November 19, 2018

Sale of Nazi-Era Pass Recalls Hero Wallenberg

A life-saving document for two Hungarian Jews, signed by the late Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, has been sold for $13,750, according to a spokesman for Nate D. Sanders Auction of Los Angeles.

The sale brings renewed attention to one of the most elaborate and effective acts by a Christian, backed by his government, to foil the Nazi death machine.

The so-called “protective pass” conferred Swedish citizenship on Jewish siblings Emilne Tanzer and Iren Forgo. The passes spared them the fate of more than 300,000 Hungarian Jews killed by the SS, mainly at Auschwitz.

Specifically, the passes exempted the Jewish bearers from wearing the yellow Jewish star patch,by declaring that they were Swedish citizens awaiting reparation to their homeland.

Though the passes had no actual legal standing, the ruse worked well enough to be accepted by German and Hungarian officials most of the time.

Wallenberg disappeared in early 1945, and it is generally believed that he was arrested when Russian troops wrested Budapest from the German army, and that he died in a Russian labor camp.

In line with its policy, Sanders Auction did not identify the seller or buyer of the historical document.

In addition to issuing “protective passes,” Wallenberg used American and Swedish funds to establish hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen for the Jews of Budapest.

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wallenberg was born in Stockholm in 1912, studied in the United States, and in June 1944 was recruited by the U.S. War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary. Given status as a diplomat by the Swedish delegation, Wallenberg’s assignment was to assist and rescue as many Hungarian Jews as he could.

Although completely inexperienced in diplomacy and clandestine operations, Wallenberg led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust.

In addition to issuing “protective passes,” Wallenberg used American and Swedish funds to establish hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen. In addition, he designated more than 30 “safe” houses that together formed the core of the “international” ghetto in Budapest, which was reserved for Jews and their families holding certificates of protection from a neutral country.

Spurred by Wallenberg’s example, diplomats from other neutral countries joined in the rescue effort. Swiss Consul General Carl Lutz issued certificates of emigration to some potential emigrants to Palestine.

Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca, posing as a Spanish diplomat, established safe houses, including one for Jewish children.

Wallenberg’s decision to put his own life at risk to help save Jews was summed up by a friend many years ago who reportedly told Wallenberg that he should worry about his own safety. Wallenberg reportedly responded, “For me, there’s no choice. I’ve taken on this assignment, and I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”

Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish Holocaust hero, executed in Soviet prison, diaries reveal

Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazi gas chambers, was executed in a Soviet prison, according to a KGB head’s diaries.

The diaries of Ivan A. Serov, who ran the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency from 1954 to 1958, were discovered inside the walls of his second home in northwestern Moscow, which his granddaughter is now renovating. Discovered four years ago, the diaries were published this summer, The New York Times reported Sunday.

“I have no doubts that Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947,” Serov wrote.

The diaries contains references to several previously unknown documents referring to Wallenberg, including one recording the cremation of his body. They were published under the title “Notes From a Suitcase: Secret Diaries of the First KGB. Chairman, Found Over 25 Years After His Death,” which went for sale in Russia in June.

Serov died of a heart attack in 1990 at age 84. He is thought to have hidden the diaries around 1971.

A 1991 joint Russian-Swedish effort to discover what happened to Wallenberg, which included archival research and interviews with retired state security employees, yielded no definitive conclusion when it ended in 2000. The investigation found that documents had been destroyed or altered to eliminate all traces of him.

Wallenberg was posted to Nazi-occupied Hungary during World War II, where he issued protective passports to Jews in the final months of the Holocaust. He disappeared in 1945 after being seen surrounded by Soviet officers in Budapest. The Soviets later claimed Wallenberg had died of heart failure in prison.

The diplomat’s parents both reportedly committed suicide in 1979 in despair over his disappearance. In November 2015, Wallenberg family members asked Swedish authorities to declare him dead.


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.

Rescuers of the ‘50 Children’

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor those lost in the Shoah and the few who were saved through circumstance, luck or the efforts of courageous individuals. People like Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and the Bielski brothers immediately come to mind, having been the subjects of books and movies such as “Schindler’s List” and “Defiance.” 

