Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
The Wallenberg Heritage Foundation’s first Annual Dinner will iy’H be held in the grand ballroom of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, 83-10 188th Street, Queens NY 11423, on December 17, 2013. Joseph Frager, MD, respected gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is the dinner chairman. Dr. Frager is renowned as the organizer of the annual Israel Day Parade Concert in Central Park.
The Wallenberg Heritage Foundation was established to promote the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, preeminent hero and savior of Jews during the Holocaust. The foundation seeks to establish the Wallenberg Museum, where individual stories of the more than 100,000 Jews he saved will be recorded for history. In order to tell the world about Wallenberg and his selfless dedication to saving as many lives as possible, a major motion picture is contemplated.
Raoul Wallenberg (1912–1947): Holocaust Hero
“Whoever saves a life, is considered as if he saved an entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).
Throughout all of history, no one achieved the wholesale saving of Jewish lives as did Raoul Wallenberg. He is credited with the rescue of more than 100,000 lives, many of whom were saved one by one. Wallenberg was honored by the Guinness Book of World Records as the single greatest hero in history, having saved the greatest number of people from extinction. In 1981, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (1928–2008), himself saved by Wallenberg, sponsored the bill making Wallenberg an Honorary Citizen of the United States. That legislation was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The full story of Wallenberg has never really been told. Very few people today know anything of him. Last month, President Obama visited Sweden, the first time a United States president visited there. The most emotional and meaningful event of the visit took place at the Great Synagogue in Stockholm honoring Raoul Wallenberg. There, he gave tribute to Nina Lagergren, Wallenberg’s 92-year-old half-sister and last living sibling.
Amongst his important remarks, President Obama said: “When Jews in Budapest were marked with that yellow star, Wallenberg shielded them behind the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag. When they were forced into death marches, he showed up with the food and water that gave them life. When they were loaded on trains for the camps, he climbed on board too, and pulled them off. He lived out one of the most important mitzvot, most important commandments in the Jewish tradition—to redeem a captive; to save a life; the belief that when a neighbor is suffering, we cannot stand idly by.
“And because he refused to stand by, Wallenberg reminds us of our power when we choose, not simply to bear witness, but also to act. The tens of thousands he saved from the camps; the estimated 100,000 Jews of Budapest who survived the war, in no small measure because of this man and those like Gabriella who risked their lives as well. It also calls to mind the compassion of Swedes who helped rescue so many Jews from Denmark 70 years ago this year. And this legacy shines bright in the survivors who are alive today and in the family trees that have continued to grow ever since, children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who owe their very existence to a Swedish hero that they never knew.”
Raoul Wallenberg was 32, a son of a leading Swedish banking family, not unlike the Rockefellers or the Kennedys. He was young, handsome, and rich. Nevertheless, he dedicated his entire being to saving Jews. “I will never be able to go back to Stockholm,” he wrote to his mother, “without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”
Working both for Sweden, as its diplomat in Budapest, and for the American War Refugee Board, Wallenberg was arrested as a spy at the end of WWII by Russian forces that captured Budapest. From the time of his arrest on January 17, 1944, information about him becomes murky. Historians note the Russian government statement that he died in Lubyanka, a notorious Soviet prison, on July 17, 1947. However, credible reports of Wallenberg being alive in the Russian gulag continued long thereafter.
Reflecting on the colossal achievements of Raoul Wallenberg, including the rescue of Rabbi Yoizef Friedlander, zt’l (1918–1971), late Liska Rebbe, Ezra Friedlander of the Friedlander Group had decided to celebrate the 100th birthday of Raoul Wallenberg in a number of ways. Ezra Friedlander is the son of Rabbi Zvi Hersh Friedlander, Liska Rebbe, and author of Chamudei Zvi; son of the late Liska Rebbe. His company, the Friedlander Group, is a full-service public relations agency providing communications, counsel, and services for government, corporate, and nonprofit clients.
