Xpat Event Report: Wallenberg Commemoration In Budapest

  • 20 Oct 2010 1:00 AM
Xpat Event Report: Wallenberg Commemoration In Budapest
"The British Embassy together with the Raoul Wallenberg Association organised a ceremony on 15 October at which a plaque was unveiled commemorating the courageous efforts of Raoul Wallenberg. The Swedish diplomat gave shelter for Hungarian Jews in the building of the British Embassy (Hazai Bank at that time).

British Ambassador Greg Dorey delivered a welcome speech at the commemoration alongside Ms Cecilia Björner Ambassador of Sweden and Mr Gábor Forgács on behalf of the Raoul Wallenberg Association who is the son of Wallenberg's secretary. After unveiling the memorial plaque - the work of sculptor Antal Czinder - flowers of remembrance were placed under the plaque. The ceremony was followed by refreshments in the Embassy.

Speech by Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador Greg Dorey

"I am delighted to welcome you all on the occasion of this very special ceremony to unveil a plaque commemorating the work of Raoul Wallenberg.

I do not have to tell you about the role of this outstanding Swedish diplomat during World War II. His courageous personality and heroic actions which saved the lives of tens of thousands of people are recognised world wide.

But his connection to this Embassy building is not as well known. In 1944, Raoul Wallenberg rented a total of 32 buildings in Budapest, for which, under the titles of "The Swedish Research Institute" or "The Swedish Library", he managed to obtain the protection of diplomatic immunity. In November 1944, he agreed with the staff of the Bank, who knew about and supported his activities, to rent the third floor of this building. He often spent time in the Bank and even lived here in late December 1944 and early January 1945.

He moved a selected team of his assistants to the third floor of Harmincad utca 6. As well as using the Banks as an operations centre, a number of Jewish people were granted refuge here. On one occasion, when in the building, Wallenberg in believed to have said "have you ever seen a vault like this? This one keeps things more precious than money – this one keeps people". Wallenberg left Harmincad utca on 11 January 1945. Five days later he was summoned by a Soviet Marshal to Debrecen, from whence he never returned.

The United Kingdom could not have found a more inspiring or symbolically important building in which to locate an Embassy than the one in which Wallenberg and his staff once worked. For many years during the Communist era it was something of a safe haven for dissidents, who used to come here to watch films or use the British Council Library which was located here. In the period around the system change in Hungary, many prominent opposition figures used to visit us here to discuss the exciting events of those days.

Nowadays it is an objective of the United Kingdom's foreign policy to oppose racism and discrimination and to spread equality and tolerance world wide. Our Mission remains very active on this agenda. Last year, for example, we helped launch the ZARE (Zene a Rasszizmus Ellen) initiative at Sziget Festival: this has now has held events in every part of the country and remains highly active, using the power of music to fight intolerance and hatred.

To help awareness of the importance of tolerance Their Royal Highnesses the Price of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall visited the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest during their visit to Hungary in March this year. In June, at the celebration of Her Majesty the Queen's Birthday, the British Embassy also celebrated diversity through art exhibitions, displays and performances by Roma and Jewish musicians. We will continue to speak out against anti-Semitism, anti-Roma activities and any other forms of intolerance. These are completely inappropriate in our modern, united Europe.

On a personal note, I discovered earlier this year for the first time that my great uncle – whom I sadly never met – was Hungarian. And just a few weeks ago I also found out that his mother was the daughter of a Jewish doctor in Budapest. During WWII her husband was somehow able to get the evidence of these Jewish roots removed from official records, which must have helped her survival during those difficult times. When I first proposed that we install the plaque we are unveiling today to commemorate Raoul Wallenberg's work, I knew nothing of this dimension of my family's history.

May I thank everyone, who has made this occasion happen today. Although many deserve special thanks, I would like to highlight in particular the contribution of Mari Gömöri and Valerie Solti, who raised the necessary funds from several contributors. Without their dedication, we could not have unveiled this beautiful plaque here today."

