By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLide reporting from Budapest reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary has commemorated Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat credited with saving the lives of as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II, with the opening of a renovated memorial park named after him. The opening of the park comes amid international concerns about rising anti-Semitism in Hungary.
The Vatican’s ambassador to Hungary, Apostolic Nuncio Alberto Bottari de Castello and other religious leaders joined government officials from Israel and other nations to remember a man speakers called one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century.
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While serving as Swedish envoy in Budapest from July 1944, Raoul Wallenberg gave Hungarian Jews Swedish travel documents and set up safe houses for them.
Wallenberg is also credited with dissuading German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of Budapest’s main Jewish ghetto.
This way, experts say, he saved the lives of at least tens of thousands, and perhaps as many as one hundred thousand Hungarian Jews.
PARK IN COURTYARD
Late Sunday, September 9, church and other officials along with Holocaust survivors attended the opening of the renovated Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park in the courtyard of Budapest’s Dohány Street Synagogue.
The memorial park includes a weeping willow whose leaves bear inscriptions with the names of thousands of Holocaust victims. There is also a memorial to Wallenberg and other people declared by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial Center as “Righteous Among the Nations”.
Names engraved on marble also include late Apostolic Nuncio Angelo Rotta, who with his Secretary Gennaro Verolino saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing papers that included protection letters and false baptism certificates. Among many other names are Swiss Vice-Consul Carl Lutz and Giorgio Perlasca who posed as Spanish consul-general in Hungary.
The director of the federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Gusztáv Zoltai, made clear that Wallenberg should never be forgotten.
He said Raoul Wallenberg’s “life and deeds of action serve as a model for all Jews in Hungary” who view them as among the “most heroic” in history.
The ceremony at what is Europe’s largest synagogue was a highlight in the ‘Raoul Wallenberg Year’, organized by Hungary and Sweden to commemorate the diplomat’s centennial birth.
Yet, Israeli ambassador Ilan Mor made clear to participants he had attended the event with mixed feelings following a new wave of anti-Semitism here.
The diplomat indirectly referred to attacks on Jewish graveyards and Holocaust memorials as well as threats against the Jewish community and rising far-right wing groups.
However Hungarian President János Áder stressed there can be no space for extremism in Hungary, which was a close ally of Nazi-Germany during most of World War II, when about 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed.
“Nobody can use any ideology or political belief to attack fellow citizens,” he said. Áder stressed a peaceful society, in his words, “prohibits discrimination” or exclusion of anyone.
He added that in Wallenberg’s memory, his nation had accommodated thousands of refugees from the Balkan wars and Jewish people from the former Soviet Union on their way to Israel.
Wallenberg’s niece, Louise von Dardel, said her family would continue to search into his life and death, which remain both “an inspiration” and a mystery.
Moscow claims he passed away in Soviet captivity in 1947. But historians have their doubts as former detainees of Soviet-era camps and prisons claimed to have seen him even in the 1980s.