In the final throes of the Second World War, the Swedish businessman and diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, managed to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. On 17 January, 1945, at the age of thirty-two, he was captured by the Soviet secret police, NKVD, and what happened to him subsequently, we do not know.
The fate of Raoul Wallenberg is upsetting and stirs the minds of people in Sweden and around the world. The exhibition is a way for the Jewish Museum in Stockholm to honour Raoul Wallenberg’s remarkable achievement, and to provide a deeper understanding of one of our country’s biggest heroes. The exhibition is named,
Raoul Wallenberg – one man can make a difference.
Two years ago, when Erika Aronowitsch was the head of the museum, she and I came up with the idea of portraying the life of Raoul Wallenberg. It has, evidently, taken us a while to realize this idea.
As the person in charge of the museum, it has been my ambition not only to retell the fate of Wallenberg, but also to present the visitors with a challenge, to put them in a more critical and reflective frame of mind.
Who was the real Raoul Wallenberg? What were the formative experiences that inspired the work he later carried out in Budapest? How was the transformation possible – from an unobtrusive businessman to a charismatic leader? Did Sweden do too little to get him out of the Soviet Union? Why was it the Americans who made him an in ternational hero, and not the Swedes?
To find the answers I put together a team of four people with considerable expertise, each representing a different sphere of knowledge.
The members are: Tomas Böhm, a psychoanalyst; the architect Gabriel Herdevall; Paul A. Levine, Ph.D. and Lecturer in Holocaust History at Uppsala University’s Programme for Holocaust and
Genocide Studies; Ricki Neuman, a journalist and author. It is through our joint discussions that the exhibition has slowly taken shape.
The Jewish Museum in Stockholm would not have been able to present this exhibition without the commitment and professional support of these four contributors.
I am deeply indebted to them, as well as to the following essential contributors:
Alice Breuer, who allowed us to record on film her personal account of how her life was saved twice (!) by Raoul Wallenberg. The first time was when she received a Schutzpass from his hand, the second when Wallenberg, at the last minute, “like a revelation”, turned up on the banks of the Danube, and saved her life as she stood before the execution squad. Alice Breuer’s story permeates the exhibition.
And I would like to thank Nina Lagergren, Wallenberg’s sister, for her devoted support throughout the planning stage, and for providing ready access to various sources, such as her private photoalbum, the archives of the Raoul Wallenberg As sociation and the Raoul Wallenberg Archives, both kept at the Swedish National Archives.
Then, ambassador Jan Lundvik, who from the outset was supportive of our plans for a Raoul Wallenberg exhibition. In this catalogue Jan Lundvik describes his many years of painstaking hard work at the Foreign Ministry, researching the fate of Wallenberg (page 11). He has also summarized the work of the Swedish-Russian Working Group as well as that of the Eliasson Commission (page23). The expert support of Jan Lundvik has been of great benefit to the planning of the exhibition.
Thanks also to building contractor Kjell-Åke Westerlund, of K-Å Westerlund Byggnads AB, who has generously contributed to making yet another important production possible. There are many similarities between the atmosphere existing before the Second World War and the climate of today. Particularly after 11 September, 2001, when the demarcations between different groups, cultures and religions became a lot sharper. Young people need good role models. Raoul Wallenberg epitomizes that kind of person. His resolution and courage were qualities that made him a big hero, at a time darkened by the Holocaust, and unfathomable evil.
We hope the exhibition will make visitors think, and that it will inspire dialogue.
Director of The Jewish Museum in Stockholm