During the last days of the Third Reich, the name Raoul Wallenberg meant salvation to thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Now the same name, etched on a simple wooden sign affixed this week to a house in Northwest Washington, will mean shelter to some of the city's homeless.
The Raoul Wallenberg House, a newly renovated three-story brick building on the corner of 14th and N streets NW, is the latest addition to a block-long "village" owned by Luther Place Memorial Church. On the block, about 2,000 people a week find food, clothing, medical care or other assistance--taking sustenance from what the pastor, the Rev. John Steinbruck, calls an "oasis in the urban asphalt desert."
Whoever moves into Raoul Wallenberg House--tentative plans call for several families to settle in by mid-April--will, in effect, be adopted by Steinbruck's congregation of 350. With the help of numerous other individuals and religious groups that have long supported the N Street Village, the families will stay until they are able once again to make it on their own.
The house was dedicated this past Sunday in ceremonies co-sponsored by Luther Place Church and the American Jewish Congress and attended by about 75 people, representatives of many faiths. They came to honor Wallenberg, the young Swede who bluffed or bribed his way past countless SS troops to save between 30,000 and 100,000 Hungarian Jews at the close of World War II. Wallenberg and his assistants issued thousands of Swedish passports to Jewish refugees and hid many in a network of "protected houses."
The occasion also marked the 37th anniversary of his arrest and disappearance at the hands of Soviet troops.
Some believe Wallenberg is still alive, possibly imprisoned somewhere in the vast tracts of the Gulag Archipelago. The Soviet Union says he died of a heart attack in 1947.
Following last Sunday's ceremonies, participants marched to the Soviet Embassy at 1115 16th St. NW to present a letter requesting Wallenberg's release or information about his whereabouts.
Steinbruck, who has made dozens of such trips in the past decade, said the group received "the standard rejection." As usual, Steinbruck said, the letter was not accepted and an "embassy spokesman said, 'I understand your problem' . . . but told us to go to the State Department . . . or use standard methods of communication, namely the mails . . . "
But for some in the heart of Washington, his name and the hope he offered, live on.