Wallenberg, King and Derakhti – Three important heroes

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character! I have a dream… I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers”. These are the most famous words taken from the middle of the speech called “I have a dream”. It was held by Martin Luther King Jr on August 28th 1963 at the Lincoln monument in Washington DC, USA. About 200 000 people had gathered there during the so called “March to Washington for work and freedom”. It was a march of mainly Afro-Americans who protested to get the same civil rights as the Caucasians. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr led it all. Who was he?  Martin Luther King Jr was born on January 15th 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a Minister in a Baptist Church and also a fervent civil rights activist.  Martin Luther King Sr took his son to church and raised him in that sphere. His son grew up and began a similar career as his father, but he learned the hard way during his childhood and adoloscence the injustice of being Afro-American and the racist structures in society.  In 1948 Martin Luther King Jr took a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Morehouse College, Atlanta. Three years later he got a Bachelor of Divinity at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. Then finally the young man studied more theology at Boston University from where he graduated as Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology in 1955.  That same year he led the boycott against the busses in Montgomery, a boycott which lasted for 13 months when Afro-Americans refused to travel by bus. The reason was that the Afro-American seamstress Rosa Parker had refused to leave the seat on a bus for a white woman, and then been thrown out. This was a country segregated by law.  King’s boycott against the busses in Montgomery was successful. In 1957 Martin Luther King became the leader of Southern Christian Leadership Conference in which he continued struggling for the emancipation and civil rights of the Afro-Americans.  In the beginning of the 1960’s he was challenged by other Afro-Americans who thought that Dr King was too humble and weak, and instead wanted a harder fight. One such activist was Malcolm X from the Black Muslim Movement.  However Dr King struggled on and arranged a march to Washington which I’ve mentioned above was held on August 28th 1963. His speech had an enormous impact and did influence the creation of the Civil Right’s Act for example. But it was a harsh and violent struggle to get there. By 1963 he got married to Corretta Scott King and got four children with her. In 1964 Martin Luther King Jr recieved the Swedish Nobel Peace Prize, which is handed out in Oslo, Norway. (The other Prizes are handed out in Stockholm, Sweden). In 1964 Dr King also was given the title “Man of the Year” by the Time magazine.  On April 4th 1968 Dr King was preparing a demonstration in Memphis Tenessee. He was standing on his balcony to his hotel room at Lorraine Hotel talking to a couple of friends when a shot came from a house on the opposite side of the street. Dr King fell down dead. Later a man called James Earl Ray was arrested in London for the assassination of Martin Luther King. Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison. It has been said though that Ray only was a patsy and that the CIA, FBI or the American Maffia was behind the murder. From 1988 there’s a day in memory of Martin Luther King Jr to commemorate his legacy and struggle in the American calendar. This last Wednesday on August 28th 2013 it was exactly 50 years since Dr King held his “I have a dream”-speech in Washington DC.  That fact has been commemorated in many parts of the world and it is today evident that some improvements have been made since his days, but not nearly enough.  The struggle for human dignity and fairness still has to be fought in many parts of the world and is a vivid part of human care and heroism.

King’s speech was held on August 28th and the day before we cemmomorated a Swedish hero, Raoul Wallenberg.  In my drawing above you see both Raoul Wallenberg and Martin Luther King Jr, a picture which I made  yesterday.  Wallenberg’s courage has been celebrated all over the world and many squares, streets, monuments, schools etc have been named after him in various parts of our globe.  Here in Malmoe for example we have Raoul Wallenbergs Plats, a small square between the southern canal and Gustav Adolf Square. Behind Raoul Wallenbergs Plats just by the canal there’s a small statue showing his brief-case with the letters R.W. on it. The statue was made in 2005 by Ulla Krantz and exist in two copies, one here in Malmoe and one in New York. The statue is placed on street-stones from Budapest, Hungary.  You see the Malmoe statue below.

