Jewish Chronicle, 20 July 2012
Let’s give the Russians a little kicking, shall we? Lord knows they deserve it. Throughout the 20th century they blighted whole populations with the evils of communism, now they poison our world with their chief exports of organised crime and corruption. But these are vast themes and I want to narrow the Russians’ mountain of heinous doings down to a single, specific issue: the death of Raoul Wallenberg, ultimate hero of the Holocaust.
The Swedish envoy who, while based in Budapest, rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis and their Arrow Cross disciples – was captured by the city’s Russian ‘liberators’ in January 1945. Accused of spying for the Americans, he perished in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison two years later, aged 34.
You might think: but wait a minute, weren’t the Americans and the Russians allies in the war against the Nazis? And wasn’t Wallenberg clearly an ardent and courageous anti-Nazi? Don’t bother trying to ascribe logic to paranoid fanatics.
I have always felt very acutely the tragic fate of this brave and selfless young Swede, a personal hero of mine. In part, this is due to an indirect link to him inherited from my mother. In the dark and treacherous days of the Nazi occupation of Budapest, my mother saved the lives of several Jewish friends by sheltering them in her home. She was also closely involved with two men who were active in the Hungarian Resistance and assisted Wallenberg in the operation of his safe-houses – one was a doctor, the other a film director. My mother never met the Swedish envoy herself, but through those two intimates she was aware of some of his rescue work.
Wallenberg was born on 4 August, 1912, so this summer marks the centenary of his birth. Sir Sigmund Sternberg, the Budapest-born philanthropist and interfaith campaigner, recently wrote a letter to The Times calling forGreat Cumberland Place- site of the statue of Wallenberg – to be renamedWallenberg Place. He felt it would be a fitting tribute to this ‘noble man’.
It’s not such an outlandish proposal. After all, other cities have bestowed similar honours on him. There’s Place Raoul Wallenberg inMontreal, Raoul Wallenberg Gasse in Vienna and Raoul Wallenberg Walk inManhattan, there are two streets named after him in Berlinand five in Israel. And that’s not to mention the eighteen schools around the world which bear his name.
So to have a Wallenberg PlaceinLondon’s West End, appropriately opposite the Western Marble Arch Synagogue, is rather a good idea.
But I’ve got an even better one. Why not erect a new statue of Wallenberg in front of the Russian Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens? President Putin often praises Stalin and openly hankers after the Soviet days, when Russian leaders didn’t have to pretend to be democratic and interested in trifling matters such as civil liberties and the rule of law. Under Putin, the Russian authorities are as pernicious as ever and I think they should be made to confront the image of Wallenberg – and their crime of killing him – on a daily basis.
The inspiration for my initiative – a cracking one, don’t you agree? – dates back to the early 1980s, when the block in front of the Soviet embassy in Washington DC was renamed Andrei Sakharov Place in protest against the dissident Russian scientist’s arrest and detention in 1980. I heartily approved of the Yanks sending this sharp anti-Soviet, pro-freedom message. But I remember how a lefty-liberal acquaintance tut-tutted about the block’s re-naming, saying it wasn’t ‘very nice’ to ‘rub the Russians’ noses’ in the Sakharov case.
Not very nice? Only an archetypal useful idiot could have uttered such a stupid statement. In my opinion we should rub their noses in their crimes until the cows come home. The Katyn forest massacre? Betrayal of the Warsaw Uprising? Poisoning in London of Alexander Litvinenko? Murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya? So much to choose from! Let’s rub away.
The Russians would prefer us to forget their sins. But I say we must remember them, and demonstrate that we do.
Monica Porter is a freelance journalist. Her book about her mother, Deadly Carousel: A Singer’s Story of the Second World War, is published by Vallentine Mitchell.