Thursday, January 16, 2014
Raoul had wealthy parents--though he never met his father who died three months before he was born--and this afforded him many opportunities. For example, he was able to study architecture at the University of Michigan even though it meant quite a bit of travel to get there from Sweden. When he returned to Sweden with his degree in hand he soon found that there was no room for young architects among the Swedes. So, first he took a job in South Africa but eventually ended up with a job in Hungary. His boss--Kálmán Lauer, a Hungarian Jew--utilized him to help handle imports and exports between Sweden and central Europe. It was a great opportunity for a young man and he proved invaluable. Especially invaluable after Nazi coercion brought about laws restricting business done by Jews in Hungary. Lauer trusted Raoul and since Raoul had learned Hungarian he made him his representative and allowed the Christian to take care of business matters where he could not do so as a Jew. Eventually, Raoul was a partner in ownership of the company and was spending more and more of his time in Hungary. Then, one day, an emissary from a refugee organization in the United States contacted him on behalf of president Roosevelt. It seemed that the organization wanted to rescue Hungarian Jews from Nazi oppression. Raoul was just the man for the job.
Sustained by his faith and his commitment to the sacredness of life, he reentered Hungary as a Swedish diplomat. As a diplomat from a different country that Hungary hoped to keep good ties with, he was able to issue protective passes that would label the bearers as individuals preparing to immigrate to Sweden. With these passes, they were relatively untouchable by the Hungarian Nazis. He was even able to lobby with the Nazis to consider these men, women, and children to be Swedes and not required to wear the yellow star that was forced upon the Jews in Hungary. But, this wasn't enough. He purchased a building and declared it to be exempt from Hungarian law because of his diplomatic immunity. He put large Swedish flags on the front and titled it the "Swedish Research Institute." But, once inside the doors it was clear that this was a place for Jews to find sanctuary from oppression. But, this still wasn't enough for Raoul--he felt called to more. The one house became several houses and the several houses became many. Yet, there was still more to be done.
It was clear that death awaited those who could not find some escape or protection and so, again, Raoul further laid himself out for his neighbors. He took to pulling off bigger and bigger stunts to free Jews from the chains of the Nazi regime. He could not free every Jew he met--and this thought tormented him--but he tried. Once, he was atop a train headed for Auschwitz and passing protective passports through the slats to the Jews within the train car. They were unsealed and, therefore, unofficial but Raoul was willing to risk everything to save these lives. He was ordered to stop what he was doing by the guards and they fired a warning shot over his head. He stopped and considered the situation--he might lose his life if he persisted in saving a few more people but he would surely lose more if he denied them their last chance at hope. So, he began passing the passes again and the guards fired at him. Whether they had poor aim or were not trying to hit him, Raoul escaped unscathed and stepped down onto the train platform. As the guards watched, he insisted that the doors be opened and that the inhabitants be checked again for Swedish protective passes. The guards opened the doors and Raoul led the men, women, and children to waiting cars and back to safety.
When the Soviets took Hungary, it seems that Raoul would be free again to live his own life now that the Jews could hopefully be safe again. He had saved tens of thousands of Jews from imperially sanitized death. Yet, he was arrested on January 17, 1945, and charged with being an American spy. Charged with espionage he was hid away in secret prisons. Later, the Soviets first insisted that he had died of a heart attack and later that he had been killed by Zionist Hungarians. Eventually, it was uncovered the the last years of Raoul's life were filled with torture, interrogation, and eventually his own execution at the hands of the Soviets. He died because he refused to agree with empires that life was a commodity to be traded and manipulated. Because of his faith in a God who taught love for neighbors and enemies, Raoul was appropriately murdered as a revolutionary--after all, nothing is more revolutionary than love in a world that cannot stand the sight or sound of it.
Posted by Joshua Hearne at 7:00 AM