You are on page 1of 8

BBC News - The Swedish Schindler who disappeared

1 February 2015 Last updated at 00:00

The Swedish Schindler who disappeared
By Rob Brown

BBC World Service

During World War Two, a young Swedish diplomat saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. But in
January 1945 Soviet troops arrested him - he was never seen in public again.
The day German soldiers arrived in Budapest is one that 89-year-old Marianne Balshone will never forget.
She was due to meet her fiance, Pista, on the quay of the Danube but he called to tell her that German troops were crossing the
bridges of the city - he told her to stay at home.
"From that day on, everything went downhill… that was the beginning of the end of my youth," says Balshone. She was 17 years

1 of 8

02/02/2015 09:00

hundreds of thousands of Jews across Hungary were rounded up.. In the weeks and months that followed. I was horrified. German forces occupied Hungary.BBC News . Sweden . So in the summer of 1944. That was to change drastically . had been subjected to discrimination and anti-Semitic laws.most were sent to the largest and most infamous death camp. all giving the Hitler salute and screaming.with US backing .he had no diplomatic experience and had studied architecture at university. been insulated from the horror experienced by Jews in other parts of that time the only Jewish community left in the country was in the capital Budapest according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Hungarian Jews had. the Nazis deported 440. "They came roaring by and I remember the people being ecstatic. Frank Vajda also remembers that day. Auschwitz-Birkenau.Hitler had begun to distrust the Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy and on 19 March 1944. They. As an eight-year-old." Both Balshone and Vajda were part of Budapest's Jewish community..The Swedish Schindler who disappeared http://www. 2 of 8 02/02/2015 09:00 .000 Jews from Hungary in the space of two months . With the help of the Hungarian government. he watched as the German tanks rolled into his He was appointed Sweden's special envoy and arrived in Hungary in July .. moved into ghettos and forced on to deportation trains. But because of Hungary's alliance with old at the time.agreed to use its diplomatic mission in Budapest to help Hungary's remaining Jews. like other Jews in Hungary. until that point. Thirty-one-year-old businessman Raoul Wallenberg came from one of Sweden's wealthiest and most important families . but his charisma marked him out.

The decision was made to empty Budapest last. Her father had just been arrested by the Gestapo and was in a holding camp in Budapest . author of Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest: Myth. Some people queued at the Swedish embassy in Budapest for them. Balshone recalls hearing about Wallenberg's arrival. History & Holocaust. It was known as a Schutz-Pass or protective pass. The papers had no real authority in law but the Swedes managed to persuade the Hungarian authorities that people holding them were under their protection." says Dr Paul Levine. One of Wallenberg's drivers recounted how the diplomat intercepted a train about to leave Budapest for Auschwitz. the other Swedes and the other neutral diplomats to do something.these special certificates functioned as a Swedish passport. But a piece of paper distributed by Wallenberg saved his life. He introduced the colours of the Swedish he decided that the certificates needed to look more official so he redesigned them. Before Wallenberg's arrival.000 Schutz-Passes but according to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. and remembers being told that he was "coming to Budapest to save the Hungarian Jews". but Wallenberg and his staff also delivered passes to Jews throughout city. marked the documents with government stamps and added Swedish crowns. Wallenberg negotiated with the Hungarians to allow him to issue nearly 5.The Swedish Schindler who disappeared http://www. "[He] climbed 3 of 8 02/02/2015 09:00 . so there were still Jews left there for When Wallenberg arrived. blue and yellow. he issued more than three times that "They organised the deportations first from the countryside. the Swedish embassy in Budapest was already issuing travel documents to Hungarian Jews .BBC News .Balshone knew it was a place from where many people started their journey to Auschwitz.

she and Pista were married and they had moved into the basement of one of Sweden's diplomatic offices in Budapest for safety. carrying a bundle of passports and started to hand them over to hands eagerly stretched out through open doors. gaunt and beaten but alive. Months later. One up on the roof of the train. By this time." Balshone managed to get a Schutz-Pass delivered to her father. "Lo and behold the Gestapo acknowledged this piece of paper. She feared the worst . Like others living there." she says.BBC News . 4 of 8 02/02/2015 09:00 ." she says. "And the next day my father appeared at the threshold of our "Back then the Blue Danube became the Red Danube. regularly took Jews to the banks of the Danube and shot them letting the bodies fall into the river.000 Jews moved in for protection and hundreds more worked for Wallenberg.he hung Swedish flags from their front doors and declared that they were protected by Swedish diplomatic immunity. At least 15.she later heard that he went to the Danube and confronted the troops.Hungarian fascist forces. with the support of the as she was about to start her shift. Wallenberg saved another member of Balshone's family. She had access to the switchboard so she called Wallenberg's office to tell him what was happening . including my husband. she looked out of the window and saw soldiers marching towards the basement." Wallenberg ignored the Nazi and Hungarian guards who were firing warning shots and ordered anyone who held a protective pass to get off the train. was hauled out into the snowy streets of Budapest to be taken to the Danube.The Swedish Schindler who disappeared http://www." Wallenberg also bought and rented more than 30 buildings in Budapest including hospitals and a soup kitchen ." says Balshone. "Everyone. saving them from "a voyage of horror and death. Balshone would take her turn at operating the office's telephone switchboard on the first floor.

