To Me There’s No Choice

March 3, 2019 by Elana Bowman
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The Embassy of Sweden has launched the Raoul Wallenberg – ‘To Me, There’s No Other Choice’ exhibition at Sydney’s Waverley Library.

Speakers included the Ambassador of Sweden to Australia Pär Ahlberger and Frank Vajda saved by Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest.
Ambassador Pär Ahlberger spoke about how it was an honour to have been part of this exhibition and it has been a highlight of his post and that is planned to continue the tour in Sweden later this year.
He has been touring with Frank Vadja and had formed a close bond since they met in Melbourne in 2015.
Frank Vajda detailed his accounts of living in Hungary and his experiences with the events leading up to Hungary’s occupation in 1944.
Frank Vajda was a child of the Holocaust who spoke about five close shaves he had with either the Gestapo or the gendarmes. His mother was a fierce advocator who not only protected Frank, but also spoke up to officers several times as she spoke fluent German, and essentially saved the lives of people around her.
He delved into the history of the slave labour camps, Hungary’s history with the Russians, the influence the gendarmes had in Hungary and how Hungary started to form an armistice with the US and UK and effectively switched sides. Hitler learned of this betrayal and in March 1944, German forces occupied Hungary.
Frank talked about the deportations, the Red Army, the intolerant police who behaved brutally, marching Jews into ghettos and how in May until July 1944 trains were rolling into Auschwitz and about 80% of Jews were gassed.

Wallenberg Memorial in Woollahra, Sydney

During this time Germany was receiving passionate letters from the Vatican, the king of Sweden Gustaf V, and Anthony Eden Prime Minister of the US, to halt the deportations.

Although Eichmann claimed the deportations were stopped, the trains continued their deathly work and ten of thousands of people lost their lives.
In 1944 Raoul Wallenberg was already well known as a humanitarian businessman in Budapest. What was remarkable to Frank Vajda is that he chose to come to Hungary willingly to volunteer as an observer, and he immediately set about helping people as he had funds, means, and diplomatic immunity.
The day after Frank turned nine, the bloodbaths the death marches and the shootings at the Danube river began. During that time, Frank could not recall seeing the sky, just aeroplanes. There was no food and there was no water. When asked about that time he said, “I was not afraid of the aeroplanes. I was afraid of an evil man with a gun pointing at me.”
The highlight was when The Red Army liberated Budapest in 1945. Raoul Wallenberg had saved Frank’s life on the 15th of August 1944. His mother and 28 other people had been denounced for having ripped off their yellow stars of David. They tried to put them back on with safety pins but had been captured and lined up to be shot. Raoul Wallenberg arrived. Civilians engaged in a quiet discussion, a 15-minute chat with the officers and then they were taken back to their protected house. Frank doesn’t recall Raoul Wallenberg’s face, just his features.

Raoul Wallenberg

Over 80,000 survivors of Budapest owe their lives to him. Raoul Wallenberg negotiated with officials, gave people protection certificates, intervened when soldiers took people to get shot and secured their release. He stayed to help supply food to people in need. He protected houses by displaying the Swedish flag, appointed workers, and saved countless lives.

“He was a human being. Very human. When he was asked whether he wanted Jewish or non-Jewish workers, he replied that he didn’t recognise the difference.”
Raoul was last seen alive in 1945, he was arrested by the Soviets and theories abound about what happened to him. It is thought that he was killed two years later and after some investigations, it was believed that he was poisoned by a doctor. “It was an unjust fate”.
Frank Vajda’s audience consisted of members from the Swedish embassy, local councillors, ministers, professors, and his personal friends of supporters.
The guests viewed the exhibition in the foyer showing images drawn from research of Wallenberg’s life as well as everything that happened in Budapest.
On the 4th of March, the exhibition offers a free screening of the classic film Good Evening, Mr Wallenberg.
On the 4th of April, the public is invited to an illustrious panel discussion, also free of charge, on what Raoul Wallenberg’s legacy means today.
Join SBS broadcast presenter and former Socceroo Craig Foster in conversation with Renata Kaldor, co-founder of The Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law (UNSW).
Also on the panel will be Professor Munjed Al Muderis, one of Australia’s leading orthopaedic surgeons, and Mark Grentell, director, producer and writer whose film The Merger is a story of a humble rural footy club battling xenophobia.
In 1957, the Soviets said Wallenberg died of “a heart attack” in the police prison on Lubyanka Square on July 17, 1947. His body was supposedly “cremated without an autopsy.”
In 1989, the Soviet Union returned Wallenberg’s passport and other personal possessions to Sweden, saying they had been found during the remodelling of a storeroom.
In 2013, Raoul Wallenberg was made Australia’s first Honorary Citizen, and Australia Post has since honoured him with an Australia Post stamp.
In 2017, relatives of Raoul Wallenberg filed a lawsuit against Russia’s Federal Security Service. There are many people still searching for answers.
Launched nationally in Adelaide in 2015, the exhibition travelled to Canberra 2016, Perth in 2017, and Melbourne in 2017-2018.
Information and photos are in the foyer of the Waverley Library Gallery, 32-48 Denison Street, Bondi Junction, NSW 2022 from the 2nd March until the 10th April 2019.

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