This year on April 8, Yom HaShoah, HBO will premiere the documentary “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus,” which explores the previously untold story of a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who risked their lives to save the largest group of children allowed into the United States at the time.

Blending historical footage, personal photographs, interviews with nine surviving members of the 50, and narration by Alan Alda and Mamie Gummer (reading from the memoir of Eleanor Kraus — the “Mrs.” of the movie’s title), the film is riveting and suspenseful. It reveals the Krauses battling bureaucracies abroad and at home and racing against the clock to get the children out of Vienna as atrocities escalated in 1939.

The Krauses’ efforts might have remained a footnote lost to history had filmmaker Steven Pressman not read the unpublished memoir written by Eleanor, who died in 1989, 14 years after her husband, Gilbert. 

“It was just lying around the house, hiding in plain sight,” he said. 

His wife, Liz Perle, is the Krauses’ granddaughter, and though she’d “occasionally mention something in passing about them rescuing some kids, I didn’t pay much attention to it until four years ago, when she showed me the manuscript, and I got the idea of making a film,” Pressman said.

A North Hollywood native who studied journalism and political science at UC Berkeley, Pressman is a journalist and author of “Outrageous Betrayal,” about Werner Erhard. He put writing aside to make “50 Children,” his first film. 

He called upon friends and acquaintances for advice and connections, lining up an editor, cinematographer and other crew. With funding raised via “generous individuals and foundations, both Jewish and non-Jewish,” he started making the film in January 2010 and finished two years later. Finally, through a connection from his father-in-law, he got it to HBO, which is co-presenting the documentary with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Searching through prewar footage, now conveniently digitized and searchable, Pressman obtained video from the database of USHMM’s archives, the Bundesarchiv in Germany and Austrian State Archives in Vienna. 

He also traveled around the country to interview surviving members from among the 50 children, whom he’d tracked down via Google, and many of whom lent him their family photos. With the exception of one woman who was 5 years old in 1939 and had no memory of the rescue, “Nobody turned me down,” Pressman said.

It was an emotional experience for Pressman to talk with these people about what little they remember. For some, it turned out that they had been bidding farewell to their parents for the last time when they were rescued. 

“It was honor for me to be able to capture these memories,” he said. Because they were so young at the time, he added, “most of them never knew anything about Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus. I was able to fill in the gaps for them.”

The Krauses were secular Jews, stylishly handsome and comfortable but not wealthy.  But Gilbert, a successful lawyer, was active in B’rith Sholom, a national Jewish fraternal organization headquartered in Philadelphia. The group’s head, Louis Levine, wanted to help European Jews escape, but organizations could not legally sponsor refugees. Gilbert volunteered to help, calling upon a law school acquaintance and Jewish congressman named Leon Sacks, who arranged a meeting at the State Department. 

“Gilbert wasn’t a connected guy, but he knew people who knew people,” Pressman said. 

Once the children were in the United States, they went directly to a B’rith Sholom summer camp, and the organization remained involved, overseeing their welfare.

In addition to survivor testimony, the documentary provides historical context to illustrate what obstacles the Krauses faced. 

“I was shocked as I was doing my research to discover just how much anti-Semitism there was in this country,” said Pressman, noting that even Jewish leaders tried to discourage the couple. “They didn’t want to rock the boat and create even more anti-Semitism.”  

Although the immigration quotas were very restrictive for all Jews, Gilbert felt that he had the best shot at obtaining visas for children, “because people at the State Department might feel a little more sorry for them,” Pressman explained.

 “This was an extraordinary time, and these were two people [the Krauses] who were not powerful, they didn’t hold high positions. They were relatively ordinary people, but they felt so strongly about doing something when nobody else around them was doing anything,” Pressman said.

Once the couple came home from Vienna with the rescued children, “They never talked about it again,” Pressman said. “The Holocaust Museum didn’t know about the story until members of the Kraus family brought it to their attention a few years back.”

Pressman, who grew up in a “Conservative, semi-observant household in the Valley” and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has no Holocaust stories to tell from his side of the family, as everyone was born in the States, or was part of the earlier migration from Eastern Europe. 

