On Thursday, May 9, The United States Mint unveiled the design of the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Gold Medal in the presence of their Majesties, King Carl XVI and Queen Silvia of Sweden. This event was hosted by the Honorable Jacob L. Lew, Secretary of the United States Treasury. The Congressional Gold Medal recognizes the achievements and heroic actions of Wallenberg during the waning days of the Holocaust.
Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, the original sponsor of the Wallenberg Gold Medal Legislation, recognized the efforts of Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, which spearheaded the effort to recognize the heroism of Wallenberg through the creation of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Commission, as being the driving force behind awarding Wallenberg with the Congressional Gold Medal.
Born in Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg graduated from the University of Michigan and returned to Sweden where he became a businessman, and then to give him cover for his rescue efforts, became a Swedish diplomat. Wallenberg is credited with saving 100,000 lives primarily through the issuance of the schutz-pass, a document conferring official Swedish protection to the bearer, which was respected by the Nazis. These were handed out to desperate Hungarian Jews. Wallenberg also successfully prevented the liquidation of the Budapest ghetto by threatening the German general that he would be brought up on war crimes if he allowed the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz.
At the unveiling ceremony, Secretary Lew stated, “the War Refugee Board was commissioned two floors above where we stand today, here in the Cash room.” The War Refugee Board was critical to the success of saving over 100,000 Jews, especially in Hungary. It was this board that gave Wallenberg authority to commit to a plan of action that would save the lives of many.
The United States Mint worked closely with the Wallenberg Commission, which was dedicated as the liaison to the mint on the design of the medal. The medal features, on one side, a portrait of Wallenberg, depicting him as he is last remembered with the inscriptions: “Raoul Wallenberg, Act of Congress 2012” and “Hero of Heroes.” The reverse side features Wallenberg presenting the schutz-passes and a view of those bound for a concentration camp. The inscriptions, “He lives on forever through those he saved” around the upper border and “One person can make a difference” were inspired by Peter Rebenwurzel, chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission, who is a Hungarian-born child of Holocaust survivors. His father, z’l, worked with Wallenberg to provide food and provisions to residents of the Budapest ghetto, and his father in-law was saved by Wallenberg.
Many of the people Wallenberg saved have been influential citizens contributing to American institutions and culture, including Congressman Tom Lantos (1928-2008) and the Liska Rebbe, Rabbi Yoizef (Joseph) Friedlander, who carried forth the Liska chassidic dynasty from Hungary to the United States. v