‘What can one man do?’

‘What can one man do?’

Remembering the extraordinary WWII rescuer Raoul Wallenberg

The view through the monument shows the people gathered to honor Raoul Wallenberg.
The view through the monument shows the people gathered to honor Raoul Wallenberg.

The 13-foot bronze sculpture, titled “Courage and Compassion,” takes on the form of a twisted heart, which might be seen as either broken or healing.

The outdoor memorial in Parsippany is dedicated to the extraordinary heroism of Raoul Wallenberg. The young Swedish architect and diplomat, at great risk to his own life, saved the lives of nearly 100,000 Hungarian Jews from Nazi concentration camps before he was abducted off the street near Budapest.   His death at 34 during the closing months of World War II is widely believed to have been at the hands of Soviet jailers.

Local Jews and members of the interfaith community have gathered formally since 2018 at the entrance of Smith Field Park to commemorate Mr. Wallenberg on his birthday.

The Holocaust rescuer would have turned 110 years old on August 4. Because of Tisha B’Av, the recognition ceremony will take place 1 p.m. Sunday, July 31.

The annual event is officially recognized through a township proclamation by the mayor’s office of Parsippany-Troy Hills. Adath Shalom Synagogue, a Conservative shul in Parsippany-Troy Hills, sponsors the event and invites interfaith leaders and other representatives to speak.

“Raoul Wallenberg was so compassionate to people that he didn’t know,” said Meyer Rosenthal, a semi-retired lawyer and chair of the Adath Shalom Holocaust Education Committee. “He just went out of his way to issue Swedish diplomatic documents and set up safe houses for Jews in Budapest and he did it at the peril of his own life. They otherwise would have been sent as prisoners to Auschwitz and Treblinka.”

Last year, Rabbi Moshe Rudin of Adath Shalom, Sue Rosenthal, Meyer Rosenthal and then-Mayor Michael Soriano of Parsippany stood together.

In 1981,  Congress recognized Mr. Wallenberg as an honorary citizen of the United States for his remarkable humanitarian work.

“This is one of those people that needs to be remembered every single day,” said Rabbi Moshe Rudin of Adath Shalom, who also heads the Parsippany Interfaith Council. “In just a few months, he worked miracles.”

With the support of the World Jewish Congress and the American War Refugee Board, Mr. Wallenberg was sent to Budapest in July 1944 to help protect the 200,000 Jews who remained in the Nazi-occupied capital. He created a special Swedish passport, the schutz-pass and generously handed out official-looking documents that made Jews temporary residents of Sweden.

“The Nazis, strangely enough, kept their hands off of people who had diplomatic immunity,” Rabbi Rudin said. “By bluster and sleight of hand, Raoul basically said to the Nazis, ‘You’re going to lose the war. Cooperate with me and maybe when there are trials, they’ll go easy on you.’”

With money mostly raised for the War Refugee Board by American Jews, Wallenberg rented 32 buildings in Budapest, which he declared Swedish diplomatic facilities. He put up signs such as “The Swedish Library” and “The Swedish Research Institute” on their doors and hung oversized Swedish flags  out front to reinforce the deception. The buildings eventually housed almost 10,000 people.

At train stations, he would jump in front of guns aimed at Jews, to pull people off the deportation  cars, Rabbi Rudin said. “He would claim that everybody in the car is under the protection of the Swedish government. He would do unbelievable things.

In 2019, survivor Olga Menczer puts roses on the momument as Mayor MIchael Soriano looks on.

“Unfortunately, when the Russians rumbled into Budapest he was arrested by the KGB and never seen again,” Rabbi Rudin continued. “I’m getting choked up just talking about it. Whether he was sent from gulag to gulag or whether they took him out of Budapest and shot him somewhere. So all we have is this legend and the thousands and thousands of lives that could be saved, including a member of our synagogue.”

When Rabbi Rudin found out 10 years ago there was a local sculpture honoring Mr. Wallenberg since 1998, he would visit it privately, sitting at the foot of the statue with a single rose he brought. Every year he brought a few more people to the monument on Mr. Wallenberg’s birthday. The gatherings became known around the township and at the synagogue.

Muhammed Ali Chaudry, one of the founders of the New Jersey Interfaith Coalition, will speak at the hour-long ceremony this year. Mr. Chaudry is also president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge.

“Those who Raoul Wallenberg rescued were not people of his faith, but he went out of his way and risked everything,” Mr. Chaudry said. “I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that no matter who is suffering from hatred and bigotry, it is everyone’s obligation to do all they can to prevent that from happening and save people from suffering.”

Sculptor Edward M. Adams, Rabbi Rudin, and Clarence Curry, chair of the Morris County Human Relations Commission, also will speak at the commemoration.

“I’m now hoping other congregations get the message of Raoul Wallenberg,” Rabbi Rudin said.  “Ultimately, here is a guy with no skin in the game, so to speak. He had moral outrage. He saw what was happening. He saw the silence of the world as innocents were being slaughtered and said, ‘I cannot bear not to do something,’ and he showed up.

“What can one man do? Well, one man saved tens of thousands of people and I think that this is a message of standing up for people, acting out of a sense of moral justice and  moral outrage. Raoul’s hands are God’s hands.

“His message is still not being heard,” Rabbi Rudin continued. “With Ukraine and things going on in our country, with the unbelievable disunity, hate and selfishness and rising hate crimes, what is more important than remembering Raoul?”

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