He’s the father to a daughter, Roshann, 22, and stepson, David, 19. His wife appears in “50 Children” and granted him formal permission (as did her uncle) to use Eleanor’s memoir as a source, but otherwise they remained “very hands-off” with the project, he noted.

Since finishing what he calls his “labor of love,” Pressman has turned his attention toward writing a book version to be published next year that, like the documentary, will incorporate the memoir and the testimony of the rescued children. He admits that he has thought about turning the story into a scripted feature.

“But I won’t be the one to do it,” Pressman said. “I’m not going to suddenly become a feature film director. But I’m hopeful there will be some interest. It’s such an incredible story.”

He calls the filmmaking experience “the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. As a journalist, you want to tell a good story, and you want to have an impact on people. I feel good that I’ve accomplished some of that.” 

‘Rescue during the Holocaust’: Honoring courage to resist

You would not suspect anything out of the ordinary was happening  as the silver-haired interviewee describes his day at the office. But Per Anger and his colleagues in Budapest, Hungary, were on a mission. His self-effacing modesty veils the significance of his role in attempting to rescue the Jews of Budapest from certain death in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I had been searching the USC Shoah Foundation database for eyewitness testimony of Raoul Wallenberg and was right to assume that among the 52,000 audio-visual life histories, I would find survivors talking about how Wallenberg rescued them in the summer of 1944. I had not expected to find Per Anger, a lesser-known accomplice of Wallenberg. As the camera rolls, the mission comes to life: It was Anger who was the first to hand out Swedish protective papers to Jews, and it was he who first called for assistance — which Wallenberg answered. Anger describes the difficulty of snatching Jews from under the noses of the Nazis, the day he opened a cattle wagon and took out 100 Jews, and then the problem of housing and feeding 20,000 people they then had in their care.

This year, the theme of the United Nations International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is called “Rescue During the Holocaust: The Courage to Care.” Wallenberg  would be 100 years old now, and so to celebrate his life, the United Nations and UNESCO — among many other organizations — have been highlighting the actions of rescuers such as Wallenberg and Anger.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Schindler’s List,” the feature film that depicts the unlikely hero Oskar Schindler. His motivation to run his factory in Poland was far from altruistic. He was knowingly invested in a system that used slave labor. Only when faced with the reality of people on his shop floor did his attitude change to the point of absolute defiance of the Nazi intention to work them to death. Schindler changed from collaborator to resistor.

My USC colleague Wolf Gruner and I have been trying to work out what it is that provides the impetus for resistance, studying those who did engage in acts of defiance, from Anger to Schindler to Wallenberg and everyone in between. Resistance came in many forms during the Holocaust, and overwhelmingly we find that Jews did not go like “lambs to the slaughter,” which is a terrible myth that has to end. Survival was a state of mind, and Jews across Europe did everything possible to survive, in direct defiance of the Nazis.

What Gruner discovered is that Jews were more actively defiant than we have hitherto understood; there were small acts of heroism every day. We also discovered many more non-Jews working in resistance networks. Many were not successful in their attempts to undermine the Nazis, but those acts are important to know about. It remains true that the vast majority of people did nothing to assist, but that should make the actions of those who did try all the more valuable. Their actions are the key to a more secure future.  

I, too, have been watching more testimony of rescuers, of which the USC Shoah Foundation has more than a thousand in its archive. The more I listen and watch the purposefulness of their decisions, the more I realize that rescuers were not primarily performing acts of altruism, although most were altruists at some level. They need to be reclassified as the ultimate resistors. As individual citizens, they chose to take actions in direct contravention of Nazi policy. Their decisions were just as ideologically motivated and personally courageous as the partisans in the forest or the fighters in the ghetto — maybe more so, as they were rarely armed and were often surrounded by collaborators and informers who were more than willing to cash in on their courage.

They may not have been in organized fighting units, but their determination to defy the Nazis, with the likelihood they would die trying, takes courage — not the courage to care (as caring as they were), but the courage to resist.

We often ask why weren’t there more who defied the Nazi’s hell-bent determination to murder every Jew without exception. As I listen to the voices one at a time of those who committed to that ultimate act of defiance, I realize we are asking the wrong question. Even if there were only one person who had such courage, I find I have to ask the question, ‘How were there so many… and how might I be like them?’

