If there’s anything Congress can agree on these days, it’s posthumously honoring a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of nearly 100,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust with our nation’s highest civilian award.
The Senate unanimously passed the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Act last week, sending the bill to President Obama for his signature. The House unanimously passed in April the legislation conferring the Congressional Gold Medal upon Wallenberg.
“Thank God that there are people who are willing to risk their lives to help their fellow man,” said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). “There just aren’t enough of them. When I look around the world and see the horrible tragedies that are taking place in Africa and elsewhere, it makes you wonder if we’re ever going to see people like that again, but thank God we have somebody like Raoul Wallenberg.”
The bill was timed to mark the centennial of his birth, but his death remains a mystery — he disappeared in the Soviet Union on a mission to secure food for Jews under his protection. The Russians claimed he died in prison of a heart attack in 1947 at just 34 years of age.
“Though Raoul Wallenberg’s fate remains a mystery to this day, his legacy can be seen in the tens of thousands of people who survived the war by virtue of his efforts–including my late colleague and friend Tom Lantos and his wife Annette,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan made Raoul Wallenberg an honorary citizen of the United States, an honor only previously extended to Winston Churchill. Born in Sweden and returning there after college, Wallenberg graduated from the University of Michigan.
Other recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include Thomas Edison, Elie Wiesel, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa.
“Raoul Wallenberg’s courageous actions were a shining example of selfless heroism at a time when others stood mute in the face of unimaginable horror,” said Kathy Manning, chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America. “That this legislation passed with such broad bipartisan support is a reflection of how deserving Raoul Wallenberg is of the Congressional Gold Medal.”