THE TELEPHONE RANG and the caller said I should write something aoubt Raoul Wallenberg. She said that he remains alive in the Soviet Union, maybe jailed in the Gulug, but that he lives and that a member of Congress would try to make Wallenberg an honorary citizen and then we, the United States, could approach the Russians and ask what they have done with Raoul Wallenberg. They would say he died. But he lives, the caller says, her lives.
He has been seen several times after he was supposed to be dead. He was seen in a Russian prision and in a mental institution and people who later were freed from Soviet prisons said they saw him -- said they knew of a Swede named Wallenberg. They said he lives. They said Raoul Wallenberg lives.
Raoul Wallenberg was a rich Swede, educated as an architect but a banker by profession, who during World War II went into the heart of Nazi Europe to do what he could to rescue Jews. He rescued some of them. He could not, of course, rescue most of them, but there are people alive today because of what Raoul Wallenberg did.
He was a hero. He was a brave man. He went up against the most evil regime in all history and he did it not because he was trapped, caught in some circumstance not of his own making -- a Jew in Poland or a Gypsy in Romania or a Jehovah's Witness in Belgium -- but because he chose to. He came from a neutral country, Sweden, and went to Hungary to risk his life saving the lives of others.
The pictures show a handsome man -- aristocratic features, soft looks. The pictures cannot show you what went on inside his head, show he decided to do what he did, but you know he had to realize that he was just one man and the enemies were many. You know, too, that he must have said something about how sometimes you have to proclaim your humanity, do what you have to do even though you have to do it alone. This point is sometimes lost.
In Cleveland recently, a man was tried on the charge of lying about his past when he was admitted to this country. He was alleged to have been an extermination camp guard whose sadism and cruelty stood out even in a place where sadism was routine. The inmates called this man Ivan the Terrible but his neighbors say that that beast could not be the man they know.
The man they know is a nice man. The man they know respects the law. The man they know goes to church and mows his lawn and is kind to children. The man they know could never commit crimes like those he is accused of. But what they don't know, what they could not tell you, is whether a man like this could kill when the government says that killing is not a crime, but a civic obligation. The difference between such a man and a man like Wallenberg is the entire span of human history and we can measure one by the other.
At the end of the war, the Russians came for Wallenberg. Actually, he went looking for them to greet them as an ally. The Russians arrested him as a spy and put him in prison and when people asked, they said he was dead. They said he had been killed by the Nazis and then later, when people came forward to say that they had seen him, the Russians said that there had been some sort of mistake. The Nazis had not killed him after all. He had died in the Lubyanka prison, Moscow. The date was July 17, 1947. Sorry for the mistake, but no matter. He was dead, that was for sure.
But even after he was supposed to be dead for sure, he was seen. Even after the second announcement of his death, he was glimpsed in the Gulag -- a figure in the snow, a character out of Salzhenitsyn, a saint in that frozen hell of a place where Russia hides its soul.
By now, Wallenberg would be 68. By now, his hair wold be gray or gone and his features would be different and . . . who knows what 35 years of prison have done. By now, of course, there is a good chance that he is really dead and there is little chance that the Soviets, if they keep his still, would admit it, free him and humiliate themselves to the world.
For this reason, I told the person on the phone it was probably pointless to write about Wallenberg. She listened and then she started to tell again what Raoul Wallenberg had done. Her message was clear: You have an obligation to do something and you do what you can. This, I suppose, was the message of Raoul Wallenberg.
This is why he lives