June 8, 2011

Raoul Wallenberg — An Example Of The Importance Of Humanist Education

On 4 August next year, it will be 100 years since Raoul Wallenberg was born. Lars Brink, a PhD student in ethnology in the Department of Cultural Sciences, intends to mark the occasion by presenting his research results on the personal development and experiences of the young Wallenberg.

"I wish to show that the humanist education Raoul Wallenberg received was significant in what he did later, first as a trainer of Home Guard soldiers and then as a diplomat in Hungary," says Brink.

Two years ago, Brink published When the threats were strong. The development of an armed popular movement, which described how the Home Guard in Sweden arose in the shadow of the Second World War. This book was his licentiate thesis and was partly concerned with Sergeant Raoul Wallenberg's activities as a Home Guard instructor in Stockholm from 1940 to 1944.

"It was somewhat by chance that I discovered his role as a trainer and organiser of the Stockholm Home Guard during my research on the Home Guard," says Brink. "In my current research project I am following Wallenberg's personal development as a young man and how he developed into a leader without actually intending to do so."

When Raoul's father died a few months before the son was born, it fell to the grandfather, Gustaf Wallenberg, to attend to his grandson's upbringing. As a 12-year-old, Raoul was sent to France, among other places, on the first of several educational trips in Europe during the 1920s to learn languages.

During the period 1931 to 1935, Raoul studied to become an architect in the United States. After a brief period in Sweden, the grandfather made arrangements to enable Raoul to travel to South Africa and then Palestine as a bank trainee.

"Gustav Wallenberg appreciated the importance of respect for other cultures, something that Raoul learned and benefited from greatly later in his life, both as a Home Guard instructor and as a diplomat in Hungary. It was in Palestine that Raoul became sympathetic to the Jews when he met German Jews who had managed to flee their homeland and heard their stories of murder and assault."

When Raoul arrived in Hungary in July 1944 to observe what was happening to the Jews as a diplomat, he found himself in a war zone. He started a large rescue mission on his own initiative and developed the principle of issuing Swedish protective passes which gave Jews some degree of protection.

"Raoul was essentially an ordinary, simple person, but his education and upbringing were almost classical, and he used his humanist background to deal with violence. His military experience from Sweden also stood him in good stead."

"Raoul had good knowledge of cultures and core human values and could, as the saying goes, talk to peasants as peasants do, and to learned men in Latin. He was able to deal with everything from meetings with senior ministers in the puppet government to SS soldiers and Hungarian Nazis, members of the Arrow Cross."

But Brink emphasises that he is not aiming to cultivate the hero myth surrounding Raoul Wallenberg.

"On the contrary, I hope that my research can counterbalance the commonly held view of Wallenberg as being active alone in Budapest in rescuing Jews from the Holocaust. The most important thing for me is to show the importance of humanist education in the broad sense in also enabling conflicts to be managed today, and to use the personal development and activities of Raoul Wallenberg as an example."

Brink bases a large part of this research on archive material, partly in the form of letters written between Gustaf and Raoul Wallenberg. He has also conducted a number of interviews, including with Raoul's sister Nina Lagergren. Later this year he will be journeying in Wallenberg's footsteps and recording the places Raoul visited and where he was active.


On the Net: