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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Stand up against intolerance: a Homage to Raoul Wallenberg
Inauguration of the Raoul Wallenberg room in the European Parliament at the occasion of the Holocaust Remembrance Day/Brussels
22 January 2013
Nearly 70 years have passed since Nazi Germany lost its suffocating grip on Europe, and European countries began taking the first steps towards negotiations, cooperation and lasting peace. Today, we commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, 68 years ago.
We must never forget Auschwitz and the other camps, where millions of Jews, but also Roma, homosexual persons and others deemed not to belong in Nazi society, were murdered. This was evil in its purest form.
On this day, I am extremely proud and happy that we are inaugurating the Raoul Wallenberg room – to pay homage to his humanitarian work in Hungary at the end of the Second World War. Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, saved thousands of Jewish lives and paid for it with his own.
In the early 1940s, Wallenberg was working for a firm importing and exporting food between Sweden and Hungary, when he got the opportunity to lead an American rescue project as a Swedish representative issuing protective passports and providing sheltered housing to Hungarian Jews.
The deportation of Jews from Hungary in the spring of 1944 was on a scale that is hard for us to grasp. Between May and July 1944 alone, more than 400 000 Jews were deported to concentration camps. Between July 1944 and January 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was able to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from deportation by issuing protective passports. It was a heroic deed. He will always be remembered for his altruism and courage. But in his fight against Nazism, he fell victim to Communism. He was captured by Soviet troops in 1945 and is assumed to have been killed in prison in 1947.
Why is it important to remember him today? Because of what he did, because of the lives he saved, but also because of his courage – the courage to stand up for democracy, freedom and human rights. He used the powers he was given as a diplomat – in unconventional and innovative ways – stretching his mandate beyond the limits to do what he felt was most important: saving lives.
Raoul Wallenberg stood up against dictatorship. He paid for this with his life. We can honour his legacy, his work and his values by never forgetting, but also in our daily lives – by standing up for solidarity and diversity, against intolerance and oppression.
I think we are all painfully aware that intolerance is spreading in Europe today. As history has shown, difficult times nurture nationalism and the need to find scape goats to blame for unemployment or other problems. Racist and anti-Semitic hate crimes are increasing. Roma people are still severely discriminated against. LGBT people are still confronted with violence, prejudices and discrimination in daily life. In several countries, xenophobic parties have representatives in parliament. In Hungary and Greece, neo-Nazis have even been elected.
This goes against all the principles the EU was built upon and it threatens tolerance and democracy. These are the times when Europe is put to the test. When this cold wind blows, it is especially important to stand up for our fundamental values and defend diversity.
We all have a duty to speak up. We can be inspired by the courage and strength of others. Our children and grandchildren need to hear about real heroes. When I was a child, many in my generation had the possibility to meet survivors of the Nazi camps in school and listen to their own experience about life and death in the camps, about the persecution and the hate. My grandfather, active in the Red Cross, and who drove survivors from the camps in white buses told me about the horrors they witnessed. My grandfather is no longer alive, and soon there will not be any survivors left. Therefore, it is even more important for us to talk about what happened. It is our duty to pick up the torch and not to let the Holocaust or role models like Raoul Wallenberg disappear from the public eye.
The principles of right and wrong are transferred from adults to the young in every generation. The idea of democracy and the respect of human dignity is something we need to teach our children.
What we can learn from the heroic deed of Raoul Wallenberg is the personal responsibility to act, the importance of values and solidarity beyond any border and the commitment to help people in need.
This room which bears his name should remind us of his courage – the courage to speak up against oppression and persecution and to defend human rights and freedom.
We can be proud of our peace project in Europe – but only if we practice what we preach. We must continue to defend our core values and always stand up for tolerance. This is how we honour the memory of Raoul Wallenberg. And this is how we honour the victims of the Holocaust.
I would like to thank the Swedish Members of the European Parliament - all of you - who took the initiative to honour Raoul Wallenberg in this way, and president Schultz, who made this possible.