WALLENBERG: The Man in the Iron Web by Elenore Lester

WALLENBERG: The Man in the Iron Web

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The fourth Wallenberg book of the '81-'82 season, with the emphasis here on the Swedish hero's ultimate fate (Lester, unlike some others, believes that RW ""may still be locked in the iron web of the Soviet penal system"")--and on the surrounding Holocaust contexts. Lester, whose 1980 New York Times Magazine article helped to trigger recent media interest in Wallenberg, begins with his 1945 disappearance, reconstructs his NKVD capture, outlines an array of Soviet motives for the secret abduction. She then goes back to sketch in Raoul's ancestry, and upper-class background, his arts-oriented US education (with a few too many bland interview-quotes), his frustrations as a young banker; his growing concern with Nazi persecutions. (Wallenberg's letters are excerpted, and there are comments by his half-sister--who recalls Raoul's strong 1942 reaction to the film Pimpernel Smith, in which Leslie Howard saves Jews from the Nazis.) And then there is a detailed account of the mission itself--the pseudo-diplomatic rescue of Hungarian Jews--along with background sections on the Final Solution, on international attitudes, on Eichmann in Budapest, on Hungarian anti-Semitism. Despite conscientious use of interview/ documentary materials, however, Lester's presentation of Wallenberg's sometimes outlandish and desperate heroism is less involving than the more expansive (and provocative) reconstruction in Werbell & Clarke's Lost Hero. And she has little apparent interest in exploring Wallenberg's personality or motivation. But the discussion of international responsibility (Sweden's, America's, Israel's) for the success of Russia's cover-up is especially keen here--with an urgent, slightly optimistic conclusion (""Will Raoul Wallenberg ever return? It is not impossible""). And readers who want to place the Wallenberg story in a broader context--Lester refers to Walter Laqueur, Martin Gilbert, and others--may find this energetically researched treatment more satisfying than the other, more smoothly dramatized entries.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1982
Publisher: Prentice-Hall