Washington – Legislation to recognize World War II hero Raoul Wallenberg with the country’s highest civilian honor was passed unanimously last night by the senate. The bill, S. 1591, was introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, in an effort to award Wallenberg with a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal, in recognition of his heroic acts during the Holocaust and is expected to be signed by President Obama shortly.
Below video: Senator Gillibrand talks about Raoul Wallenberg on the Senate floor before the vote July 11 2012.
“Raoul Wallenberg’s heroic rescue of Hungarian Jews during one of the darkest hours of human history exemplifies his outstanding spirit, his dedication to humanity and the responsibility for us all to speak out against atrocities,” Senator Gillibrand told VIN News. “I am proud that Congress has recognized Raoul Wallenberg’s extraordinary and enduring courage by passing my bipartisan bill bestowing him with the Congressional Gold Medal.”
Wallenberg was recruited by President Roosevelt’s War Refugee Board to save Hungarian Jews from deportation in 1944 and was given a diplomatic passport, a large sum of money and instructions to save as many lives as possible, using any means at his disposal. He is credited with saving more than 100,000 Hungarian Jews over a period of six months by creating multiple safe houses, removing Jews from trains departing to Auschwitz, pursuing convoys carrying Jews, threatening and bribing both German and Hungarian officers and issuing forged identification papers, including the Schutzpass, an impressive looking but counterfeit Swedish passport, which spared the lives of 20,000 Jews. Wallenberg was arrested by Russian soldiers in January of 1945 and his fate remains unknown.
Among those who were saved by Wallenberg was the Liska Rebbe, Rabbi Yoizef Friedlander z’l, whose grandson Ezra Friedlander is CEO of The Friedlander Group, which founded the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission. This national campaign was established in order to commemorate and publicize Wallenberg’s historic and heroic actions in honor of what would be his 100th birthday. Among the RWCCC’s initiatives are the renaming of Borough Park’s 13th Avenue, between 36th and 60th Streets, to Wallenberg Way, as well as a joint educational effort in conjunction with Project Witness to have yeshivas and schools include Wallenberg’s heroic efforts in their curriculum.
“As the world gears up for Wallenberg’s centennial on August 4, 2012, we should remember and celebrate the fact that today, there are hundreds of thousands of American Jews who are the direct descendants of those saved by Raoul Wallenberg,” said Friedlander. “Special thanks are due to Senator Gillibrand for her hard work and commitment to this historic effort, allowing the world to pay tribute to the extraordinary heroism of Raoul Wallenberg.”
A companion bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Gregory Meeks and Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, both of New York, was unanimously passed on April 16th in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Watch below video: RWCCC hosted a congressional luncheon held on Capitol Hill yesterday, honoring several individuals including Andrew Stevens, a Holocaust survivor who aided Wallenberg in his rescue efforts and marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Claims Conference which negotiated compensation to Nazi victims and their heirs.
Video Credit: Shmuel Lenchevsky