Stephen Smith is executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.

Hungary, Sweden launch Raoul Wallenberg Year

Ceremonies in Budapest inaugurated Raoul Wallenberg Year, a series of events marking the centennial of the birth of the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Israeli Cabinet minister Yossi Peled opened observances in Budapest on Tuesday, the anniversary of the day in 1945 that Wallenberg was last seen after being arrested by the Soviet Red Army. Holocaust survivors and members of Wallenberg’s family also attended the ceremony at the National Museum.

Hungary, as well as Sweden, will mark Wallenberg Year with exhibitions, conferences, concerts and other commemorative events, including the issuing of stamps in both countries.

Wallenberg, a neutral Swedish diplomat in Budapest after the German occupation in 1944, issued Swedish travel documents – known as “Wallenberg passports” – to at least 20,000 Jews and also set up more than 30 safe houses for Jews. Other neutral diplomats collaborated in the effort.

The details of Wallenberg’s fate have remained a mystery. He disappeared while being escorted out of Hungary toward the Soviet Union. The Soviets claimed that he died of a heart attack in 1957, but other evidence indicates that he was killed in Lubyanka prison or that he may have lived years longer.

The stated goals of Hungary’s Wallenberg Year include “moving closer to clarifying Wallenberg’s fate,” as well as commemoration of Holocaust victims and their rescuers, education about human rights and minority issues, and “exposing the crimes of National Socialism and Communism.”

Russians mum on requests for Wallenberg info

Russian authorities have failed to respond to requests for more information on the Raoul Wallenberg case.

The requests by The Associated Press and the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants came in the aftermath of the release of a new book released by the Russian government on Wallenberg.

“Secrets of the Third Reich Diplomacy,” which was released earlier this year, contains quotes from the interrogation of Willy Roedel, a German officer who shared a cell with Wallenberg. Roedel was arrested by the Soviets after World War II.

Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who helped tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews escape persecution during World War II. He was arrested by the Soviet Union in 1945 and Soviet officals said he was executed in 1947. However, scholars and family members insist that Wallenberg lived in the state-run gulag camps for decades after he was declared dead.

Academics investigating the disappearance of Wallenberg for years have requested tapes of Roedel’s interrogation, but the Russians have maintained that such tapes never existed.

Roedel’s published statements predate his introduction to Wallenberg, but focus on his relationship with Gustav Richter, a German police attache who was Wallenberg’s cellmate for the first six weeks of his arrest.

While the new information does little to explain the fate of Wallenberg, it does suggest that the Russians may have more information on the diplomat’s life than have been made public. Roedel’s statements were pulled from an unpublished 549-page file that appears to have 57 unreleased pages.

Best street for a J-cation? Fairfax!

In a summer of rising airfares and gas prices, you need to take a trip that is close by, low cost, in town and that will fill you with Jewish stories.

The best place to do that? Fairfax Avenue.

That’s right, become a Jewish cultural tourist, not in New York, Venice or Seville, but right here in Los Angeles. The area’s sidewalks, walls and parks remain populated with monuments, plaques, murals and statues of Jewish cultural and spiritual significance.

Take a local J-cation!

People bemoan the passing of Jewish life on Fairfax — and, certainly, some of what was here is gone. But what remains is a truly cosmopolitan representation of Jewish life from all over the world: Iraq, Iran, Russia, Yemen, Germany and Israel. It’s still a place to buy a set of Talmud or tefillin, but now you can also buy a samovar, finjan, or hipster Jewish T-shirt or hat. Hey, there are still four places in a two-block area where you can buy a black-and-white cookie. That’s not bad.

You can usually find metered parking on Fairfax near the high school (south of Melrose Avenue). On Sundays, parking there is tight due to the Sunday flea market, so you might want to park near Pan Pacific Park and begin there. On Shabbat many of the points of interest will be closed.

Give yourself about two hours to make the loop. Think about lunch. There are plenty of places to either dine along the way or pick up a nosh for a picnic at the park.

