Taking the stage at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City on Wednesday night, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson addressed the full auditorium of U.N. diplomats and Holocaust survivors to commemorate the centennial of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the young Swedish diplomat who almost single-handedly saved between tens and hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews toward the end of World War II.
Eliasson, a Swede himself, spoke of the importance of keeping Wallenberg’s legacy alive and how diplomats today should learn from his example.
“He did things automatically and unconventionally,” Eliasson said. “He went right to the trains of Auschwitz and pulled people out.
“We diplomats should act more like this,” he continued. “Sometimes diplomats shouldn’t ask for directions.”
Like Wallenberg, he said, diplomats have to act, act early and act courageously, especially in light of the atrocities still happening today.
There were 33 countries represented at the talk, said Museum Director David Marwell, including the representatives of the permanent missions of Sweden and Hungary to the U.N.. Following Eliasson’s comments, Marwell moderated a talk with Kati Marton, a Wallenberg biographer, and Bengt Jangfeldt, a historian whose new book on Wallenberg is still being translated.
Today, the Hungarian parliament is home to the Jobbik Party, designated by the Anti-Defamation League as being Anti-Semitic. Their popularity has been on the rise: Seventeen percent of the population voted for Jobbik in 2010, according to the ADL.
Interestingly, the leader of the Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi, who had in the past called Israeli Jews “lice-infested, dirty murderers,” discovered in August that he was Jewish himself. He resigned under pressure.
In July, a U.S. State Department Special Envoy spoke in Budapest about the need to combat the rise of Anti-Semitism in Hungary.
Sweden today has a handful of active white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. Sweden’s Jewish community, while small, still suffered from a small string of attacks in 2009 and 2010 in the city of Malmö. Sweden also has the third-highest rate of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe today, after Germany and Austria, according to the U.S. State Department.