The Wallenberg Centennial Project: A Special Alumni Appeal
Who Is Raoul Wallenberg?
In 1944 during World War II, not ten years after graduating at the top of his class in architecture at Michigan, Raoul Wallenberg was sent from neutral Sweden on a diplomatic mission to save the lives of the last surviving Jews in Budapest. Just 31 years old, Wallenberg organized and overfilled an elaborate system of safe-houses, placing as many of Budapest’s Jews as possible under the diplomatic protection of Sweden. He recruited a network to fabricate and distribute official-looking Swedish Protective Visas to those being deported to death camps, ignoring warning shots from SS guards to shove life-saving papers through the windows of transports and into the hands of frantic families. Wallenberg evaded arrest and death at the hands of the Nazis and their Hungarian auxiliaries. He bluffed, bribed, and cajoled, and in six months rescued 100,000 lives.
Summoned by Soviet authorities after the Germans had been driven from the city, Wallenberg went to arrange food, supplies and protection for the people he had saved. But he disappeared into the labyrinth of the Soviet prison camps and was rewarded with an anonymous death that remains a mystery to this day.
The University of Michigan was the point of departure for Raoul Wallenberg’s adult life. He came to Ann Arbor in 1931, the scion of one of Sweden’s pre-eminent families that included Lutheran bishops, industrialists, bankers, diplomats, and philanthropists. Wallenberg lived in boarding houses on Haven, Hill and Madison. He had daily breakfast in the Union. He sat in Michigan Stadium to watch football and canoed on the Huron. He attended concerts at Hill Auditorium and rode his bike everywhere. He was a talented artist with a gift for languages. During his summers Wallenberg hitchhiked across the U.S. and undertook an adventurous drive to Mexico City. His many friends admired his quick intelligence, ingenuity, and fearless self-assurance, and prized his good spirits, lack of pretension, and unfailing interest in those around him. These qualities proved their worth in Budapest.
Raoul Wallenberg is a world hero. The second person (after Winston Churchill) to receive Honorary U.S. Citizenship from Congress, he also is an honorary citizen of Canada, Hungary and Israel, where his memory is preserved at Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among Nations. Memorials and statues have been raised in countries around the world—that in Gothenburg, Sweden bears his photo as a Michigan freshman. Countless parks, streets, and schools are named in his honor.
Yet most Michigan alumni and students show not a glimmer of recognition for the name of our own Raoul Wallenberg.
The Centennial Project
How can this be? Why is Raoul Wallenberg’s name not as familiar to every freshman as those of other celebrated alumni? Our project, on the centenary of the birth of this exemplary Michigan Man, is to assure his place among the greatest luminaries of the University and to pass down the inspiration of his life to new generations of Michigan students.
It’s time for us, the University of Michigan alumni community, to rectify this injustice…and we need your help! With your support we will ensure that Wallenberg’s memory stands with other great figures of history who faced tyranny and oppression with courage, resolve and compassion.
To mark the Wallenberg Centennial, the University will spend the next two years engaged in activities designed to promote awareness of Raoul Wallenberg and his legacy among our current students. A committee that includes alumni and students will oversee this effort. Projects under consideration may include a documentary that will use archival materials and interviews about his time at Michigan, a shorter video to bring his story to new Michigan students, and other visible forms of commemoration on Central Campus. In February 2013, a special exhibition organized by the Swedish government about Wallenberg’s remarkable humanitarian achievements will be in the Michigan Union, including an exhibit about his life as a U-M student.
Your gift will make a difference. When considering your donations, please make them as fast you feel comfortable—the task of interviewing witnesses to Wallenberg’s bravery becomes more difficult as this generation dwindles by the day.
Please consider a gift to support the Wallenberg Centennial activities. For questions, please contact Jill McDonough (Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Rackham Graduate School) at 734-615-2133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Denmark ‘01
Alex Ruthizer ‘03
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