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US Government Rescue Efforts

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War Refugee Board Instructions for Raoul Wallenberg

WRB instructions for Raoul Wallenberg
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library

In July 1944, a Swedish businessman named Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest to assist Hungarian Jews. Wallenberg is remembered worldwide today for the actions he took rescuing Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Most famously, he distributed Swedish "safe-conduct" certificates to thousands of Jews in an effort to keep them from deportation and death. These documents stated that the bearer was under the protection of the Swedish government. Wallenberg had traveled to Budapest at the request of the War Refugee Board (WRB)—the US agency created in January 1944 to aid Jews during the Holocaust. This message contains the instructions the WRB gave Wallenberg in preparation for his work in Hungary.1

Sweden remained neutral during World War II, maintaining diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany and its collaborators. After German forces invaded Hungary in March 1944, the WRB asked five neutral European countries with embassies in Hungary—Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey—to consider increasing their diplomatic staff and spreading them throughout Hungary. The WRB hoped that these diplomats could act as a deterrent to deportations and murders, or at least as witnesses to German and Hungarian crimes. Sweden was the only neutral country that agreed to the United States' request. Swedish officials allowed the WRB's representative in Stockholm to choose a new Swedish diplomat who would focus on aiding Hungarian Jews.

The WRB staff in Washington made it clear that Wallenberg was permitted to bribe officials to "motivate action impeding, relaxing or slowing down tempo of persecution and facilitate escapes and concealment." The WRB placed $50,000 in an account to be provided for Wallenberg if he found that a bribe or payment might save lives. The WRB staff also suggested that Wallenberg pay sailors to sneak Jews onto ships sailing down the Danube River, or pay railway workers to disrupt train transport from Budapest.

The War Refugee Board staff also provided Wallenberg with a list of names of Hungarians who might be of assistance to him, along with brief descriptions. These descriptions show that the WRB staff learned much of this information from sources who may or may not have been trustworthy.2 Wallenberg's rescue work depended greatly on reliable support from neutral countries' diplomats and Hungarian connections. It was also fraught with danger—if sources' information proved inaccurate, his work could end quickly.3

The cable was sent through the US State Department and signed by US Secretary of State Cordell Hull, but it was authored entirely by the WRB.

Relying on these contacts would have been risky for Wallenberg. Dr. Jeno Bozoky, for instance, was "said to be a lawyer who for a number of years very skillfully played the role of an ardent Nazi and anti-Semite, with the objective of helping distressed or endangered Jews and liberals."

Many questions about Wallenberg's fate remain unanswered. He was detained by Soviet agents on January 17, 1945, soon after Soviet forces occupied Budapest, and thereafter he disappeared without a trace. On December 22, 2000, the Russian prosecutor's office issued a formal statement acknowledging that Wallenberg was held in a Soviet prison as a so-called "socially dangerous" person for two and a half years before he died. This statement followed one by Alexander Yakovlev, the Russian official appointed to investigate the Wallenberg affair, who stated in November 2000 that Wallenberg had been executed in 1947. However, since the Russians further indicated that all records relating to Wallenberg's arrest have been destroyed, no evidence of his imprisonment or death apparently exists. For more on Wallenberg, see Ingrid Carlberg, Raoul Wallenberg, New York: MacLehose Press, 2016.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library
Accession Number War Refugee Board papers, Box 41, folder “Hungary (Volume 2 A- C) (Folder C)
Date Created
July 7, 1944
Author / Creator
War Refugee Board
Washington, DC
Budapest, Hungary
Document Type Letter
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