The Raoul Wallenberg Vegan Retreat is named after the inspiring World War II hero who gave his all to save the helpless innocent victims of cruel oppression. 


Raoul Wallenberg is credited with saving 100,000 innocent lives during World War II.  He did this as a Swedish Diplomat representing the American War Refugee Board.  He was unarmed and always at great personal risk.  He ultimately perished as a result of his actions.  Wallenberg is remembered all over the world, and often referred to as the Righteous Gentile.


The Wallenberg family was the backbone of the Swedish economy in the 20th century with interests in banking, manufacturing, and other industries.  The Wallenberg brothers, Marcus and Jacob, ran the family empire.  Gustav Wallenberg, Raoul’s Father was their first cousin.  Gustav died of cancer in his early 20’s.  His wife, Mai, was pregnant with Raoul.  Raoul Wallenberg was born to a widow, and raised by his Mother and Maternal Grandmother until he was six years old.  He was lavished with love.  When Raoul was six, Mai married Frederick Von Dardel, a Stockholm Physician.  This ultimately gave Raoul a half brother and a half sister.  Raoul’s paternal Grandfather became his mentor and oversaw his education and career choices.


Raoul Wallenberg left his native Sweden to attend college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied Architecture.  He finished the five year program in four years, and when he graduated, he was awarded the Outstanding Student of the Year award.  This was even though he was a foreign student not studying in his native tongue, and finishing the program a year early.


Upon returning to Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg entered an architectural competition.  He won second place, with Sweden’s leading architect of the day winning the first place.  Raoul was unable to find employment as an architect.  Because World War II had already started in Europe, even in neutral Sweden, building had stopped.  Grandfather Wallenberg decided that Raoul needed some experience.  He arranged for Raoul to work for a Hungarian import / export firm owned by a Hungarian, Kalmon Lauer, in Stockholm.  In this capacity, Raoul traveled all over Europe and to then Palestine.  He saw first hand the mass exodus of Jews into Palestine, and the cattle cars filled with people in Europe.


Meantime, some concentration camp inmates managed to escape and were able to get word to their relatives in the United States about what was going on in Europe.  Their relatives went to Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthal, who was Jewish.  He in turn went to President Roosevelt, and together they came up with an idea to help rescue Europe’s remaining Jewish population.  President Roosevelt set up the American Was Refugee Board with funds from U.S. tax payer dollars and contributions from wealthy American Jews.  The head of the OSS (forerunner of the CIA), Iverson was also put in charge of the American War Refugee Board.  Since it was impossible for an American to go behind enemy lines and rescue the refugees, Iverson went to all the neutral nations to find a secret representative for the American War Refugee Board.


All the neutral nations refused for fear of reprisals from the Nazis should they become occupied.  All refused except Sweden.  Sweden played the unique position of dealing with both the Allies and the Axis.  Sweden is a large country with a then small population.  It was undefendable by brute force, so it had to rely on this method for survival.  Marcus Wallenberg did business with one side, while his brother, Jacob Wallenberg did business with the other.  Swedish ball bearings, were needed by both sides, and probably the single source of Sweden’s ability to be ‘neutral’.  Sweden collaborated with both sides.


Iverson came to Stockholm, and the Swedish government quickly agreed to his request.  Iverson then met with Swedish businessmen, Jewish leaders, and others.  He explained the situation, and asked for suggestions for a Representative for the American War Refugee Board.  Kalmon Lauer, present at the meeting, recommended the architect, Raoul Wallenberg.  Wallenberg accepted immediately.  He had no intention of going into the family banking business and saying ‘no’ all day.  He must have intuitively know that he was destined to make a difference.


As the Nazis marched east across Europe, the Russians marched west.  They both converged on Hungary.  When Raoul Wallenberg accepted the job of representing the American War Refugee Board, the Hungarian countryside had already lost all of its Jewish population.  Budapest was then the only remaining Jewish community in Europe.  Raoul Wallenberg was made a “Swedish Diplomat “, which was believable with his famous last name, and attached to the Swedish Legation in Budapest.


Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest with a lone backpack, and a plan to save as many Jews as possible.  Any escape from surrounded Budapest was impossible.  It was necessary to keep refugees in Budapest safely.  Using U.S. taxpayer money from the American War Refugee Board, Wallenberg purchased apartment buildings, which then flew the Swedish flag, and were called “Safe Houses”.  He started soup kitchens, and with the contacts supplied by Kalmon Lauer, received donations of food, medicine, blankets, and other necessities. 


