Raoul Wallenberg (August 4, 1912 - 1947?) was a Swedish humanitarian who worked in Budapest, Hungary, during World War II to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Between July and December 1944, he issued protective passports and housed Jews, saving tens of thousands of Jewish lives.
In the years just prior to WW-II, Hungary became a close ally of Nazi Germany. In 1938, fascist groups formed the notorious anti-Semitic party named The Arrow Cross. The German influence quickly wiped out the equal rights that the Jews had enjoyed in Hungary since 1895. Anti-Jewish laws were passed, the first (1938) limiting the number of Jews allowed to work in certain occupations and outlawing Kosher slaughter, and the second (1939) defining who should be considered a Jew. After Hungary joined the war, a 3rd law was passed prohibiting intermarriages between Jews and Christians.
In the first years of WW-II, up to 1944, Hungarian Jews fared better than the Jews under German occupation - although they were stripped off their rights, at least they were not murdered or deported to death camps. A notable exception: draft-age Jews were not allowed to join the army and instead had to serve in special "labour service" units (practically forced labor at extremely harsh conditions) that helped the Hungarian army; about 42,000 people died while serving in these brigades.
The advance of the Red Army led the Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy to reconsider his alliance with Germany. In response, Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944 and occupied her. The darkest chapter in the history of the Hungarian Jews began. They were marked with the infamous yellow badge, their property was confiscated, and they were forced to move into ghettos. On May 15 the Nazis started the deportation of the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. In just few weeks, 450,000 Jews were deported to the death camps.
The persecution of the Jews in Hungary became well known abroad, prompting the world leaders Churchill, Roosevelt and others to pressure Horthy to stop the deportations. Horthy, who was looking for ways to pull Hungary into the Allies camp, managed in July to put an end to the deportations. At that time, only the Jews living in Budapest were left in Hungary. Their protection was short-lived though: in Oct. the Nazis deposed Horthy and put the leader of the Arrow Cross party in charge. In the two months that followed, members of the Arrow Cross party shot about 15,000 Jews. Their bodies were dumped into the Danube which turned red from the blood. Overall, 564,500 Jews from Hungary were murdered in the Holocaust.
The pace of the murders was slowed down due to the heroic actions of diplomats from neutral countries, first and foremost Raoul Wallenberg from Sweden, Carl Lutz from Switzerland, and Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian who posed as the Spanish consul-general. On July 9, 1944, Wallenberg travelled to Budapest as the First Secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest. Together with fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger, and aided by a big staff of about 350 Jews, he issued "protective passports", which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thus preventing their deportation. Although not legal, these documents looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities. The passports helped to save close to 15,000 Jews from death.
Wallenberg also managed to save additional 15,000 Jews by hiding them in 32 buildings that he rented in Budapest and declared them to be extraterritorial, protected by diplomatic immunity. He put up signs such as "The Swedish Library" and "The Swedish Research Institute" on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings to bolster the deception.
Wallenberg's death has long been a source of dispute, with the former Soviet Union denying knowledge of Wallenberg's fate. The Soviets arrested Wallenberg on Jan. 17, 1945, just after they liberated Budapest, on suspicion of being a spy for the USA (the USA financed Wallenberg's rescue operations). Following his arrest, he disappeared without a trace. In 1957, the Soviets claimed that Wallenberg had actually died of a heart attack in 1947 in the Lubyanka prison, Moscow. There had been reports, however, from prisoners in the same facility, that he was seen alive long past 1947. In 1991, the Russian government concluded that Wallenberg did indeed die in 1947, executed while a prisoner at Lubyanka.
Wallenberg has been honored numerous times. He is an honorary citizen of the United States, Israel, Canada, and Hungary; Yad Vashem designated him one of the Righteous Among the Nations; monuments have been dedicated to him; and streets named after him throughout the world.
The stamp was issued in 1983. Its tab displays the inscription: "But the path of the just is as the shining light" (Proverbs 4:18). It was designed by R. Beckman.