State did nothing to save Jews, says Shatter
THE GOVERNMENT in the 1940s did nothing to oppose the extermination of the Jews in Europe, Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter said yesterday.
He also warned that the international community today had to stand up to those such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran who not only denied the Holocaust but were actively seeking to destroy the state of Israel.
Opening a conference to mark the centenary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved more than 50,000 Hungarian Jews from the death camps, the Minister said there were many who did nothing in the face of the industrialised genocide and destruction of European Jewish civilisation.
“Indeed the Irish government of the day sat on its hands. And even after the death camps were liberated, the Irish government denied Jews refuge in Ireland. To those who asked ‘What could I have done?’, the answer must be, ‘Look at what Raoul Wallenberg did’.”
Mr Shatter said the international community could have impeded the Holocaust had it acted in time but states neither spoke up nor acted against the mass murder. “Hitler and his henchmen always felt reassured that they could act with impunity when the international community kept silent in the face of Nazi outrages. Silence was interpreted as acquiescence. Thus acquiescence helped evil to flourish.”
He quoted Martin Luther King, who said: “The greatest tragedy of this generation which history will record is not the vitriolic words of those who hate, or the aggressive acts of others, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
The Minister told the conference, which took place in Trinity College Dublin, that anti-Semitism was not the exclusive property of fascism. “In the extremities of their sweeping arcs, right-wing extremism, left-wing extremism and religious fundamentalism intersect in their readiness to spread this lethal prejudice.
“Iran’s president Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened a nuclear holocaust against Israel while denying the Shoah. Moreover, modern anti-Semitism obsessively singles out Israel for disproportionate forms of condemnation that barely conceal a denial of Israel’s right to exist.”
Mr Shatter said it was a severe indictment of the international legal and political order that President Bashar al-Assad remained in power in Syria and was able to engage in the mass murder of Syrian people with impunity.
“It is morally absurd that Ahmadinejad still rules Iran, an active denier of the Shoah who has promised to use nuclear missiles to turn Israel to smoke and ash. And the silence of so many of the non-aligned states in the face of his threats must surely undermine their moral authority to speak on important issues of international concern,” said Mr Shatter.
The Minister recalled how Wallenberg, who came from a Swedish banking dynasty, responded to the invitation to go to Hungary on a special diplomatic mission in 1944 to save as many Jews as possible.
“Raoul Wallenberg had the option to sit out World War Two safe in neutral Sweden. But for him not to act against the genocidal evil would have been passively to accept that evil. For him, omitting to act would itself have amounted to the wrongful action of acquiescence. So he answered yes when he was asked to go to Budapest. He could not be a bystander to evil.”
As the Red Army advanced, Wallenberg left Budapest to meet it and brief commanders on what to expect when they entered the city. He was never seen again and is presumed to have died in Russian custody. “His unlawful, forced disappearance was itself a crime against humanity,” Mr Shatter added.
RAOUL WALLENBERG: HERO OF HOLOCAUST
RAOUL WALLENBERG was a Swedish architect and businessman who went on a special diplomatic assignment to Hungary in 1944 in order to save as many Jewish lives as possible. Wallenberg was born in 1912 to a comfortable banking family. He was approached by a humanitarian organisation, who asked him to go to Hungary, where Jews were being rounded up and sent to the death camps.
Sweden gave him a diplomatic passport and appointed him as legion secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest. In July 1944 he arrived in Budapest with 650 protective passports for Jews. He developed a special protective Swedish passport – the Schutzpass – whose avowed purpose was to render the holder immune to deportation. This action saved about 20,000 Jews.
With US money he rented 30 buildings. He designated them “extraterritorial buildings”, under a Swedish flag, to give their residents safe houses. He placed some 35,000 Jews in these buildings. He also stopped the Nazis from massacring some 50,000 Jews.
Israel declared Wallenberg a Righteous Gentile, a term from rabbinical Judaism used to describe non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews.
THE FOLLOWING IS THE FULL TEXT OF ALAN SHATTER'S SPEECH
Opening remarks at the Conference "Man Amidst Inhumanity" marking the centennial of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, 12 September 2012, 9.15-9.30 am.
Ambassadors, Dr Apor, ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you for your gracious invitation and warm welcome.
I compliment the Centre for European Studies, the Embassy of Hungary, the Embassy of Israel and the Embassy of Sweden on your making this important conference possible. And I am delighted to be here.
The 4th of August last marked the centenary of Raoul Wallenberg's birth, in Lidingo Municipality, which is to the east of Stockholm in Sweden.
Today, your conference "Man Amidst Inhumanity" celebrates the moral and physical courage of Raoul Wallenberg - one of the Righteous among the Nations — who saved some 100,000 Hungarian Jews from the Shoah.
For every person who takes the equal dignity of human beings seriously, the life of Raoul Wallenberg has a distinct moral and ethical significance. He was a true modern moral hero.
To grasp what he accomplished, our starting point is 1944. President Roosevelt asked the United States War Refugee Board to help save the Jews of Hungary from threatened mass murder by the Nazis. The War Refugee Board then asked its representative in Sweden, Iver Olsen, to find a person to do the work.
The Board’s offices in Sweden were in the same building as the trading firm where Raoul Wallenberg worked. Wallenberg’s boss, Kalman Lauer, who was a Hungarian Jew, recommended him. And he was offered the job.
By this time, the Nazis had destroyed every other Jewish Community in occupied Europe. Even though he knew that Germany was losing the war, Lieutenant-Colonel Adolf Eichmann had arrived in Hungary resolved to murder every single Jew there.
Eichmann organised daily transports of 10,000 to 12,000 Jews to the death camps. In those camps, as Eli Wiesel says, there were only two sorts of people: those who were there to murder and those who were there to be murdered.
More than 400,000 Hungarian Jews from rural Hungary had been forcibly transferred to the death camps. Most of them were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Their suitcases with their names, their glasses, their hair, their clogs, their round bowls, still attest to their murders.
There were 230,000 Jews still in Budapest. Born to privilege - he was the child of a banking family — Raoul Wallenberg had the option to sit out World War Two safe in neutral Sweden.
But for him not to act against the genocidal evil would have been passively to accept that evil. For him, omitting to act would itself have amounted to the wrongful action of acquiescence.
So he answered "yes" when he was asked to go to Budapest. He could not be a bystander to evil.
Sweden gave him a diplomatic passport and appointed him as Legion Secretary at the Swedish Legation in Budapest. In July 1944, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest with 650 protective passports for Jews who had links with Sweden. The Swedish Legation had already been issuing provisional passports and certificates to Jews with links to Sweden.
Wallenberg immediately began to expand the rescue operation. He set up an office and ultimately employed over 300 Jews to run it. He told them that they should remove their yellow stars because they had Swedish diplomatic protection.
He developed a special protective Swedish passport - the Schutzpass - whose avowed purpose was to render the holder immune to deportation. This action saved about 20,000 Jews.
With American money, he rented some 30 buildings. He designated them "extraterritorial buildings" under a Swedish flag to give their residents safe houses. He placed some 35,000 Jews in these buildings.
As the Soviet army approached Budapest, the Nazis intensified their assaults on Budapest's Jews. Helped by local Hungarian Nazis, they organised their units around the Jewish ghetto for the purpose of carrying out a massacre. Wallenberg directly confronted the Nazi commander, warning him that if he authorised the massacre, Wallenberg would ensure that he was prosecuted after the war for crimes against humanity. The commander cancelled the assault. Wallenberg's actions helped to save over 50,000 Jews.