In 2012 – as decided by the government – we commemorate Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish martyr diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarians during the Holocaust. The Wallenberg Commemorative Committee responsible for the preparation of the Centenary, which I chair myself, makes all the efforts to make the Wallenberg Year an occasion to face the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust in a responsible manner.
We should look upon it as a memento and a warning stating that we have to reject any deprivation of rights and discrimination; we have to do everything to prevent the spread of the incitement of hatred.
This year is a good occasion to make Raoul Wallenberg’s – as well as all the Hungarian and other rescuers’ – moral greatness widely-known and to prevent this wonderful example of humanity from being forgotten.
The Wallenberg Year is not only about the past: it is about the present and the future as well. During the 40 years of the Communist era we could not speak about the Holocaust or any other tragic milestone of the 20th century. However, the historical injustices, the crimes, the tragic destinies – and even the good deeds – left unsaid create social tension and embitter the atmosphere of the nation’s unity.
Following the almost half century long concealment, everybody wanted to share their own woes at the same time: the tormenting and never-ending sorrow of the loss of family members, the tortures, the inconceivable physical and mental sufferings. The Wallenberg Year’s aim is to help us like candlelight to find our ways: let us dare to face the crimes we committed, dare to forgive, dare to shoulder one another’s pain, dare to trust each other, dare to be one nation again. The rescuers dared to stand up for universal values under any circumstances. Let us dare to do the same!
In the Wallenberg Year, a great variety of events address the Hungarian and global public. Many of these are coordinated by the Wallenberg Commemorative Committee, but civil society organisations also commemorate the Swedish rescuer independently of our programmes.
The inauguration of the Centenary was held in the Hungarian National Museum, expressing that the Holocaust was the tragedy of the nation. Besides Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi, the head of the Swedish Foreign Ministry also hosted the event, as Stockholm is committed to clarify Wallenberg’s fate. At the inauguration, with the Minister of National Resources Miklós Réthelyi, I handed over the Wallenberg Award to four people who promote tolerance in Hungary with persistence, humbleness, and not for fame.
The March of the Living commemorating the victims of the Holocaust focussed on the rescuers this year: the march started on the Salkaházi Sára quay road and ended on the Wallenberg quay road. Several Hungarian politicians participated in the event together, as well as the Speakers of the Swedish and Australian Parliaments; the Speaker of the Knesset greeted the participants in a video message.
In the framework of the Wallenberg Year, plaques are to be placed alongside the lower quay roads, which are to be named after twelve rescuers; from autumn a plaque commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and the rescuers at the Elisabeth Bridge.
The final of the secondary school students’ contest has been organised recently, which centred around the questions of the Holocaust, the rescuing work, and the Jewish culture. 116 secondary schools applied to the contest from all over the country.
Several events of the Centenary are still waiting for us, as we have more than two thirds of this year ahead of us. The Hungarian Post issues Wallenberg memorial stamps on 10 May, which are to be presented a few days later in the Stamp Museum with the Swedish Ambassador.
The exhibition about the helpers of the persecutees of the Holocaust in the underground railway propagates the importance of the exemplary moral behaviour on the trains in the summer. The House of Terror museum presents Wallenberg’s life. In August, a meeting is organised in Budapest for those who were awarded the “Righteous among the Nations” title of the Yad Vashem Institute for rescuing Jews. In September, a Wallenberg memorial evening is held in the Dohány Street Synagogue with seats for 3000 people.
We also intend to involve academics in the memorial year. At the end of June, a large-scale conference on human rights is organised: the historical panel examines Wallenberg’s fate, the human rights panel focuses on current issues of foreign policy. On 15 May, we plan to discuss the topic of moral resistance. Under the title “Can we say no?” historians recall the persistence of public figures and clergymen, employees, officials, who said no to the offence against moral traditions between 1938 and the spring of 1945.
The conference examines the political career of Count János Esterházy as well, as it is the 70th anniversary of the day when he – as the only one in the Slovakian Parliament – did not approve the act providing for the deportation of Jews. The Hungarian politician of Slovakia – in contradiction with all universal moral norms – has not been rehabilitated; nevertheless, his political legacy is becoming acknowledged public property.
We do commemorate Wallenberg abroad as well – in most cases hand in hand with the Swedes and the Israelis. We organise conferences on or commemorations of the Swedish diplomat in more than 50 cities. For instance, in the US Congress Hungarians and Americans laid a wreath on the statue of Wallenberg together on 16 April, the Holocaust Memorial Day.
As the Chairman of the Wallenberg Commemorative Committee, I am glad to see how many people consider the worthy commemoration to be a common concern, as Wallenberg’s case is everybody’s concern. It is a public concern. In order to provide Iván Bächer with an opportunity to experience this, I hereby invite him to the events of the Wallenberg Year.