For the 100th birthday in 2012, the Friedlander Group successfully worked to have 13th Avenue, the nerve center of Boro Park, renamed in honor of Raoul Wallenberg. In addition, in the “Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Act,” Congress issued a Congressional Gold Medal to Wallenberg in recognition of his achievements and heroic actions during the Holocaust. The Raoul Wallenberg story, as presented by Congress, includes the following:
“Raoul Wallenberg was born in Europe on August 4, 1912, to Swedish Christian parents. In 1935, he graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor . . . Raoul returned to Sweden, where he began a career as a businessman, and afterwards, a Swedish diplomat. In 1936, Raoul’s grandfather arranged a position for him at the Holland Bank in Haifa, [then] Palestine. There Raoul began to meet young Jews who had already been forced to flee from Nazi persecution in Germany. Their stories affected him deeply . . .
“Under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the War Refugee Board was established in January 1944, to aid civilians who fell victim to the Nazi and Axis powers in Europe. One of the War Refugee Board’s top priorities was protection of the 750,000 remaining Jews in Hungary. It was decided that Raoul Wallenberg, aged 31 at the time, would be most effective in protecting Jews and victims of the Nazis in Hungary under the War Refugee Board. He was . . . sent to Budapest, Hungary, under his official profession as a Swedish diplomat. He was instructed to use passports and other creative means to save as many lives as possible.
“Wallenberg created a new Swedish passport, the Schutzpass, which looked more imposing and official than the actual Swedish passport. He reportedly put up huge placards of it throughout Budapest to familiarize the Nazis with it. He unilaterally announced that it granted the holder immunity from the death camps. The Schutzpasses alone are credited with saving 20,000 Jewish lives.
“In one example of his heroism, Wallenberg was told of a Nazi plot to round up several thousand Jewish women and acted swiftly to save them. Former Wallenberg staffer, Agnes Adachi, recalls the time when she and her colleagues spent the whole night making approximately 2,000 Schutzpasses before 6 a.m. They were all completed and personally delivered to the women in time to save their lives . . .
“Of the 120,000 Jews in Hungary that survived, Raoul Wallenberg, acting under the War Refugee Board, is personally credited with saving an estimated 100,000 of them in a six-month period.”
The Liska Dynasty
Raoul Wallenberg saved the Liska Chassidishe dynasty. Today’s Liska Rebbe is Rabbi Zvi Hersh Friedlander. He is the son of Rabbi Yoizef Friedlander, zt’l (1918–1971), late Liska Rebbe, who survived the Holocaust through the work of Raoul Wallenberg. Rabbi Yoizef emigrated to the United States in 1947, and established the Liska Beis Medrash in Boro Park. He tragically passed away at a relatively young age in 1971, and was interred on Har Hamenuchos adjacent to the Belzer Rebbe, zt’l; he was the son of Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Friedlander, zt’l, Hy’d (1874–1944), Liska Rebbe and author of Sharei Hayosher, who was murdered in the Holocaust; son of Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, zt’l (1840–1904), Liska Rebbe and author of Tal Chaim; son-in-law of Rabbi Zvi Hersh Friedman, zt’l (1790–1874), founding Liska Rebbe and author of Ach Pri Tevuah.
I am proud to have Moish Holczer, Esq., as my son-in-law. He is married to my daughter, Bracha, and they are the parents of Esti, Shmuli, Yehuda, and Dovid. Moish’s grandmother was Rebbetzin Shaindel née Blumenthal, a’h (1914–2003). She was married to Rabbi Dov Ber Holczer, zt’l (1910–2009), rav of the Akacfa Street Shul in Budapest. Escaping Hungary in 1956, Rabbi Holczer served as the Chief Rabbi of Stockholm. Immigrating to the United States in 1958, he served as rosh yeshiva in Vienner Yeshiva in Williamsburg. Throughout the German invasion of Hungary, Rebbetzin Holczer, along with Rabbi Holczer’s mother and sister, remained in Budapest throughout the war. They obtained Shutzpasses (protective passports) from Raoul Wallenberg that allowed them to stay in a protected house in Budapest.
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Updated October 24, 2013]