Using an Architect’s creativity, Wallenberg devised a ‘shutzpasse’ (safe pass), which bestowed neutral Swedish ‘citizenship’ upon the bearer.  These were official looking documents, much like a passport, with the bearer’s photo and the official three Swedish crowns.  These had no backing in international law, but were readily accepted by the occupied Hungarian Government.


The overthrown Hungarian ruler, Horthy, was anxious to find a way to stop the deportation of Hungarian citizens by the Nazis.  Although the Hungarians were considered by some to be anti-Semitic, they did not want to go as far as to let their Jews to be deported to a cruel fate.  The idea of Safe Passes was so successful that Raoul Wallenberg convinced other neutral Legations such as the Swiss and the Papal Nuncio to issue their own as well.  Wallenberg had permission from Horthy to issue hundreds.  He issued thousands.  The Swedish Legation was busy day and night issuing these safe passes.


Still the deportations to almost certain death continued.  Usually this was done at night when the general population in Budapest was asleep and unaware.  From the network of informants Wallenberg established, he was always notified of a deportation.  He arrived at the rail station while it was in progress.  Non-commissioned Nazis who neither spoke Hungarian, nor had a firm idea of what was going on, performed the night work while their superiors slept.  These soldiers did not give orders, but followed them.


Wallenberg would arrive in an official Diplomatic car with the Swedish flags flying.  He lost no time in telling the Nazis in charge of the deportations that they had no right to take Swedish citizens.  Wallenberg demanded their release from the trains.  He ordered people to come out of the cattle cars by telling them he remembered them, and asked for their applications for safe passes.  Survivors interviewed later told of not knowing what to do at that moment.  Instinctively they realized wherever they were going could not be good, and this was a chance to escape.  They came off the cattle cars.  Wallenberg demanded their applications, and instinctively knowing this may be their only chance for survival, the passengers to Auschwitz emptied their pockets.  Their papers were in Hungarian, and could not be deciphered by the young Nazi soldiers.  Wallenberg confirmed that was the application, and ordered them onto his waiting trucks.


On the other side of the cattle cars, out of sight of the Nazis, Wallenberg’s helpers put safe passes in the hands protruding through openings, and those “Swedish Citizens” joined the others in Wallenberg’s trucks.  By the time the Nazis on duty were able to contact their sleeping Commanders to confirm Wallenberg’s authority, Wallenberg, the trucks, and the passengers were gone. 


A brick factory outside of Budapest became a holding place for those who were going to be deported. It was an open-air facility where people were held captive in frigid winter.  Guards treated the detainees horrifically.  Music played loudly to conceal the screams of individuals being tortured to reveal where they had hidden their valuables.  According to survivors, many individuals were overcome with hopelessness, and a feeling of being less than human, in addition to the effects of hunger, torture, and winter cold.  People wrote the names of those being detained in the brick factory on small pieces of paper, rolled them up, and threw them out when guards were not looking. 


Courageous Christian children came out to play so close to the brick factory that they could find these papers on the ground.  At any given moment, these children could have been shot dead by the guards, and they knew it.  They risked their lives to find these papers, and these names were given to Wallenberg.  Again the car with the Swedish flags flying arrived.  Wallenberg announced through a megaphone that the Swedish citizens must be released.  Survivors interviewed later recalled that hearing his voice made them feel human again.  Wallenberg had a long list of names, and again left with his “Swedish citizens”.       


The “new regime” of Nazi occupied Hungary released criminals from prison and recruited them as Gendarmes.  These Nazi sympathizers joined in the chaos and violence, which had become every day life in Budapest.  The Gendarmes escalated the calculated, systematic violence characteristic of the occupiers to unprecedented levels.  Often drunk, these sadistic Gendarmes perpetrated random, bizarre violent acts.


Jews were told to climb up into trees and sing like birds.  They were shot down.  Jews were taken into torture basements and made to clean toilets with their tongues.  They were taken to the banks of the Danube, tied in threes, and pushed into the river.  The center person was shot dead.  The other two drowned after being pulled down by the dead weight.  Wallenberg had divers out of sight on the banks of the Danube, who swam out and rescued the drowning people.  Wallenberg also entered the torture basements, unarmed, and demanded the release of his “citizens”.


