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Raoul Wallenberg Address, Canberra



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Raoul Wallenberg Address Australian National University

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

26 November 2012

May I begin with some words about Raoul Wallenberg from a Melbourne citizen, Professor Frank Vajda:

"I owe a debt to this man. I owe my life to this man. I owe my mother's life to this man. I honour him. How can you honour him other than by making people think, ask questions and remember."

Dr Vajda and his mother Maria had been among the many thousand Hungarian Jews saved by Raoul Wallenberg and the Swedish rescue operation in Budapest in the last months of 1944 and early 1945.

They had been issued with one of his famous fake passports in October 1944.

In the words I just quoted, Dr Vajda was explaining his part in establishing Australia's first memorial to Raoul Wallenberg. It's in Studley Park Road and Denmark Road, Melbourne.

A garden was dedicated by the Kew City Council in 1982, and a monument was erected there in 1985.

The Melbourne memorial has the proud distinction of having been the first memorial to Raoul Wallenberg outside Budapest.

The second Australian memorial is at Edgecliff Road and Queen Street Woollahra, Sydney. The memorial garden was dedicated also in 1985.

Then, in March 1989, the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, named a tree in Raoul Wallenberg's honour, in front of the new Parliament House.

1989 is a landmark year for Europe and the world and for the Wallenberg story.

It was only then, with the collapse of the Warsaw pact, and the glasnost period in the Soviet Union, that we began to learn something of the truth about his disappearance in January 1945.

In June 1989, Prime Minister Hawke laid a wreath at the memorial to Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest.

It had just been restored.

In 1949, forty years before, the regime had dismantled the monument, in the dead of night, on the very eve of its unveiling.

Now, in the nation's capital, we come to dedicate this memorial, marking the hundredth year since Raoul Wallenberg's birth.

I am deeply grateful to the Ambassadors of Hungary, Israel and Sweden. Our presence here today results from their joint initiative and invitation.

We come to remember and honour Raoul Wallenberg's courage and sacrifice.

In the words of the mission statement of the Wallenberg Committee of the United States: "to remind the world that the heroic actions of a single person have the power to make a difference".

We remember and honour his fellow Swedes from the legation, and the Red Cross, and the many Hungarians who risked everything to help them.

Let us remember and honour, too, the ten thousand men and women across Europe identified by the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem as "the righteous among the nations".

And in all these acts of remembrance, a special duty rests heavily upon us.

It's there in the words I quoted at the beginning

The duty to think and ask questions.

For Australians there's a question which goes to the very meaning of our existence as a nation of immigrants.

In July 1938, on the urging of President Roosevelt, the representatives of 32 nations including Australia, convened at Evian on the French Riviera, to discuss the plight of the Jewish refugees, now desperately worsened by the Anschluss, incorporating Austria into the Third Reich.

The utterly negative outcome of the Evian Conference was pre-determined.

The invitation to the Conference stated that "no country would be expected to receive a greater number of emigrants than is permitted by its existing legislation".

This was the cue for the Australian representative to assert that "Australia had no racial problems and didn't wish to import one".

All the more reprehensible, that this proposition should be put forward in Australia's name, in the light of our own highly positive Jewish experience.

In 1931, the commander-in-chief of the First A.I.F. in France, Sir John Monash, was buried with Jewish rites in Melbourne after the largest funeral ever held in Australia. A quarter of a million people, as many as a third of them ex-servicemen, lined the processional route.

In 1936, Sir Isaac Isaacs had completed his term as the first Australian-born Governor-General. Before that, he had been Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

Australia's biggest department store proudly proclaimed the name of its founder - Sidney Myer.

The Australian comic genius, Roy Rene, was at the height of its popularity.

Such was the standing of the Australian Jewish community in 1938.

The official stance at Evian demeaned Australia.

It was not even a legitimate expression of the egregious White Australia Policy.

I cannot help but reflect, with infinite sadness, what a difference Australia could have made at that time.

And what a difference, in terms of the enrichment of our national life, if we had stood up and welcomed 20,000 or 40,000 German and Austrian Jewish refugees.

 Before the war, before the holocaust. The most sinister aspect of Evian was the reaction in Berlin.

The SD - the Security Section of the SS - reported on the Conference.

The report singled out Australia as an example of the hypocrisy of the democracies: "It was remarkable" the SD report said "that the Australian delegate even maintained that Jewish emigration would endanger his own race1". And Hitler himself used the Evian fiasco to taunt the democracies in a speech at the Riechstag in September 1938 - two weeks before Munich and two months before Kristallnacht.

The Head of the Jewish Section of the SD in 1938 was Adolf Eichmann.

Six years later, Eichmann went to Budapest to plan and supervise the destruction of the Hungarian Jews. That was what brought Wallenberg to Budapest.

He volunteered to join the Swedish legation in Budapest to do what he could to thwart Eichmann's scheme to accelerate and complete the extermination of the Jews of Europe.

To this end, he pulled out every stop and broke every rule.

The distinguished Swedish diplomat Per Anger who was secretary of the Swedish legation with Wallenberg, has left this description of his style:

Wallenberg was a talented actor which was a big help in his clashes with the Nazis. He could be calm, humorous and warm, or aggressive and intimidating. He could flatter and bribe on occasion, and shout and threaten on another. The Nazis were impressed.

The last time Per Anger saw Wallenberg was 10 January 1945. Per Anger urged Wallenberg to seek safety.

Raoul Wallenberg replied:

"To me there's no other choice. I've accepted this assignment and I could not return to Stockholm without the knowledge that I'd done everything in human power to save as many Jews as possible".

One week later, Raoul Wallenberg contacted the advancing Soviet army and was arrested.

 A victim it would seem, of the suspicion and ill-will that was already developing between the West and the Soviet Union. He is thought to have perished in the Gulag in July 1947.

In one sense, we may see Raoul Wallenberg, who had done so much to save others, as an early casualty of the Cold War.

So tremendous and terrible tides of history bring us here today

 to honour, to remember

 and, I trust, to continue to ask questions which go to the heart of the human condition.

It is wholly fitting that the memorial should be placed at the Australian National University and near the School for European Studies.

It connects us symbolically with events of commanding importance to Europe, Australia and the world - in the 20th century, and in the 21st century.

Here, truly, in these peaceful surroundings, we can remember - and learn.

1 Saul Freidlander Nazi Germany and the Jews 1933-45, Harper 2009, p. 92-04

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