1. National Council of Jewish Women Building, 543 N. Fairfax Ave.
On the northern wall (corner of Clinton Street and Fairfax Avenue) in a vivid, almost folk-art style, is a mural by artist Daryl E. Wells that depicts women of human and civil rights, justice and courage. Many of them are Jewish. There’s activist Betty, and the poet (“Eli, Eli”) and World War II rescuer Hannah Senesh. Notice the challah and candlesticks in the middle. That’s playwright Lillian Hellman (“The Little Foxes”) holding the Kiddush cup. L’chaim!

2. Sami-Makolet, 513 N. Fairfax
Fellow talmidim (students), at Sami-Makolet (Sami’s market) we can not only find our favorite Israeli foods, but practice our Ivrit (Hebrew) as well. Many of the package labels are in Hebrew. When it’s time to check out with your Hashahar chocolate spread (don’t forget the challah), above the checkout is a Hebrew sign for “cashier.”

3. Solomon’s Book Store, 447 N. Fairfax
ALTTEXTThis store has supplied generations with haftarah booklets and seder plates. But the reason to go is for the biggest wall of art about rabbis in Los Angeles. On the southern wall is an eclectic collection of paintings and prints of rabbis and scholars done in every style on every material, from canvas to velvet. Stern, blissful, angelic, they kind of stare back.

4. Canter’s Delicatessen, 419 N. Fairfax
A slice of L.A. Jewish history on rye. Everyone seems to know about Canter’s — how it followed L.A.’s Jewish migration westward, settling in on Fairfax, Kibbitz Room and all. Stop in for a sandwich, knish or blintz. Need a suggestion? Just ask — the waitresses know all. Be sure to go upstairs and view the framed, headlined stories. Check out the 1955 menu — pastrami and hot corned beef, 75 cents.

5. Canter’s Parking Lot, Fairfax Community Mural (one storefront south)


On a parking lot wall, a mural painted from historic photos is a megillah of L.A. Jewish history. Created by Art Mortimer, with artists Stephen Raul Anaya, Peri Fleischman, coordinating artist Sandra B. Moss and a crew of adults and teens, it’s a seven-panel panorama. Highlights include, from left, Congregation B’nai B’rith, circa 1862, which later moved and became Wilshire Boulevard Temple. A Victorian house that in 1902 opened as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, a hospital to treat tuberculosis, which eventually became Cedars-Sinai. The film biz and its Jewish beginnings are captured by an image of Al Jolson in the “Jazz Singer,” and that man firing a fastball — that’s dandy Sandy Koufax. Holding the Torah is Laura Geller, third woman ordained as a Reform rabbi in America (now senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills).

Directions to the next destination, the L.A. Holocaust Monument:
Walk south on Fairfax to Beverly Boulevard. Cross Beverly, then cross Fairfax (by turning left, heading east). You are now at the corner of CBS Studios. If it’s a weekday, you might see audience members for “The Price Is Right.” Continue walking east, past the light at Grove Drive, the Post Office, and then turn right, into the parking lot for Pan Pacific Park. Walk to the back of the lot, bearing to the right. Follow the concrete path down. Directly on the right is the monument’s entrance.

6. Los Angeles Holocaust Monument,Pan Pacific Park
Located in the heart of the Los Angeles Holocaust survivor community, overlooking a flood-control basin, stands a circular grouping of black stone pillars, evoking in its six-pointed form a Mogen David and the Six Million. Inscribed on the pillars are key Holocaust dates, beginning with Nazification of Germany in 1933 and concluding with liberation in 1945. Circumscribing the pillars is a ring with nations and the corresponding numbers of Jews who perished. A new Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is slated to be built adjacent to this site.

Directions to Haym Salomon Statue:
From the entrance of the monument, take the curving concrete path down through the center of the park. Continue past the covered bench and table areas, bearing left and up the hill. Continue bearing left, following the path uphill and around to the southeast corner of the park.

7. Haym Salomon, corner of Third and Gardner streetsALTTEXTGazing eastward, almost as a greeter and guardian of the Fairfax area, sits the financier of the American Revolution — Haym Salomon. As you will gather from the plaque at its base, this statue of Haym has been around, moving westward along with L.A.’s Jews. The irony here is that during the Revolutionary War, Lord Thomas Fairfax, after whom Fairfax High and the area are named, had his lands confiscated.