Then on 16 October 1944 he met Wallenberg in person. but everyone did what Wallenberg said and held up whatever documents they had. were ejected from their small Budapest flat shortly after the German occupation . others did not. Eight-year-old Frank Vajda and his mother." says Balshone. Maria.BBC News . Frank clearly remembers the day he was playing with his toys on the floor of their flat when his mother told him to kiss his father goodbye . 5 of 8 02/02/2015 09:00 . "I found my mother embroiled in a violent argument with heavily armed guards. His father had been part of the Hungarian "labour service" where Jewish men were forced to build roads and railways .many were treated terribly and lived in awful conditions. While living in the" The men were from Hungary's fascist Arrow Cross party and Vajda begged his mum to stop arguing with them. Vajda heard that some people had Swedish passports and he remembers flags of neutral countries hanging on the wall." he says.the concierge of their apartment building had informed the authorities they were Jewish.he never saw him again. Show your papers people!'" Some of those captured had their Swedish Schutz-Passes with them. 'You cannot take these people away. including Vajda and his mother. They were ordered to go to the ghetto but they decided to move into the hospital where Vajda's mother worked as a paediatric nurse. "I was coming in from the back garden of the hospital where I used to "He said to these horrible soldiers. they are all Swedish citizens. and everyone was told to line up against a wall in front of a machine gun. About 30 people.but they let everybody go and my husband returned. They entered the parade ground. this Raoul Wallenberg had such power and charisma and God knows what gave him the strength .The Swedish Schindler who disappeared "Believe it or not. were marched out of the hospital and along the street to a military barracks.

The German general in charge received a letter from Wallenberg .bbc. 'the woman fainted because the men were debating whether to shoot us there or take us to the Danube. But all of us were taken back where we came from and we couldn't believe it. The discussion went on for about 10 minutes and in that time. Wallenberg's final achievement was to persuade the Nazis to stop the planned annihilation of the main Jewish ghetto in of those was Wallenberg.BBC News . they came over to us and we were taken back." says Levine. Vajda remembers him standing in a huddle talking with the armed guards about 15 yards away. nothing." At that point.but how did one man have so much influence and save so many people? "There's no question he was certainly a special individual . several civilians arrived at the military barracks .uk/news/magazine-30934452 "One of the women with us fainted and I asked my mother." As the Soviets closed in on Budapest. No explanation.000 people. The planned massacre was stopped .Marianne's grandfather was in that ghetto and was her third relative saved by the Swedish diplomat.The Swedish Schindler who disappeared http://www. which was home to 70. "And then suddenly they finished their it he promised the general would be held personally responsible for the ghetto's destruction and would be hanged as a war criminal once the war was over. 6 of 8 02/02/2015 09:00 .charismatic and highly intelligent." There are many stories like these . 'What's going on?' She told "But it's very important to remember that Raoul Wallenberg was a representative of a sovereign government recognised by the Hungarians and the Germans. Vajda recalls trying to work out if it would be better to die there in the parade ground or at the Danube. Therefore he had a status and standing enabling him to negotiate.

BBC News . Or they may have suspected he was an American agent. Wallenberg was detained by Soviet troops. Wallenberg's own life had a sad and unexplained ending. The witnesses who claim to have seen him have varying degrees of credibility but none have been proven completely credible." 7 of 8 02/02/2015 09:00 . It was the last time he was seen in public. "So the best evidence we have is that he was murdered in July 1947 as an inconvenience. There have been several investigations into his disappearance but none have provided any conclusive answers. In 1957 the Soviet foreign minister released a report to the Swedish authorities saying that he had died of a heart attack on 17 July 1947 in Moscow's Lubyanka two US based researchers investigating Wallenberg's death received a letter from the FSB." Some have suggested that the Soviets were suspicious of his humanitarian work . Wallenberg had been renamed "Prisoner No. But in 2009. There are also reports from Despite saving so many people.The Swedish Schindler who disappeared http://www. Russia's secret police. 7" and that there were records of that prisoner being interrogated on 23 July 1947 . In January 1945. other detained diplomats and even a cleaning lady at one prison who reported seeing a Swede who resembled or called himself Wallenberg. "There is no final proof. It said that "with great likelihood".co. "It's easy to speculate that he may have been a spy. but there's no evidence of that." says Levine.that they thought he had some other motive. Some of these eyewitnesses say they saw him in prison many years after 1947. after the Soviet Union captured eastern Budapest." says Levine. It's not clear why they arrested him or how he died. Wallenberg was not released back and we still don't know why for sure.six days after his supposed heart attack. "All the other Swedish diplomats were also in Soviet detention for some weeks but they made it back to Stockholm.

"If I could meet him now. I would shake his hand. Read people like Balshone tell his story to younger generations studying the Holocaust in schools and universities. 'You are a saviour. Wallenberg's memory is kept alive by those he saved .BBC News . an unbelievable human being and we all thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Copyright © 2015 BBC.The Swedish Schindler who disappeared And Vajda. now a Professor of Neurology in Melbourne. petitioned the Australian government to recognise Raoul Wallenberg as that country's first and only honorary citizen.'" Dr Paul Levine spoke to Witness on the BBC World Service Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine's email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.70 years on. 8 of 8 02/02/2015 09:00 .uk/news/magazine-30934452 Despite this. kiss his cheek and hug him." says Balshone. "I would tell him.