

First, we designed and distributed protective passports to help the Jews in their dealings with the authorities. Though they were priceless to their bearers and offered them the hope of a second life, these Schutzpasses had no value whatsoever under international law. The notorious affection toward royal symbolism of the German and Hungarian bureaucracies made it very easy for us to create - by using the vivid blue and yellow of the Swedish flag, the Three Crowns coat of arms, and appropriate stamps and signatures - documents that were sufficiently ornamented to ensure free passage to their bearers.

[Excitedly] Then we established the "Swedish houses - safe havens in a turbulent sea. These protected buildings, each with a Swedish flag outside the door, offered shelter to thousands of inhabitants. It really took some inventiveness and persuasion to have them declared Swedish territory. I have to admit, though, that I enjoyed these negotiations very much. They were often extremely dramatic.

The tragedy that surrounded us day and night was mounting to immeasurable levels. Many people were shot on the spot by the Arrow Cross or marched to the banks of the Danube by sadistic party members, to be either shot into the water, or worse, pushed bound and alive into the frigid waters to drown. Toward the end of 1944 the Hungarians organized the infamous "death marches, during which thousands of Jews died along the road between Budapest and the Austrian border. I was continuously with them to distribute protective passports, food and medicine, and to secure the release of those who held our passports.

Alas, [RW pauses and stops walking] neither I, nor my fellow diplomats were able to protect "all the Jews of Budapest, even though we probably would have wanted to do so. [Aside] Hedda, we disagree on this. [Typewriter stops] It is very flattering that you consider me a hero. An angel of rescue. [RW exclaims theatrically] A man who stopped death. But remember what that Arrow Cross captain told me a few days ago in front of a safe house, grinning into my face. [Imitating the captain's diction] "Your protégés are already in the Danube.

What's next? [As RW starts walking again and musing about his future, Hedda tries to keep on writing, but after several attempts the typewriter is muted] Your poet Ottó Orbán says: "...he is leaving nothing else behind but a notebook full of addresses and the question mark of doomsday. This is what's really tormenting me now. Our building is deserted and seems unusually tranquil. I feel rather lonely. The inscription on that sculpture is immensely true: Donec eris felix, multus numerabis amicos; tempora si fuerint nubila, solus eris. I traveled to many distant places, from Michigan to South Africa and Palestine. Yet, I have never felt such a troubling uncertainty as I feel before this short trip to their headquarters. Is this the beginning of my descent?

Maybe not. What if the Soviets would let me go back to Stockholm, along with other Swedish diplomats. [RW becomes agitated] I cannot imagine anything more appealing than returning to my drawings and blueprints! The desire to build something is stronger than ever. I see myself in a well-lit atelier on a sunny July afternoon, leaning over the drawing table and sketching a majestic, modern building, which will eventually be placed on the riverbank in Washington to give home to our Legation. From Swedish houses to the House of Sweden!

But after all, I might well be wrong. Let's face it. I am a sovereign person who has, to some extent at least, successfully defied the Nazis. Why would another totalitarian regime tolerate me and my activities? My affiliation with the War Refugee Board, which was in frequent contact with the OSS - as well as my "dubious contacts with the Germans, the Hungarian authorities and the Hungarian antifascist resistance movement - makes me a perfect suspect in their eyes. No doubt they are masters in dealing with their enemies. The shameful history of the Soviet gulags is widely known by now. Being a numbered prisoner buried alive in a labor camp in Siberia, or in a likewise infamous Soviet prison or special psychiatric hospital, would not be a very dignified end to my career.

My fate, similar to that of the Hungarian Jews today, is uncertain. The only trace of me that the Soviets will reveal in a couple of years is an obscure, hand-written report confirming my death. [Very firmly] Look at me, Hedda, I am strong and healthy. I have no history of heart trouble. I have performed my duties by displaying an almost superhuman stamina and energy. [Pauses] Obviously, there is something missing here. Those who want to clarify my fate will have to consult the archives. [Mildly] You know, archives are those layers of things. Only by peeling off layer after layer will one be able to unearth the series of covers-up in this story. There is too much insistence that there is "nothing to be found,' so let the documents speak for themselves.

Based on the following texts:

• Raoul Wallenberg - One Man Can Make a Difference (Exhibition catalog, Budapest, 2007)
• Jan Larsson: Raoul Wallenberg (Famous Swedes, The Swedish Institute, 2004)
• Otto Orbán: The Wallenberg Report (1992)
• Amy Knight: The Truth about Wallenberg (The New York Review of Books, September 20, 2001)