Thursday, January 17, 2008

Raoul Wallenberg

From the Montreal Gazette Online 1/17/2008

Remembering Raoul Wallenberg
Irwin Cotler, Montreal Gazette

Today, Raoul Wallenberg Commemorative Day, is an important moment of remembrance and reminder. It marks the 63rd anniversary of the Jan. 17, 1945 disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, the lost hero of humanity, whom the United Nations characterized as "the greatest humanitarian of the 20th century."

Wallenberg, a Swedish non-Jew who saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, is the embodiment of the Talmudic and Quranic idiom that whoever saves a single life, it is as if they have saved an entire universe.
The lost hero of the Holocaust confronted the Nazi killing machine and showed not only that one person can make a difference, but that one person can resist, that one person can confront, that one person can indeed prevail over radical evil.

Raoul Wallenberg's incredible heroism included the granting of the Shutzpasses - the diplomatic passes which provided protective immunity to their recipients and, in fact, influenced other governments - the Swiss, the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Vatican legations - to follow his example. As a result of this singular provision of diplomatic immunity, thousands were saved by this route alone.

Wallenberg led the establishment of protective havens - the international ghetto as it came to be called - 32 safe houses protected by neutral legations.
Once again, he inspired other legations to follow his example, and with this initiative alone saved some 32,000 people.

Wallenberg's organization of hospitals, soup kitchens, child-care centres - the staples of international humanitarian assistance - provided women, children, the sick, the elderly - the most vulnerable of victims - with a semblance of human dignity in the face of the worst of all horrors and evil.

He rescued thousands from deportation and death in October 1944 alone when the Arrow Cross - the Nazi puppet government in Hungary - unleashed a wave of murderous deportations and atrocities. At the railway stations, Wallenberg provided, once again, the protective Shutzpasses to remove Jews about to be deported to a certain death.

In November 1944, as thousands of Jews, mainly women and children, were sent on a 200-kilometre death march, Raoul Wallenberg followed, distributing food, medical supplies and improvised certificates. To the Jews, Wallenberg was the guardian angel. For Adolph Eichmann, the bureaucratic desk murderer responsible for the Final Solution of Hungarian Jewry, Wallenberg was the Judenhund Wallenberg: Wallenberg the Jewish dog.

Wallenberg's last rescue was perhaps the most memorable. As the Nazis were advancing on Budapest, threatening to blow up the Budapest ghetto and liquidate the remnants of Hungarian Jews - some 70,000 in the Budapest ghetto alone - Wallenberg put the Nazi generals on notice, including Nazi General Schmidhuber - that they would be brought to justice, if not executed, for their war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The result was that the Nazi generals desisted from their assault, and 70,000 more Jews were saved, rescued by the incredible courage of one person who was prepared to confront evil and resist.

Canada established Raoul Wallenberg Commemorative Day for Canadians to learn about, reflect upon, and be inspired by the incredible heroism this great humanitarian who, in his singular protection of civilians in armed conflict, signified the best of international humanitarian law; who, in his singular organization of humanitarian relief, exemplified the best of humanitarian intervention; who, in his warning to Nazi generals that they would be held accountable for their crimes, foreshadowed the Nuremberg principles; who, in saving 100,000 Jews, personified the Talmudic idiom that if a person saves a single life it is as if he or she has saved an entire universe; and who, in having the courage to care and the commitment to act, showed that one person can confront radical evil, prevail, and transform history.

Today, Raoul Wallenberg deserves to be remembered not only for his heroism, but as a reminder and inspiration for action - that each one of us has an indispensable role to play in the struggle for betterment of the human condition; human rights begins with each of us - in our homes, in our schools, in our workplace, in our human relations, in our daily capacity for acts of care and compassion on behalf of some victim of discrimination or disadvantage somewhere.

The great medieval sage, the Rambam teaches us that the world can be seen as balanced between half-good and half-evil. Therefore, one good deed by any one of us can tilt the balance in favour of the good, having a transformative impact on the universe as a whole - that would be living the Raoul Wallenberg legacy.

Irwin Cotler is the member of Parliament for Mount Royal and official opposition critic for Human Rights. He helped established Canada's Raoul Wallenberg Commemorative Day.

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