Wallenberg Centenary Dinner

August 12, 2012 by  
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A man whose father had been a colleague of Raoul Wallenberg has addressed the B’nai B’rith’s Raoul Wallenberg Centenary Dinner.

Rev. Anna Lindblad Axelrup and Vicar Per Axelrup of the Church of Sweden, together with Dr Leon Slonim and Masha Zeleznikow of the B’nai B’rith Raoul Wallenberg Unit.   p: Dr Paul Gardner

Jan Anger, the son of Per Anger, who worked with Raoul Wallenberg in saving Jewish lives in Budapest in 1944-45, was the Guest of Honour and Keynote Speaker at the function held at Melbourne’s Kimberley Gardens.

Anger told the hushed audience: “I have picked up the torch after my father whom some of you might remember often speaking at a number of B’nai B’rith functions in Sydney and Melbourne about his colleague and friend Raoul Wallenberg. My father Per Anger represented Sweden in Australia during 1970-5.
Raoul Wallenberg was an extraordinary man, born 100 years ago today in Sweden, fatherless, who chose to be different to what was expected of him by his well known banking family. His grandfather stepped in guiding him through childhood, education and the typical male Wallenberg grooming process. Once he had graduated and done his compulsory military service in Sweden he was sent to America where he studied architecture receiving several diplomas and a final degree. This was followed by years of selected practice as an apprentice in both South Africa and Palestine. During these latter years he came in close contact with racial issues and developed a sincere sympathy for the plight of the Jews in Europe late 1930’s.
Returning back to Sweden almost 30 years old he made his views known to his inner circle of friends and spoke of his experiences abroad to his family who intensely observed his coming of age. There was fierce competition among the young Wallenberg men. Brothers, cousins comparing themselves and fathers and grandfathers judging

Judi Schiff, Chair, Centenary Commemoration
Committee, Jan Anger son of the late Per Anger and Naomi Robertson     p: Dr Paul Gardner

who could rank where, next in line, within their banking dynasty. Raoul Wallenberg showed his good manners, he was multilingual and had seen part of the world already. That was all good to everyone. But they felt he was rather outspoken, articulate, had humour, displayed a talent for imitating people and foreign accents. He often entertained at dinner parties and was the pride and joy of his mother, Maj von Dardel. How could this all fit with the role of a bank manager, was the question at this time.. After all, he had once stated that “I don’t want to sit as a bank manager saying no to people all day long, I want to facilitate, help and create harmony, trust and growth instead”. As a result only temporary banking assignments were give to him. The dramatically changed  next chapter of his life came in 1944.
A few years earlier, late 1942, my father Per Anger was posted to Budapest as a Swedish diplomat, second in command at the Buda side embassy. In 1943 he married my mother Elena in Stockholm and their honeymoon destination became Hungary which that year was relatively peaceful despite the forced alliance with Germany and the ongoing war. Hungary had so far escaped major involvement and felt that maybe the connection with Germany could lead to a return of all those external territories Hungary had lost during the first world war. But regent Horthy vehemently rejected Hitler’s orders to evacuate the Jewish population of Hungary. After all, Jews held leading positions in the Hungarian government, banks and companies in Budapest. My father who handled trade matters between Hungary & Sweden noticed that one after the other his Jewish friends at companies dealing with Sweden in Budapest started disappearing late 1943. In 1944 it got even worse when Hitler decided to appoint Adolf Eichmann to be in charge of the rounding up of all the Hungarian Jews for deportation. My father now saw some of his associates coming forward in desperation at the Swedish Embassy. First in line was Hugo Wohl, manager of the Orion Osram joint venture exporting electrical goods to Sweden. “Per” he said, “they are after me now, you have to help me”. My father knew that Hugo was not entitled to a Swedish citizenship and that he had to follow the protocol. Yet, there was no rule book to follow during war and a life could be saved. Risking his job my father promptly issued temporary provisional Swedish passports to the whole Wohl family using the pretense that the individuals spoke Swedish, frequently traveled to Sweden and created valuable export goods for Sweden. Their lives were thus saved and the first of 650 such documents my father issued in Budapest.
By this time the Jews of USA turned to their President Roosevelt for help and the War Refugee Board was formed. As America became involved in the war without an embassy in Hungary, the solution was to ask a neutral country like Sweden, if a person could be found and attached to the Swedish Embassy to assist with American funding. That’s how Raoul Wallenberg was found , readily accepted by all sides.He prepared himself for this mission rapidly and turned up in Budapest within weeks. My father knew him from before and felt he was “the right man at the right place at the right time”. By the summer of 1944 other foreign embassies started to close down, staff leaving Hungary. Left, apart from Sweden, was Switzerland, Portugal, Spain and the Vatican. The workload increased dramatically for the Swedes particularly since those countries who left Budapest asked remaining embassies to represent them as well. Sweden in fact acted for Russia and in the end even Germany. On top of this the Swedes housed The Red Cross in their premises. The air-raids had started when my sister Birgitta was born in April, nicknamed “Pipi Hushi” by the locals before she and my mother were later safely returned to Sweden.
Raoul Wallenberg set about to organize a team of several hundred Hungarian volunteers.So called”safe houses” were either bought or given freely to accommodate and feed thousands of hiding Jews. Section B on the Pest side was established to even further confuse  first the Nazis, then the Arrow Cross about the operation of the “Jewish Embassy” which was the name given to the Swedish rescue operation. My father made a point of never confronting Adolf Eichmann, but Raoul Wallenberg exchanged harsh words with him on several occasions. Permission had been granted by the Hungarian government to issue a total of 4500 Swedish protective passports which Raoul Wallenberg, with his artistic talents, had designed and printed in a hurry. What was not know was the fact that a small tiny letter was inserted signifying series “a,b,c,d,e,f and thereby making it possible to issue close to 30,000 such documents right under the noses of the authorities. No Swedish passport thus had a number exceeding 4500 as agreed !

