Kati Marton Unveils Another Relic
The Second World War and the Holocaust were without a doubt some of the most horrifying events humanity has gone through in its short existence, especially if we’re talking about the evil that men do to each other.
However, where there is death, hardship and misery, there will also be room for hope, courage, and a testament to the strength of the human soul. While many tragically fell to the inhumane terror that was the Nazi machine, there were many others who survived against all odds, often thanks to the help of true humanitarians and altruists who gave everything they could so that people who were strangers to them might live.
Needless to say, many of those heroes will remain forgotten to history, their deeds only known to their closest relatives… and Raoul Wallenberg was close to being part of that group. In her biography simply titled Wallenberg, Kati Marton takes it upon herself to tell us the rather incredible story of this Swedish aristocrat who went out of his way to save thousands upon thousands of Jews from the clutches of the Nazis, using his cunning and ingenuity to navigate a bureaucratic and political maze that swallowed many.
Indeed, this is the story of a man who abandoned his life of comfort and luxury in order to work as a diplomat, using his position as cover to perform various tricks such as issuing the Jewish communities with protective passes as well as buying buildings for them and declaring them to be on foreign Swedish soil. And what kind of reward did he get for all of his trouble, sacrifices and hard work? Imprisonment in a Soviet labour camp which eventually led to his untimely death. They intended for him to disappear like so many others during his time, but history had other plans.
A Life Worth Knowing
At this point we already have a decent amount of books out there talking about the unsung heroes of the Second World War, people who performed nigh-unbelievable exploits to save the lives of strangers they would likely never meet again. However, each and every one of those stories is unique in and of itself, deserving of recognition for they stand as considerable testaments to the goodness that exists in humanity. There are plenty of nuances and aspects that are particular to each and every story, and in this one the first truly remarkable thing was that Raoul Wallenberg was living a life of wealth and luxury in Sweden.
He had no real reason of venturing outside into the dangerous zones of Europe to try and help the people who were being persecuted. Nevertheless, he left it all behind and, let’s face it, did what very few of us would even consider to begin with. His selflessness alone makes him one of the most remarkable people to have existed in that time period.
The way in which he went about his business is also something worthy of a spy novel. He worked undercover as a diplomat and managed to save Jews in legal ways, so to speak. In other words, rather than smuggle or hide people like many others did, he used the law and its bureaucratic world to his advantage, manipulating it to suit his needs.
These kinds of manoeuvres call for special kinds of mental gymnastics and witnessing his ability to swim through the political shark tank that was the Nazi party is simply riveting. While it is a serious biography, there are times where it cannot help but to read like a thriller… Wallenberg’s life really was that intense.
All of this is conveyed through technically superb and irreproachable writing worthy of a master wordsmith. Kati Marton shows her chops as an experienced writer and journalist, understanding the importance of focusing on the critical details and omitting the irrelevant ones. She tells us enough to get us acquainted with the characters, to establish the setting as well as the mood, and then gets on with the events using a language that flows well and is easy to understand.
The Tragedy that Came After
Ultimately, what happened to him after the war is also of great significance. While most people would be heralded as true heroes for doing what he did, Raoul ended up in a Soviet labour camp, illegally imprisoned and ultimately dying from the squalid conditions he was made to live in.
The end of his story is truly the prime example of the injustice that can befall human beings, and the clearest demonstration of the saying that no good deed goes unpunished. While nothing we can do or say may bring him back or change his fate, the least we can do is remember him and live by the example he set forth for us.
Wallenberg’s life is not only that we should learn about, or even use as an example of what true altruism looks like… but it’s one that should really make us question the true value of humans helping and loving each other.
He gave literally everything he had, including his life, to uphold his ideal that humans ought to stick together and help each other, that we ought to live in a spirit of cooperation rather than sink into individualism.
Some Final Words
To bring this review to a close, I will go out on a limb and say that Wallenberg by Kati Marton is the best book available for those who want to learn about the titular man who turned out to be an unexpected saviour to thousands of Jews.
It is written with great style and precision, taking us through the many notable and history-shaping events Raoul lived through (and participated in), educating us from A to Z on one of the strangest fates to befall someone, at least in the 20th century. If you are interested in stories from the Second World War, especially ones more on the humanitarian side, then I strongly suggest you give this book a read.
Kati Marton is a Hungarian-American journalist and author who has reported for ABC News as well as National Public Radio.
She is a former chairwoman of various organizations, including the International Women’s Health Coalition, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Human Rights Watch.
She is the recipient of the 2001 Rebekah Kohut Humanitarian Award and the 2002 Matrix Award for Women Who Change the World. Some of her better-known works include Wallenberg, The Polk Conspiracy and True Believer.