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Raoul Wallenberg: A humanitarian hero we must never forget

A portrait of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
A portrait of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Attila Kisbenedek / Getty Images

If I were to ask most Canadians if they knew who Raoul Wallenberg was, chances are only a small percentage would know the answer. But today offers us a collective moment to reflect on one of the most courageous figures that best represented humanity during the Second World War.

Why? Exactly 69 years ago Wallenberg, who was Sweden’s diplomatic envoy in Budapest at the height of the Holocaust, mysteriously disappeared as the Soviet Union swept into Hungary. It is understood by academics and governments alike that Wallenberg was detained by the Soviet military and was later transferred eastward into the Soviet Union, never to be seen again. The truth behind what happened to him is still a mystery and can only be answered if the current Russian government comes clean and opens up its historical archives.

The people who were saved by his courageous actions, however, have made sure his legacy lives on and he is recognized as one of the 20th century’s great humanitarian heroes.

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A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing Irwin Cotler, who chaired the International Commission on the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg, speak at the University Club of Montreal about the importance of the Swedish diplomat’s actions. Through discreet initiatives like establishing safe houses and issuing passports and travel documents to Jews fleeing the country, he is credited with saving over one hundred thousand lives. Many Montrealers in the crowd that day were “Wallenberg’s children.” In other words, these Canadians and their extended families would never have been part of our society if not for Wallenberg’s moral fortitude and human compassion in the face of tyranny and mass murder.

As 2014 rolls on, it is of absolute importance that Wallenberg’s legacy be imparted upon a new generation of Canadians. The lessons from the Holocaust, and the heroes who did all they could to protect human life, are more important now than ever. Conflicts in places like Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan’s Darfur are just a few places that demonstrate how we need a new generation of people who understand that individual action can make a difference. No doubt, Wallenberg’s children would agree.