Mr Jan Anger, Guest of Honour at the Raoul Wallenberg
Centenary Dinner; Professor Frank Vajda, whose life was saved by Raoul
Wallenberg in Budapest in 1944; Mrs Wendy Waller and Emeritus Professor
Louis Waller, both past presidents of Raoul Wallenberg Unit. pic: Shaina Helper

Raoul Wallenberg with his network of volunteers was often informed of a deportation under way at a railway station or ghetto in town. In the last minute he would turn up to save as many Jews as he could using all means that he felt he had at his disposal. Reporting fact, convincing, bluffing, threatening, even bribing soldiers who usually were surprised to see such overwhelming actions by an unarmed man facing machine-guns. It obviously became a “tug of war” between my father on one side who had been trained on diplomatic rules and Raoul on the other who was willing to try anything to save lives. To illustrate my point, if you imagine Budapest in 1944 as a wild sea with Jews desperately swimming for their lives, it was Raoul Wallenberg who then jumped into the lifeboat handing out lifejackets and Per Anger who on terra firma stood by the lighthouse guiding them all in safely. They need each other. The Swedish rescue operation could not have been performed without this partnership. It is not possible to arrive at an exact total of rescues attributable to the Swedes but the number certainly exceeds 100,000 Jews, or almost half of Budapest’s Jewish population at the time.
At the conclusion of the war in early 1945 the soviet forces occupy Hungary totally. Raoul Wallenberg then felt that he had to arrange for the future of all the people he had saved. His idea was to meet the Russians and discuss the return to normal life for all those Jews who had survived. My father warned him not to do so and to stay hidden until they all could return from the Budapest mission to Sweden. Raoul Wallenberg however could not be convinced and said “ I cannot return to Stockholm without knowing that I have done everything in my power to save the future of the Jews”. My father eventually returned safely to Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg did not. During his remaining years my father searched for the fate of Raoul Wallenberg by lecturing, interviewing, participating in documentaries, writing a book and inaugurating memorials honouring Raoul Wallenberg. What actually happened is still not known. The truth has not been revealed by the Russians who captured him. The mistakes made by both Russian and Swedish subsequent governments  in this regard are indeed embarrassing to say the least.
Today the name Raoul Wallenberg features extensively on websites and around the world thanks to efforts of organisations such as B’nai B’rith here tonight and through the support of countries like America, Australia, Canada, Hungary, Israel and France to name a few. Every country has a hero that you can look up to and admire. THE WORLD HAS RAOUL WALLENBERG !!

The event was attended by nearly 130 local and interstate guests. Sydney-based B’nai B’rith District President, James Altman and his wife, Elaine attended;  Mr Altman delivered the Toast to B’nai B’rith, ministers from the Swedish Church were present, as were the Cultural and Information Officer of the Swedish Embassy and her husband from Canberra.  The City of Port Phillip was represented by Cr Judith Klepner and the City of Glen Eira by the Mayor, Jamie Hyams.

Raoul Wallenberg Unit President, Dr Peter Schiff OAM, welcomed the guests and read congratulatory letters from the Governor General, The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Raoul Wallenberg

Videos of the speeches by Cabinet Secretary Mr Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Federal Member for Isaacs and Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to the Australian Parliament on 20 June 2012; and US President, Barack Obama, who spoke about Raoul Wallenberg and the Centenary, were shown.

Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn, accompanied by Anatoly Gelbak, sang songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and English and, at the end of the evening, recited the Birchat HaMazon.

A painting of Raoul Wallenberg titled ‘His Presence meant Life and Freedom’ by Hawthorn-based artist, Glenda Brigham, who had donated the painting, was displayed for the first time.

Chair of the Centenary Commemoration Committee, Judi Schiff, after thanking the Committee members, spoke about the Raoul Wallenberg Unit initiative in requesting members of the clergy worldwide to speak about Raoul Wallenberg from their pulpits during the Centenary weekend; she detailed evidence that this had happened nationally and internationally in major cities and in small, dwindling congregations in country towns.

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