Speech by H. E. Ms. Cecilia Björner Ambassador of Sweden

"I would like to start by thanking the British Ambassador for initiating and hosting this commemoration, because for me, occasions such as this are of great importance. This I say not only out of politeness, nor do I say it only because the actions of Raoul Wallenberg are some of the most respected symbols of Sweden in Hungary. Mainly I say it because occasions such as this invite us to have a look at our present time in the judging mirror of history.

Firstly, occasions such as this are magnificent opportunities to manifest that those who oppose that one man can make a difference, are proved to be wrong by events of the past. And although the Swedish rescuing mission in Hungary is far from the only example of individual heroism throughout history, it should definitely be counted as one of the most spectacular ones.

From the very minute that Wallenberg set foot in Budapest, he was driven by the aim of making a difference. Together with Per Anger, Waldemar Langlet and other colleagues, he managed to set up a system of diplomatic safeguards in a country governed by the forces of darkness. For many people, Swedish passports became synonymous with the possibility to survive. As we know, this is one of the buildings that were used as a shelter for protégés, and thus it is also a monument of Wallenberg's aim.

We now know that tens of thousands of people were saved in the rescuing missions of Sweden and other countries. Therefore, not only does Wallenberg qualify as a symbol of the possibility for one man to make a difference, but even as a symbol of what bravery means in practice. Through commemorating the actions of Wallenberg and his colleagues, we also honour some of the finest virtues that can be found within humanity. And if we one day would find ourselves in a situation similar to the one that he was in, the actions of Wallenberg will hopefully inspire us to make the same difference ourselves.

Secondly, even though the heroism of Wallenberg should of course be remembered and deeply honoured, the events that we commemorate also have to be regarded as a sign of warning from the past.

The forces of darkness are once again gaining strength all over our continent – also in my own country. These forces are not interested to learn from history: their goal is still that society should judge people on the basis of their skin colour, race, religion or culture – rather than as individuals. Just like the protégés of Wallenberg were hunted merely because they were Jews.

I therefore dare you all to honour the memory of Raoul Wallenberg by speaking out and act against these forces today. No matter if their hatred is directed towards Jews, Muslims, Roma or any other group of people, according to the past there is no time to lose. On occasions such as this, history teaches us that if we all decide to make a difference today, tomorrow we might not have to face the horrors that Wallenberg had to face more than 60 years ago."

Speech by Gábor Forgács

"Ladies, gentlemen and fellow survivors,

I stand in front of this memorial plaque with deep emotion. I had the good fortune to be a humble colleague of Raoul Wallenberg for a few months beginning in the autumn of 1944 until the end of his time in Budapest. He was for us a knight in shining armour, a St. George figure for our times. An appropriate twist of fate ordained that this former asylum house should have become the embassy of a country, which fought so heroically against fascism in the second world war.

My last visit to this building was on the 6th of January 1945. A comrade and I brought food for Raoul Wallenberg's sheltered-team - my parents among them - who were hiding here. It was during these hours that Raoul Wallenberg's volunteer driver, Teddy Jobbagy died, having been hit by shell fragments exploding through the window of this very hall. His daughter was born only a few hours later in a nearby apartment used as a refuge.

That was also the day that I saw Raoul Wallenberg for the last time.

Let it be our consolation that today Raoul Wallenberg's memory is being kept alive through concerted and dedicated effort, not only in Budapest, but worldwide.

Budapest, our capital, is deservedly proud that it already has more Raoul Wallenberg memorials than anywhere else in the world. Included among these are two statutes of legendary history, which are masterpieces in their own right.

The sculptor of this memorial plaque is Antal Czinder, who himself is devoted to Raoul Wallenberg's memory and through his work demonstrates a deep empathy with Wallenberg's fate.

Nowadays, we are deluged by memoirs and recollections, which often differ from reality, as experienced. This could be due to fading memories or strange viewpoints in recalling the past. For us, who have gathered here today, it is a duty to protect Raoul Wallenberg's memory both verbally and in writing from all dubious interpretation.

Nowadays, when loose savage hordes of wolves are roaming again on the streets of Europe - sometimes in the rows of Parliaments - it is more important than ever, to speak out for humanism and individual liberty.

This celebration furthers this most worthy goal. Thank you."

Source: British Embassy Budapest

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