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Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg was born on Lidingö, Stockholm on August 4th 1912. He was the son of Lieutenant Raoul Oscar Wallenberg and Maria Sophie (Maj) Wising. Three months before Raoul was born his father died from cancer, and his grandfather Gustaf Wallenberg took care of the boy’s upbringing.  Raoul was a mediocre student in school, but had linguistic skills. His closest kin wanted him to become a banker like them, but that was not really in Raoul’s character. He went to  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor between 1931 and 1935.  There Raoul studied to become an architect, even if he didn’t really work that much in that profession.  After a short stay in Sweden he was sent to new studies in South Africa where he worked as a salesman. Then he went to the British protectionate of Palestine and Haifa in the late 1930’s. There he met Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Raoul’s mother was half Jewish and maybe because of that he began to sympathize with them.  Raoul’s mother and grandfather wanted him to work for the SEB, their bank, but another relative Marcus didn’t think he was suitable.  Raoul got temporary jobs and in 1942 he was the middleman for their associates in Berlin, Germany.

In August 1942 Raoul got a job with a small firm, the Central European Merchant Company/Mellaneuropeiska Handelsbolaget which was dealing with export and import of food. Raoul was in charge of foreign affairs. The company was owned by the Hungarian businessman Koloma Laver. Wallenberg went to Hungary for three weeks in February 1942 and then again in the Autumn of 1943 for a little more than a month.  In March 1944 Operation Margarethe I was started by the Germans. The Hungarian Kállay government was taken from power and a new marionett pro-German government was formed under Döme Sztójay. They decided to implement the Nazi “final solution” of the Jewish population in Hungary. Between May 15th and July 8th 1944  The Hungarian fascist  Arrow-Crossers  and Adolf Eichmann deported 434 351 Jews to the death-camps.

The American Government decided to intervene and their War Refugee Board in Scandinavia decided to send a man to Hungary from the neutral Sweden.  The Americans persuaded the Swedish government, after suggestion from Wallenberg’s Hungarian boss to send Raoul to Budapest.  The Jewish Chief Rabbi in Stockholm, Marcus Ehrenpreis was reluctant, but decided to agree.  In Budapest Raoul Wallenberg became a key figure for the Swedish delegation, otherwise led by Ivan Danielsson and Per Anger.  In the summer of 1944 the Swedish delegation arranged protection passes for the Hungarian Jews who flocked to the Swedish delegation.  So called “Swedish houses” were arranged and Wallenberg talked to the Hungarian authorities and government that the Jews now were “working” for the Swedish delegation and therefore was under Sweden’s protection and also had diplomatic immunity.  During some months ca 50 000 – 100 000 Hungarian Jews were smuggled out and saved from the death camps.  The International and Swedish Red Cross also participated in the action.

