Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Wallenberg is Here! -- A True Holocaust Story

Carl Steinhouse’s new book, Wallenberg is Here!, tells a fascinating, true story about a "lost hero." Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat of the famed Wallenberg family, used his wits and resources to take on the Nazis in Budapest, Hungary. His efforts saved tens of thousands of Jews from certain death.

Wallenberg is Here! brings a historical story as historical fiction, a novel with dialog, conflict, and suspense. Character contrast is shown between the selfless Wallenberg and his greatest foe, Adolph Eichmann—"the bloodhound" of the Jews. The story gives a detailed chronology; each scene begins with a heading of the date and exact place, even to precise streets or buildings in Buda or Pest, the two parts of Budapest. For further variation, Wallenberg is Here! alternates between short narrative prose describing overall events, scenes involving Wallenberg and his associates, and anecdotal scenes with various individual Jews – some of whom soon perish, others who escape impending destruction, and others who are rescued by Wallenberg.

The horrific story is (of course) similar to others from the Holocaust, with events that call to mind, for example, scenes from the movie "Schindler’s List." In tribute to that now well-known event, the author includes brief dialog referring to Schindler. Though Wallenberg’s story takes place outside the concentration camps, it includes all the other horrors: innocent people shot at random in the streets; Jews herded onto cattle cars; others shot and thrown into the Danube River; and still more marched for miles to the nearest train loading points. As with any book dealing with this subject, Wallenberg is Here! does not make for easy, fun or light reading. But the real world often contains such unpleasant and depressing events, and Wallenberg offers hope in the midst of a terrible situation. Though Wallenberg and his associates are hopelessly outnumbered, they do what they can, giving protective custody with Swedish Schutzpasses to thousands. As the persecution intensifies, and anarchy reigns in the new Hungarian "Arrow Cross" government, all Wallenberg can do is put out small fires in a blazing forest – jumping from one emergency to another, and the reader feels the hopelessness of the situation. Yet from the many Jews saved from each crisis, spreads the whisper "Wallenberg is here."

Steinhouse concludes the intriguing "hero" story with its tragic aftermath, in which Wallenberg quickly disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Unbeknownst even to Wallenberg, a new Cold War had begun even before the "hot war" had ended, by January 1945. Having told a great, true story from history, the author adds a call for action – for the U.S. government and the world to learn the rest of the story from the former Soviet Union.

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