RIGHTEOUS GENTILE: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg, Missing Hero of the Holocaust by John Bierman
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RIGHTEOUS GENTILE: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg, Missing Hero of the Holocaust

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The case of Raoul Wallenberg, the well-heeled young Swede who in 1944 almost single-handedly saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews, snatching them from Eichmann's increasingly frantic jaws, has lately again been in the news; fresh possibilities of Wallenberg's still being alive in a Soviet prison have sprung up, and Bierman--who also wrote and narrated the recent PBS documentary--wants attention paid to those leads (which come mostly from Russian-Jewish ÉmigrÉs who'd been in the Gulag and saw or knew someone who had seen Wallenberg). But apart from its clarion purpose, what makes the book involving is its uncluttered telling of the Wallenberg story. Gentle, even thought effeminate by some, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest just as the Nazi-puppet regime of Horthy, sensing imminent German defeat, was thinking of suing for a separate peace with the Allies. This so enraged Eichmann and his technician's dream of complete Jewish extermination that he promptly utilized the Arrow Cross (Hungarian fascists at least as anti-Semitic as the Nazis) for mass pogroms, hangings, shootings, and death-marches. Wallenberg, as a representative of the Swedish government, physically went into freight cars, onto lines to the camps, into the two Jewish ghettos, giving out a ""Wallenberg passport""--certifying the bearer as a Swedish citizen--to as many Jews as he could. His bravery and zeal were matched by an equal cunning and a startling, unanticipated charisma: there was no reason why the ""Wallenberg passports"" should have been taken seriously by the Germans, but they were. Then, seized by the liberating Russians (in the course, he thought, of arranging a relief program for Hungary's remaining Jews), Wallenberg had no such savior himself. For twelve years the Russians denied they had him, and when they admitted they did (in 1957), said that he had died in the Lubyanka in 1947. Sweden's approaches to Russia about him were timid, half-hearted; as late as 1973, Henry Kissinger specifically disallowed American inquiries; even from Israel, there was hardly a peep. It's a story of astounding injustice--very precise and affecting as recounted here, and clearly, rightfully unforgiven.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking