January 16, 2012
Wallenberg's Life-Giving Legacy
(New York Times)
By Hillary Rodham Clinton and Carl Bildt
Tuesday begins a year-long celebration
of the life of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who
chose not to be indifferent when faced with great evil.
Raoul Wallenberg was born 100 years ago into a family of
great wealth and influence. He could have remained safely
in neutral Sweden during World War II. Instead, as first
secretary at the Swedish Legation in Budapest in the summer
of 1944, Wallenberg acted. Without concern for his own safety,
he worked tirelessly to save thousands from certain death
at the hands of the Nazis.
By the summer of 1944, more than 400,000 Jewish Hungarians
had been put in trains and sent away, most to their deaths.
Wallenberg began issuing Swedish protective passports
to the remaining population of Jewish Hungarians. His inventiveness
and determination to provide protection to as many Jews
as possible are credited with saving the lives of some 100,000
Of course, Wallenberg was not alone in taking such action.
Others chose to risk their careers, and their lives, to
defy official protocols and repressive laws to rescue Jews.
Many were censured, punished or killed for their acts of
As a result, at Israels Holocaust memorial site,
Yad Vashem, you will find today planted along the Avenue
of the Righteous not only Raoul Wallenbergs tree,
but also the trees of 2,000 others, as well as 18,000 names
engraved in the walls in remembrance of those who risked
their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.
Why did they do it? All of these heroes seemed to have
shared the sentiment of the martyred Lutheran pastor and
Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote: Silence
in the face of evil is itself evil. ... Not to act is to
Raoul Wallenbergs mission was an example of American-Swedish
cooperation for the common good. His work in Budapest was
partly financed by the United States.
In 1981, to honor that work, the United States awarded
Wallenberg honorary American citizenship. Wallenberg fought
for values cherished in both Sweden and the United States.
Together, we have long cooperated to protect and promote
human rights at home and abroad.
Perhaps the most important part of Wallenbergs legacy
lies in its lessons for the generations to come. It is incumbent
on us to pass on his story to those who come after us not
as part of a distant heroic myth, but as an example of the
values that should inform the way we live our lives.
In January, 2000, Stockholm acted as host to an International
Forum on the Holocaust. The final sentence of the declaration
of that forum stated: Our commitment must be to remember
the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with
us, and reaffirm humanitys common aspiration for moral
understanding and justice.
Today, as we remember Raoul Wallenbergs life and
work, we reaffirm our common aspiration for moral understanding
Hillary Rodham Clinton is the U.S. secretary of state.
Carl Bildt is foreign minister of Sweden.