raoul wallenberg

Hero's sister still hopes mystery will be solved

10 min

One inspiration behind the heroic deeds of the gutsy Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands and thousands of lives from the Nazis during World War II, was a film.

The movie, "Pimpernel Smith" was banned in Sweden during the war. It starred Leslie Howard, was an anti-Nazi thriller, in which the hero of the film is an archaeologist who goes to Nazi Germany with a secret mission to free prisoners.

Raoul Wallenberg's half sister, Nina Lagergren tells Radio Sweden that they were invited to see the film in 1942, and when it was over, her brother said, "This is something I would like to do."

Later, Wallenberg had the chance to become a real-life hero when he was recruited by the Americans to run a rescue operation for Jews in Budapest. Lagergren says he agreed without hesitation.

While acting as a Swedish diplomat in Hungary, he invented and issued Swedish-looking passports for these people, called Shutzpass, and set up safe houses for them.

When the Soviet army took the east part of Budapest in January 1945, Wallenburg was taken to Moscow as prisoner. The details of what happened after that are unclear, and his fate is still a mystery.

"The rest of the embassy came back in April, so we waited for his [return], too," says Lagergren, who criticizes Sweden for not doing enough in handling his case.

"So, started this very sad period when the Swedes did not act as forcefully as one could have expected to someone who had done such enormous work to save people," says Lagergren.

In 2000, Lagergren won a Wallenberg medal from the University of Michigan – putting her in the company of Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi, and others – for her tireless work to learn the full story of her brother's fate and to educate children about his humanitarian accomplishments.