On October 15th 1944 Ferenc Scálasi grabbed the power, but the Swedes under Wallenberg still succeeded to keep many refugees under their custody. In December that year Sweden expelled a Hungarian representative for the Arrow Cross-cabinet from Stockholm which enfuriated the Hungarians, and things got worse. The government was evacuated from Budapest and the Arrow-Crossers began harrassing Jews and Swedes. The Arrow-Crossers burst into Swedish houses and during a couple of weeks they executed hundreds of people. When the Soviet Red Army invaded Budapest there were ca 4000 Jews in the Swedish houses, 600 employees, while the Swedish Red Cross had 2 500 people more under their protection.  On January 11th 1945 Raoul Wallenberg visited the Red Cross office. He recieved 200 000 pengö and told the clerks that he was going to Debrecen. Two days later the Russians took command of the Red Cross office. They were civil to Wallenberg and he suspected no foul play. He gave them a telegram which he wanted them to send, (which they didn’t). He followed with them for a diplomatic meeting.  Then he “disappeared”. On January 17th the Soviet authorities arrested Wallenberg for espionage, sent him to Moscow and put him in the Ljubanka Prison. According to the so called Smoltsov report, written by the jail doctor Smoltsov Raoul Wallenberg was executed in jail probably on July 17th 1947.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry has kept a file about the Raoul Wallenberg case since 1944.  His family has over the years fought hard to get information about his destiny, which the authorities have been reluctant to participate in.  In 1981 the US  Congressman Tom Lantos who had been saved by Wallenberg presented a proposition which made Raoul Wallenberg citizen of honour in the United States of America. Wallenberg is also pronounced citizen of honour in Canada, Australia, Hungary and Israel. The Israelis also have given him the title of “One of the Righteous”.  Also in 1981 the USA founded the Raoul Wallenberg Committee to vitalize his legacy and work. They hand annually out rewards in his name to people who have lived up to Raoul Wallenberg’s values and efforts. In 1997 a post stamp with his name and picture was made in the USA and in 2012 he was given the Congress’ Gold Medal as a recognition of his feats during the Holocaust.  Here in Sweden a commission to find out what really had happened to him was founded in 2001. The Government under the Prime Minister then Göran Persson then published their report two years later. Four days ago on August 27th 2013 the first Swedish Raoul Wallenberg Prize was handed out in his legacy. The first one to recieve it was a young man from Malmoe, Siavosh Derakhti.

Siavosh Derakhti is a 22 year old man from Iran. He is a devout Muslim, belongs to a group in Iran which is persecuted there, but he has grown up here in Sweden. His family has taught him to look to the good things in humans, to be humble and just. That Siavosh has taken to heart. When he was 19 years old and student in upper-secondary school he noticed that the Jews, Romanies and Muslims in Malmoe were harrassed in different ways, but also that there were much hate and prejudiced notions against the Jews among his own friends. So Siavosh decided to learn more about the Holocaust and he managed to contact the Jewish congregation for his studies, and also to gather money for a journey to Auschwitz with his class-mates who were 90 % Muslims. They made the journey and learned a lot. Afterwards Siavosh, also called “Sia”, started the association “Young Muslims Against Antisemitism”. Since then they have had lectures, seminars, invited lecturers on the subject, have had workshops and met politicians and other officials. That is also what they still do, even though the name is changed to “Youngsters Against Antisemitism and Xenofobia”.

Siavosh Derakhti was nominated for the Raoul Wallenberg Prize along another good candidate from Malmoe, Gustavo Nazar. The Prize was given to Siavosh and the Prize money of 100 000 Kronor this Tuesday afternoon in Stockholm.  He said to the newspaper Aftonbladet/The Evening Gazette that : “It’s a big thing and honouring to be compared to such a great hero as Raoul Wallenberg. It is also a reciept for if you really work for something good then you get that back. To dare dreaming big – Together we get farthest.”  That Siavosh as a believing Muslim fight against Antisemitism and hatred against Jews is very unusual, and he has recieved hate mails, phone calls and evil comments, but mostly from white Swedes who refuse to see him as Swedish, and want him to go back to his home country. In my text “Discussions highlighting club racism and police brutality” from the beginning of June I mention one of Siavosh’s bad experiences. In the picture below you see Siavosh to the right during a seminar about police brutality. When it comes to Siavosh Derakhti’s association and struggle he says: “Some people deny the Holocaust and say that it never happened. That’s why it’s important to talk about it.”. Siavosh Derakhti also make comparisons to later pogroms and persecutions, like the ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia and what is happening now in the world. He concludes with saying: “I want to become an anti-racist Zlatan. A Zlatan/Wallenberg in the society”. No doubt this young man deserves his prize and all the encouragement he can get. That’s why he is one of the true heroes of our day.  Our world is troubled, there are wars, famine and conflicts in many parts of the world, also here in Sweden, even if on another level. We have an open society, a secular democracy, which also has to be preserved. So does humanity in its best sense and the world we live in. Let’s co-operate and do good if we can.

Anders Moberg, August 31st 2013

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