The Raoul Wallenberg tree

The Raoul Wallenberg tree, Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff

The memorial tree and plaque here commemorate a Swedish diplomat who saved many thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary. The tree was planted in 1985.

Raoul Wallenberg was born in Stockholm in 1912. He became a businessman but was recruited in 1944 by the USA’s War Refugee Board. His mission was to go to Hungary as a diplomat and use his position to help Jews. By the time he arrived in Budapest in 1944, the Nazis had already deported almost half a million Hungarian Jews. Most were murdered at concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

Budapest’s Jewish population had not yet been deported. Wallenberg had the authority of the Swedish government – neutral in the Second World War – to issue certificates which protected named Jews from deportation. He had carefully designed the documents to look like Swedish passports. He issued far more than the number he’d agreed with Hungarian officials.

Wallenberg set up safe houses, hospitals and a soup kitchen for Jews. When the Nazis and Hungarian fascists began to deport Budapest’s Jews in autumn 1944, Wallenberg sometimes resorted to forging documents to save individuals as they were being marched to the Austrian border, en route for Auschwitz.

Thanks to Wallenberg and his collaborators, more than 100,000 Jews were still in Budapest when the city was liberated by Soviet Union forces in February 1945. Wallenberg had persuaded the retreating Nazis not to blitz the city’s Jewish ghetto and massacre its inhabitants.

However, Wallenberg himself disappeared in January 1945. He was arrested by Soviet personnel, possibly on suspicion of spying. One report in the 1950s said that he had died in 1947 in Moscow, at the Lubyanka prison of the KGB (Soviet secret police). It wasn’t until 2016 that Sweden declared that he was legally dead.

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