Holocaust hero Wallenberg statue rededication set

After standing for nearly 25 years on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives in the Holocaust, will be rededicated on Aug. 5.

The event will come one day after what would have been Wallenberg’s 101st birthday. 

“We want to perpetuate the memory of a hero,” said Stan Treitel, who is helping to organize the rededication ceremony. Treitel is a member of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission, an effort spearheaded by the New York-based Friedlander Group, a government relations lobbying firm. 

The ceremony, hosted by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, is open to the public and will begin at 10 a.m. at Fairfax and Beverly. Speakers will include L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Koretz and a number of Holocaust survivors saved by Wallenberg. David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, also will be part of the event, which will be preceded by a 9 a.m. reception at the JFS Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center on North Fairfax Avenue. 

The statue was unveiled on Dec. 4, 1988. Designed by the late Italian artist Franco Assetto, it features a bronze silhouette of a man with his hand extended, flanked by two stainless steel wings, symbolizing Wallenberg’s role as an angel of mercy. The drive to create the monument was spearheaded by John Brooks, a Hungarian Jew who was saved by Wallenberg, and Yaroslavsky. In the year prior to the statue’s erection, the street corner on which it now stands was given the name Raoul Wallenberg Square.

“The Holocaust was one of the darkest periods in history, and Mr. Wallenberg’s manner and heroism should never be forgotten. We want to make sure people never forget the example he set,” said John Darnell, senior field deputy and social service advocate for Koretz. “Also, one day when all the Holocaust survivors are no longer with us, we can all look to the statue of Wallenberg and remember his existence.”

Wallenberg, a 31-year-old Swedish businessman, was asked by the United States’ War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary in 1944 and undertake a mission to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Wallenberg produced thousands of Swedish protective papers for Jews in peril. In addition, he established some 30 safe houses in Budapest that sheltered thousands of Jewish refugees, and he set up an international ghetto protected by neutral countries.

Wallenberg was arrested in January 1945 by Soviet officials and was never seen again. In his six months in Hungary, it is estimated that Wallenberg may have saved up to 100,000 Jewish lives. 

Wallenberg has been made an honorary citizen of the United States, Canada, Hungary, Australia and Israel. Israel has named Wallenberg one of the Righteous Among the Nations, and in 1989 the United States made Oct. 5 Raoul Wallenberg Recognition Day. In July 2012, Wallenberg was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to honor his heroic actions during the Holocaust.