Adolph Eichmann, the arch nemesis of Raoul Wallenberg, tried constantly to eliminate this obstruction to his plans to carry out the “Final Solution”.  Raoul Wallenberg’s car was constantly being run off the road.  Although it would have been a diplomatic breech for a Swedish Diplomat to be murdered by a Nazi officer, an ‘accident’ would not have been questioned.  Wallenberg slept in a different location whenever he managed to get a few hours sleep.  He worked feverishly to save lives.


Although Wallenberg and Eichmann were diametrically opposed to each other, there was an occasion of dialogue.  Wallenberg invited Eichmann to dinner.  Eichmann was flattered to receive an invitation from an upper class aristocratic member of society, especially given his lowly civilian background.  He readily accepted.  Wallenberg secured the use of an elegant apartment, with the finest tableware and provisions.  After dinner, Raoul Wallenberg went to the window and pulled back the curtains showing Eichmann the red glare of the advancing Russian Army artillery fire. 


As it became apparent that the War was ending, rail transportation for deportations was no longer available.  All available transport was needed for the failing war effort.  Eichmann overcame this by instituting marches, which became known as ‘Death Marches’, from Budapest to the Hungarian border.  From there he could arrange transportation to Auschwitz for those remaining alive after the march.  Many died on these marches from brutality, exposure, injuries, illness and exhaustion.  Their bodies were left on the side of the road in the snow.  Raoul Wallenberg rescued people from death marches, again, demanding the return of his ‘Swedish citizens’.  He gave them food, blankets, and transportation back to Budapest.  One surviving mother returned to her children in Budapest too exhausted to say anything but the one word, “Wallenberg”. 


The end of the War was rapidly approaching, fueling the obsession to destroy the remaining Jewish population concentrated in a ghetto similar to the one in Warsaw.  Tanks were brought in with orders to prepare to destroy the ghetto as had been done in Warsaw.  Raoul Wallenberg was notified.  Wallenberg called General Schmitthuber, the commanding officer responsible for giving the order to destroy the ghetto.  Wallenberg told Schmitthubber that if he gave that order, Wallenberg would personally see that Schmitthuber was tried as a war criminal after the war.  The tanks were withdrawn.


The Russian Army occupied Budapest.  Loyal Nazis retreated overnight.  Among those Nazis remaining were Wucter and Martin, the first names of an Officer and his Assistant.  These two had personally hidden many Jewish families, among them Susan Bender of Great Neck, NY.  They were left behind to be dealt with by the Russians.    No efforts by the grateful families could do anything to change their fate.  Budapest was an inferno.


The occupying Russian troops did a house to house search in Budapest.  Terror reigned for all the citizens of Budapest, especially its women.  No person or animal was exempt from the horror.  The diplomats were brought to Moscow for questioning under orders from a paranoid Joseph Stalin.  Wallenberg and his driver, Karl Lagerfeld, whose hidden camera recorded much of what happened, were taken to the infamous Lubianka prison in Moscow. 


At the close of World War II, Raoul Wallenberg was personally credited with saving the lives of 100,000 people.  Many of them were saved more than once.  This occurred during the six-month period from August 1944, when Wallenberg arrived in Budapest, to January 17, 1945, the day he was taken into Russian captivity.  He was 33 years old.


During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the captured Diplomats returned home.  Raoul Wallenberg was not among them.  The then Soviet Union was annexing much of Europe, and Sweden did not press its powerful neighbor.  The American War Refugee Board died with President Roosevelt.  Wallenberg’s whereabouts remained a mystery for many years with much speculation and sensationalism surrounding his disappearance.


In the 1980’s during the thaw in the Cold War, Gorbachev initiated Glastnost and Perestroika, and the Berlin Wall collapsed.  Several American  Legislative Resolutions to seek the release of Wallenberg’s prison records, and ultimately an impartial investigation of his whereabouts, were undertaken at the request of Sharon Wallenberg.  It was finally determined that Raoul Wallenberg had indeed perished in Soviet prison at the age of 35, which the Soviets had claimed.


Raoul Wallenberg’s legacy of courage, compassion, determination, and imagination continue to serve as an inspiration for us all.  The street across from the United Nations Headquarters in New York is dedicated to him.  There is a monument to him at 47th Street and First Avenue, the northern end of the U.N. campus in New York.  Fresh flowers can still be seen there on most days.  Raoul Wallenberg is remembered in schools, parks, streets, monuments and statues all over the world, as well as by those he saved and those he inspired.  One person can make a difference.