Section 168-a, Article 7, New York Executive Law provides for days of commemoration in recognition and special honor of a person, persons, ideal or goal. These days are determined by proclamation of the Governor or resolution of the Senate and Assembly jointly adopted.
We are now mid way through Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 – October 15, 2011. This commemoration by proclamation of Governor Andrew Cuomo, mirrors a federal proclamation of the same name. There are several commemorative days in October in addition to the holiday of Columbus Day celebrated on Monday, October 10, 2011, this year. Many people have no knowledge of these commemorative days, because they are often forgotten after the initial fanfare is over. Let’s face the facts, they are not official holidays that garner a day off from work! Those people tend to remember.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011, is officially Raoul Wallenberg Day in New York State. This Swedish Diplomat was responsible for saving thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.
Raoul Wallenberg was born in Sweden on August 4, 1912, the son of a Naval Officer who came from a family of Sweden’s most famous bankers and industrialists. His father died just 3 months before his birth. His mother Maj Wising Wallenberg, remarried Fredrik von Dardel in 1918. Raoul’s grandfather, Gustav Wallenberg paid for his education which included studying architecture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where he graduated with honors in 1935. Returning to Sweden with no job, his grandfather sent him to South Africa to sell building materials. Not satisfied with that job, his grandfather gave him a job in one of the family owned banks in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel).
In Palestine he met Jews that escaped Hitler’s Germany and was profoundly influenced by their stories. Having made several contacts in the business world he soon became joint owner of the Mid-European Trading Company which brought him through several Nazi occupied counties. In Hungary he learned of the concentration camps through eye-witness reports of Auchwitz. The Swedish legation in Budapest succeeded in negotiating with the Germans and issued protective passes that enabled Hungarian Jews to be treated as Swedish citizens.
In 1944 Raoul was soon appointed secretary of the US established War Refugee Board at the Swedish legation in Budapest. His mission was to rescue Jews. By the time he arrived in Hungary, Adolf Eichmann had already deported more than 400,000 Jews to concentration camps and only 230,00 Jews were left. Wallenberg began work issuing protective passes for the remaining Jews and creating protected “Swedish Houses” in Hungary. Through his unconventional efforts, thousands of lives were saved.
Raoul was eventually arrested by the Soviets and lost in the gulag. While the Russians claim he was executed July 17, 1947, there are many theories of what actually happened to him. In the 1990s information was released linking Wallenberg with the CIA and financing by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to rescue the Jews.
Following his presumed death, Raoul Wallenberg received many humanitarian honors, including being named an honorary citizen of the US in 1981. Wallenberg was the second person receiving this distinction since Winston Churchill. Five other honorary citizens have been named since.
In New York State, October 5, 2011, belongs to Raoul Wallenberg.