Juraj Szanto: teenage memories of Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest

Juraj Szanto

Juraj Szanto is a medical journalist, and has had a long career in Prague as a dentist. He originally comes from the part of southern Slovakia that was annexed by Hungary just before the Second World War. When the war broke out, his father was sent to the Russian Front and his mother was imprisoned in Budapest for her links with the resistance. Juraj was fifteen when his mother was released in 1944, but this was just the time when the Nazis began to transport Hungarian Jews to the death camps in the east. Juraj and his mother were among thousands of people in the city who found refuge in the Swedish Embassy, under the protection of the now legendary Raoul Wallenberg. Here Juraj remembers not just Wallenberg, but also other Swedish diplomats in Budapest, who helped to save tens of thousands of lives, including his own:

Juraj Szanto
"Sixty years ago I was fourteen or fifteen. At the time I was given a job by the Swedish Embassy in Budapest, where I had sought refuge with my mother. There I got to know the Swedish diplomats Danielsson, Anger and others. These were people, who were not afraid and did all they could, by both diplomatic and undiplomatic means, to rescue Jews and other people without documents, who were in danger. Raoul Wallenberg was the bravest of all. I only saw him rarely, but I do remember vividly how he once praised me and told me how well I had cleaned his car.

"It wasn't until after the war that I found out how Wallenberg had risked his own life, how bravely he had handed out Swedish protective passes, filling in the names of those he was rescuing as he went along, even going to the banks of the Danube, where Hungarian and German fascists were shooting Jews and letting their bodies fall into the river.

"But as I've said, Wallenberg wasn't the only Swedish diplomat helping in this way. One of the bravest was Langlet, who represented the Swedish Red Cross, and built up an independent mission with a huge rescue network for people in Hungary who were being persecuted or had been left destitute.

"One thing that makes me sad is that while the whole world commemorates Wallenberg by unveiling statues and naming streets and schools after him - especially in Budapest - there isn't any kind of memorial to Wallenberg here, either in Prague or Bratislava."