Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi and his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt inaugurated the Wallenberg Year. The guest of honour of the ceremony was Yossi Peled, Minister without Portfolio from Israel.

Raoul Wallenberg, honorary citizen of Budapest who saved tens of thousands of Hungarians, would turn 100 years old this year. The Swedish saviour diplomat was awarded the “Righteous among the Nations” title by the State of Israel at the recommendation of the Yad Vashem Institute, was given honorary citizenship by the United States of America, while in Canada he is commemorated by the Raoul Wallenberg Day. His fate is still not reassuringly clear; he is most likely to have fallen victim to the Stalinist terror. He is the “knight of humanity” who is not only respected in his home country, in Hungary, and in Israel, but throughout the world.

The official inauguration of the Wallenberg Year was organised in the Hungarian National Museum on 17 January 2012, the day on which Raoul Wallenberg was seen for the last time.

At the ceremony speeches were given by János Martonyi; Yossi Peled, Minister without Portfolio from Israel; Carl Bildt, Swedish Foreign Minister; Zsolt Németh, Parliamentary State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Wallenberg Commemorative Committee; Zoltán Balog, State Secretary for Social Inclusion; Louise von Dardel on behalf of the Wallenberg family; and Annette Lantos.

According to Foreign Minister János Martonyi, the memory of Raoul Wallenberg, the late Swedish diplomat saving tens of thousands of Hungarian citizens is one of the most significant ties connecting Hungary and Sweden. Risking their own lives, Wallenberg and several “ordinary people” who acted similarly to him saved close and distant acquaintances as well as strangers. Unfortunately, there had not been enough of them, said Martonyi in his speech.

The head of Hungarian diplomacy claimed that during the Holocaust the Hungarian State had been weighed in the scales and found wanting. It could not defend its citizens; it had provided assistance in their extermination, while – to tell the truth – being under occupation, said the Minister. This is the tragedy of the whole nation, he added.

The Minister emphasised that with his advocacy Wallenberg had proved it was possible to stay human in inhumanity. By using his protection and privileges – which he was provided as a diplomat – as tools for saving people, Wallenberg set an example to diplomats of subsequent periods.

János Martonyi highlighted that the Hungarian nation had broken away from the “dark spirit” of the 20th century forever; however, probing into the past and drawing lessons remain important duties.

Yossi Peled, Minister without Portfolio from Israel emphasised that Wallenberg had risked his own life to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from death. The success of his work had been due to his business relations and widespread connections, among others, he added.

Zoltán Balog, State Secretary for Social Inclusion handed over the prizes for the winners of a secondary school students’ contest about the Holocaust in their cities. The goal of the contest was to acquaint students with the coexistence of Hungarian and Jewish culture and the work of rescuers.

According to Zoltán Balog, the future depends on today; thus, it is important to pass on the respect of human dignity to younger generations. We have to set an example, by which we work for our own future, he said.

The State Secretary, who is a member of the Wallenberg Commemorative Committee, claimed rescuers helping the needy are required in democracy as well. They set an example to follow, fight with their own tools, and what they all have in common is that they respect others just because they are also human beings, he said.

Zsolt Németh, Parliamentary State Secretary pointed out in his greeting speech that Raoul Wallenberg is one of the outstanding symbolic figures of the 20th century; he became a symbol of law and justice, who – being awarded the “Righteous among the Nations” title – has a memorial tree in the Yad Vashem Memorial Centre in Jerusalem. By rescuing people during the Holocaust, he had become father of tens of thousands deprived of all they had had, he said.

Wallenberg risked his own life to fight against an “evil ideology” and sacrificed his life under another. He had saved tens of thousands lives during his six-month stay in Budapest, stated Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Wallenberg had not been the only one: other diplomats – for example from Switzerland and Vatican – had acted similarly; nevertheless, it had been him who had given momentum to the efforts, he added.

The politician recalled that Wallenberg had known Hungary really well, as earlier he had worked as a businessman with a company having interest in the country. Later, the aim of his rescuer work had been to provide a better future for Hungary, the country which he had been so fond of, emphasised Carl Bildt.

He considered that the message of the late Swedish diplomat’s life is that the lesson of these “terrible years” should be passed on to the next generations.

At the ceremony Minister of National Resources Miklós Réthelyi and Zsolt Németh handed over the Wallenberg Award to acknowledge the efforts of those who set an example by working for the socially disadvantaged in Hungary. The winners of the award are Eszter Dani, Calvinist pastor; Ilona Novák, teacher and initiator of the Wagon Exhibition of the March of the Living Foundation; Erzsébet Pócsiné Sivák, teacher; and the local authority of Hidvégardó, a village in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County, where a Roma community house was established, and jobs were created for Roma residents. They were awarded for their work for the Roma, for successful social inclusion, and for peaceful coexistence.

The Centennial Wallenberg Award founded on the occasion of the memorial year was awarded to those who had worked much to acquaint people with the deeds of the late diplomat in Hungary. The award winners are Annette Lantos; Kate Wacz, Holocaust survivor; and Jan Lundvik, Swedish diplomat. Former Ambassador to Budapest and Moscow Jan Lundvik worked as co-chairman of the Swedish-Russian workgroup researching into Wallenberg’s fate.

Receiving the award, Annette Lantos, widow of the late Hungarian American representative Tom Lantos, said Wallenberg had been a guiding light in one of history’s darkest times. She recalled that she and her husband owed their lives to Wallenberg. Therefore, Tom Lantos proposed that the late Swedish diplomat should become honorary citizen of the United States. She remarked they had hoped that by this step they could exert pressure on the Soviet Union to release Wallenberg if he was still alive.

After the ceremony, the ministers opened the exhibition named “To me there's no other choice”. The travelling Raoul Wallenberg exhibition is firstly presented in the Hungarian National Museum, where it can be visited until 12 February. Later it is to be on display in Moscow, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Washington, New York, and Toronto as well.