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A Tribute to Raoul Wallenberg by Palko Forgacz

Palko Forgacz was the son of one of Raoul Wallenberg’s closest co-workers. Only eighteen years old at the time, Palko presented this tribute in Budapest on June 26, 1946, at a public gathering to honor Raoul Wallenberg. 


Raoul Wallenberg had a unique lifestyle. He spoke German in a strange way like a kind of jargon American businessmen would speak. But it suited him in a peculiar way, just as his windbreaker did, and his soft felt hat or, later, his gray steel helmet and sleeping bag. His way of talking gave one a feeling of temporariness, as if to emphasize that what was happening was only an episode, a temporary stop, these things which were for us an extreme danger, the last battle. He felt disdainful joy toward risk and adventure, and had a strong feeling for good sportsmanship. That attitude showed traces of his having been in America and Africa, without his mentioning it.

Most people didn’t understand him. His co-workers, even the most tireless of them, fought their own battles for their friends, for their fellow human beings. They were forced to fight because they only had two choices: fight or die. But why did Wallenberg fight? What drove him to Budapest, halfway across the globe, from a completely different life, to this murderous, apocalyptic confusion? What voice called him? It was the voice of his own conscience, a power which had existed in everyone’s heart but which disappeared long ago, except in his heart. He was a wandering knight, pure and unafraid, a reincarnation of the dragon-killer of old who unhesitantly went to battle for superhuman ideals, the true, irreproachable idealist. Unlike the heroes of old, he let his pathos speak through action. The role of hero both attracted and irritated him, as he lacked the hardness of the old-time heroes. Every expression of rawness was foreign to him.

In him you found sympathy. In the besieged city where his life was in danger, he once left his car in order to examine a horse wounded by shrapnel in its death throes by the side of the road. He was a crusader, but of a new kind, for he loved everyone. He feared danger and despised it and yet overcame his fear because he wanted to defeat danger. He was more of a hero than the heroes of old, more like a worthy successor to the apostles. He did good for the sake of good. He never made any demands and never expected any thanks for what he did. He knew that people are weak and miserable, but he did not want to make them better. He only wanted to help them. Once, when a German soldier burst into tears while standing before the Swedish legation and asked for his help, he hesitated to refuse him. He said, “After all, this person is a human being like everyone else.” He knew that his opponents in the Hungarian Quisling government wanted him dead but still he negotiated with them. He knew that these men could, at any time, break their agreements, but he played by the rules, not because of naiveté, but because of honor.

He was completely involved in his work. He likes to be physically active round the clock. He ate cold canned foods or dry bread in the bomb shelter, sitting in the corner in his dirty, oily windbreaker. And despite the dirt, he always gave the impression of being dressed up. The atmosphere surrounding him spread to his fellow workers and enchanted them. In the middle of all this hopeless filth, in a hostel or in the wet and dark cellars, he conveyed thoughts of the West, of Sweden, where people seemed to live a clean life, where a person was still a person. Those whom he protected felt this magical power – those refugees who were fleeing from the gendarmes’ raids, desperately seeking protection from Sweden; those lost souls whose suffering sometimes broke down the last remains of civilization. People suffering the utmost anguish suddenly became calm in his presence and collected themselves, not because they were calculating or because they held him in awe – he never looked for respect – but only because they felt the presence of an uncompromising spirit, a fearless and irreproachable person who would not recoil even at the threat of death. He considered it his duty to fight for someone else’s cause, fight for an idea which perhaps he was aware of but only felt in his heart, an idea which perhaps was embodied in only one person in the whole city, Raoul Wallenberg.

He demanded complete self-sacrifice from both himself and his co-workers and still the role of hero was completely remote to him. He went out to the border stations to get those people he was protecting back from the German convoys. In the middle of the winter without wearing a winter coat, unarmed he went to the nest of the fascists. He dared and he succeeded. The waves of the war lifted him. Every action he took made him grow as a man, every danger he faced made him braver. But in the end, these waves took him with them, only one step away from victory.

Wallenberg disappeared. He appeared and disappeared before the eyes of the people he had saved, just as the heroes of the legends. He did what he had to do, saved thousands of people and vanished after he had completed his mission. He brought back the belief that there has existed and will exist people who selflessly cast themselves in the way of the powers of evil to protect the unprotected. There will always be heroes and knights who come, battle and disappear, pure and uncompromising. That was the lesson Raoul Wallenberg gave us.1

Citations

  • 1 : Palko Forgacz, A tribute presented in Budapest, June 26, 1946, The Raul Wallenberg Committee of the United States website, .

Connection Questions

  1. According to Forgacz, what drove Wallenberg to act the way he did?
  2. What words stand out for you when you read Palko Forgacz’s tribute to Wallenberg? What kind of images does the author try to evoke? List those images and descriptive terms. Taken together, what sort of man do they portray?
  3. Pick one of the stories Forgacz tells about Wallenberg. Why does Forgacz tell that story? What does it say about Wallenberg?
  4. Forgacz writes: “Wallenberg disappeared. He appeared and disappeared before the eyes of the people he had saved, just as the heroes of the legends.” What does the author try to convey in this sentence? Do you find this description of Wallenberg as a legendary hero useful? 

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