5 Towns Jewish Times coverage on the passage Wallenberg Legislation
5 Towns Jewish Times coverage on the passage Wallenberg Legislation
Reviving The Memory Of Raoul Wallenberg
by MICHELE JUSTIC
On July 11—exactly one week after Independence Day—Congress demonstrated the epitome of the American spirit by unanimously passing legislation to award Raoul Wallenberg with a Congressional Gold Medal. Several aspects of this act highlight the greatness of the American system. Members of both houses of Congress worked in a bipartisan fashion to honor a humanitarian hero. It is noteworthy that both the House and Senate bills were introduced by women. Finally, the main orchestrator of this plan was a Jewish descendant of a survivor. Ezra Friedlander, grandson of the Liska Rebbe, who was saved by a Wallenberg “Schutzpass,” has been on a mission to shine a spotlight on Raoul Wallenberg. Some might liken the effects of these efforts to the attention placed on Oskar Schindler following Steven Spielberg’s epic film. But Friedlander’s talents lie more in the political arena. He is a career lobbyist, champion of the causes of autistic children, volunteer emergency response systems, and many others.
Interestingly, this powerful person on the Washington scene decided upon a career in politics as a reaction to his feelings when learning of the powerlessness of the Jewish community in the face of President Roosevelt’s refusal to meet with hundreds of rabbis who had marched on Washington to demand the United States do more to save Jews from destruction in Eastern Europe.
It took a bit of questioning for Friedlander to learn his family’s full history from his grandmother and to learn about how one man who did alter history with his bold actions saved his grandfather, and through that saved his whole lineage.
Friedlander established the Centennial Commission on another noteworthy date: September 11, 2011. A decade following the hate-fueled devastating attack on this country proved an apt time to hearken back to an individual who rose above the hate in his midst. The terrorists had taken their lives in their hands to mercilessly kill innocents; Wallenberg risked his life to save people he didn’t know, and hundreds of thousands of entire families can thank him for that. The stated goal of advocating the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award, for Raoul Wallenberg on the occasion of his centennial in 2012 was completed last week. According to a report from the Friedlander Group, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York introduced the legislation and was instrumental in its passage. There was also a private meeting that morning between the Wallenberg Board, Senator Gillibrand, and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, whose grandparents were survivors who lived in the Warsaw ghetto in WWII.
A luncheon held on Capitol Hill was attended by Senators John Barrasso, Johnny Isakson, Kirsten Gillibrand, Frank Lautenberg, Orrin Hatch, and Ron Wyden; and Representatives Long, Nadler, Turner, and Waxman. Honorees included Andrew Stevens, a Holocaust survivor who forged documents used by Wallenberg in his rescue efforts; Emil Fish, founder and president of the Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee, which works to preserve and create a memorial to the survivors of the Holocaust in the Jewish suburbia in Bardejov, Slovakia; and Dr. David Moskovits, president of the Endowment for Democracy of Eastern Europe, who established the first American and Jewish school in post- Soviet Hungary and marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Claims Conference which negotiates restitution to Nazi victims and their heirs. Anna Stumpf delivered a message from Ambassador Szapary of Hungary. Matty Lichtenstein spoke about her work at Project Witness, a comprehensive nonprofit Holocaust resource center whose goal it is to educate today’s youth on the Holocaust so that the legacy of victims and survivors can serve a guide towards a better tomorrow. The luncheon was chaired by L.A. Fire Commissioner Andrew Friedman, Esq.
“As the world gears up for Wallenberg’s centennial on August 4, 2012, we should remember and celebrate the fact that today, there are hundreds of thousands of American Jews who are the direct descendants of those saved by Raoul Wallenberg,” said Ezra Friedlander. “Special thanks are due to Senator Gillibrand and members of the Wallenberg Commission, who include Ken Abramowitz; Abe Biderman; Leon Goldenberg; Erol User; Stanley Treitel; Charles Freeman; Sidney Greenberger; William Nussen; Jonathan Zalisky; Ben Hoffman; and Peter Rebenwurzel for their hard work and commitment to this historic effort, allowing the world to pay tribute to the extraordinary heroism of Raoul Wallenberg.” Flushing Bank, HealthPlus Ameri- Group, and Gil Cygler from AllCar Rent- A-Car are the corporate sponsors of this project.
New York Congressional Representatives Gregory Meeks and Nan Hayworth had introduced a companion bill in the House earlier in the year and it was unanimously passed on April 16 in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Ezra Friedlander made a point to emphasize the role of staff in the successful passage of the legislation awarding Wallenberg with the Gold Medal saying, “A Congressional Gold Medal is unique in the sense that it requires two-thirds of both the House and Senate to cosponsor the legislation before it’s allowed to be brought to the floor for a vote. Hence it’s important to acknowledge the role and hard work of Jesper Pedersen of Rep. Meek’s office, Dan Sadlosky of Rep. Hayworth’s office, and Elana Broitman of Sen. Gillibrand’s office for their coordination efforts that allowed for this bill to pass in honor of Wallenberg’s upcoming centennial on August 4 which will highlight the incredible impact of Raoul Wallenberg on humanity for generations to come.”
The Commission anticipates celebrating another victory. The co-naming of 13th Avenue as “Wallenberg Way” is set to take place in the near future. The “Wallenberg Way” legislation was introduced in the City New York City Council by David Greenfield and Brad Lander.
For those who are unfamiliar with the role Wallenberg played during World War II, The Friedlander Group provides a concise biography: “Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat recruited by U.S. War Refugee Board to save Hungarian Jews from deportation in 1944 and was given a diplomatic passport, a large sum of money and instructions to save as many lives as possible, using any means at his disposal. He is credited with saving more than 100,000 Hungarian Jews over a period of six months by creating multiple safe houses, removing Jews from trains departing to Auschwitz, pursuing convoys carrying Jews, threatening and bribing both German and Hungarian officers, and issuing forged identification papers, including the Schutzpass, an impressive- looking but counterfeit Swedish passports. Wallenberg was arrested by Russian soldiers in January of 1945 and his fate remains unknown.”
From a Soviet jail, Wallenberg asked, “Will the world remember me?” Ezra Friedlander has made sure of it, and will continue to do so for other righteous gentiles of the Holocaust as well.