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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
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tags: Auschwitz deportations money relief & rescue

type: Letter

Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman who arrived in Budapest in July 1944 to assist Hungarian Jews, is remembered worldwide today as a Holocaust rescuer. Most famously, he distributed Swedish 'safe-conduct' certificates to thousands of Jews in an effort to exempt them from deportation to labor and concentration camps." 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 work in Hungary.1

Sweden remained neutral during World War II, maintaining diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany and its collaborators. After the Germany 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. These new diplomats, the WRB believed, could act as a deterrent to deportations and murders, or as a witness to Nazi 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 thus depended 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, however it was authored entirely by the WRB.

Relying on information from these contacts would have been risky for Wallenberg: one 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 the Soviet forces occupied Budapest, and thereafter 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 "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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