Popular historian Kershaw (Escape from the Deep: A True Story of Courage and Survival During World War II, 2009, etc.) looks at the work of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and his still mysterious disappearance.
Wallenberg, famously, was the bane of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi general who commanded operations against the Jews of Hungary, always with the eager assistance of members of that country’s fascist Arrow Cross Party. At a time when Jews were being deported to the death camps from the region at a rate of 12,000 a day, Wallenberg managed to save as many as 30,000 (the estimates vary widely) by, among other tactics, renting buildings, giving Jews sanctuary there and declaring them Swedish territory and therefore protected by diplomatic immunity. It’s easy to see why Wallenberg’s activities gave the Nazis and Arrow Cross fits, but Kershaw shows capably and beyond much doubt that Wallenberg died at the hands of the conquering Soviets. Why he was targeted has never been made clear, and the author isn’t of much help on that question, beyond noting that the orders may well have come from Joseph Stalin. Of particular interest in Kershaw’s measured account is the aftermath: Wallenberg disappeared pretty much in plain view, and there wasn’t much doubt that the Soviets took him. Even so, fellow Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold, who became secretary general of the United Nations, declined to press the investigation into the Gulag, saying, “I do not want to begin World War Three because of one missing person.” Kershaw capably builds plausible scenarios, drawing on recently released archives, wondering rightly as he does why Wallenberg’s story is less well known than that of Oskar Schindler, who “saved far fewer people and in any case profited from their forced labor.”
The life of a courageous, righteous man well told.