I’ve mentioned my fascination with Holocaust narratives; I have to say, though, that it’s really a fascination with WWII in general. It seems to have brought out either the best in people or the worst, and it thrills me to read about the extraordinary deeds of ordinary people. When I spotted His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg in the library system, then, I didn’t hesitate to put it on hold. I finished it yesterday, and I have to say–it tells an amazing story.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who was assigned to Budapest in 1944; his mission was to save as many lives as possible, and his methods were impressively varied. He stockpiled food against the coming invasion by the Russians; he harbored hundreds of Jews in the basements of buildings. He also created an official document called a “schutzpasse,” designed to impress the Germans and extend the protection of his neutral nation to all carriers. Diplomats from other neutral nations worked alongside him to do what they could, even as Russian guns could be heard from the east. Raoul’s story was inspiring, captivating, and totally unfamiliar to me.
I will admit that the book has flaws. It’s a very prose-like verse novel with an overly dramatic flair, designed to showcase Wallenberg’s heroism. (A worthy goal, but understatement would have complemented his obviously heroic actions a bit better, in my opinion.) It also spends longer than it needs to describing Raoul’s early life, although the photographs included made the entire story more vivid. On the other hand, it’s hard to hurt good material, and the book grew more and more readable and fascinating as it went on.
Ultimately? It amazed me that there are monuments to Wallenberg in London, New York, Stockholm, and Budapest, and yet I hadn’t known anything about him. His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg isn’t a perfect book, but it’s an incredibly worthwhile one; its hero’s story deserves to be both known and retold.