When it’s Albany’s Raoul Wallenberg Park – a memorial to 3 men who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.
You’ve passed by – you may have thought what a pretty green and leafy oasis in downtown. But it’s much more.
It’s Raoul Wallenberg Park
The Park was dedicated in in October 1984. It’s located at 119 North Pearl St., and sits between Orange St., Broadway, Clinton Ave, and North Peal, just across from the Palace and O’Brien Building. It commemorates Raoul Wallenberg and 2 other men who were instrumental in saving thousands of Eastern European Jews in the Holocaust in World War II.
We have no idea if there is an Albany connection to Wallenberg, and the collective memory appears to be long gone. But we are glad it’s here. It has become part of Albany’s history and the history of the world, that will never forget and always remember acts of heroism and courage in face of evil.
Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat. With the support of the World Jewish Congress and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg to Budapest in July 1944 to help protect the 200,000 Jews who remained in the city. From October 15, when the Arrow Cross seized power, to the liberation of the capital three months later, Wallenberg saved Jews through a variety of means — by issuing thousands of protective documents, by establishing the International Ghetto of protected houses, and by securing their release from deportation trains, death march convoys, and labor service brigades — all at significant risk to himself. (The Arrow Cross was the far right nationalist Hungarian Party that collaborated with the Nazis, and specifically with Adolf Eichmann in the murder of Hungarian Jews.)
Wallenberg was detained by the Soviet agents in January, 1945, and disappeared without a trace. In 2000 the Russian prosecutor’s office issued a formal statement acknowledging that Wallenberg was held in a Soviet prison as a “socially dangerous” person for two and a half years before he died.
For his actions on behalf of Hungarian Jewry, Yad Vashem* awarded Wallenberg the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1963, and the United States granted him honorary citizenship in 1981.
The Wallenberg memorial plaque in the park reads:
“In honor of Roaul Wallenberg, Swedish Diplomat and Righteous Gentile, who saved thousands of Jewish men, women and children from destruction in the Nazis’ Final Solution. Appointed by the U.S Refugee Board and acting under the auspices of the Swedish Government, his personal heroism and lack of regard for his own safety, stand as reminders of what all mankind should do when oppression occurs. His courage and compassion are lessons for all generations.” “Wherever he is, his humanity burns like a torch.”
In the 1990s two additional plaques were added to the Park, commemorating 2 other men who risked their lives to save Jews in Eastern Europe.
Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat, fluent in Russuan, posted to Kovno Lithuania in 1939. Initially he helped members of the Polish underground by issuing them Japanese transit visas. But soon he started helping Jewish refugees by issuing 10 day transit visas, for those who had visas to Curacao in the Dutch West Indies. Sugihara was transferred and served the rest of the war in Prague and Bucharest. Near the end of the war he was arrested, with other diplomats, by the Soviets. After several years he was allowed to return to Japan. Shortly before his death in 1986, Yad Vashem, declared Sugihara “Righteous Among the Nations”
His plaque reads “ In memory of Chiune Sugihara, a righteous citizen of the world” “Japanese Counsel to Lithuania in 1940 whose humanitarian actions saved thousands from the Holocaust.”
Zwartendijk was a Dutch businessman who worked for Philips Electric. In May 1939, he became Philips’ director of Lithuanian operations. In June 1940, during the turmoil resulting from the German invasion of the Netherlands and the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Zwartendijk became acting Dutch consul in Kovno, Lithuania. With the support of a Dutch Ambassador in Riga, the Lithuanian capital, he issued permits to Jewish refugees for them to enter Dutch colonial possessions in the West Indies. The permits were essentially useless because they failed to mention that admission was the prerogative of the colonial governors, who rarely allowed it. BUT they helped refugees flee from Lithuania, and with the help of Chiune Sugihara the Jews of Lithuania could escape certain death.
The Soviets ended Zwarentendijk’s operation in summer 1940, and he returned to German- occupied Holland.
For his efforts on behalf of the refugees in Kaunas, Zwartendijk was posthumously honored, in 1997, as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.
His plaque reads, “In memory of Jan Zwartenduk an angel of mercy” “Dutch Counsel in Lithuania in 1940 whose courageous action saved 2,500 Jews for the Holocaust and protected the spiritual heritage of Judaism. May his memory serve as an inspiration for future generations. “
In 2017 part of the Wallenberg Park was turned into a dog park – but the memorials remain, and should never be forgotten for the men they honor, and the world’s need to oppose oppression wherever it is found.
*Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem
The biographies are excepted from material from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Raoul Wallenberg Plaza, Washington D.C.
Thanks to Friends of Albany History bloggers Paula Lemire and Carl Johnson for their assistance and great photographs.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor