Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 20 Jun 2011
Full Title: The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II
While his cousins worked in various successful family ventures, Raoul Wallenberg wanted to do something more to ease the suffering of those living under Nazi German occupation. To that end, he arrived in Budapest, Hungary in Jul 1944 nominally as a Swedish diplomat. Initially, he issued many protective passports to Jews, making them effective Swedish citizens so that Hungarian and German authorities could not harm them. As he grew more daring toward the end of the war, on many occasions he stepped into the middle of Nazi and Arrow Cross round ups of Jews and demanded releases of people that he falsely claimed to have had issued protective passports. In The Envoy, author Alex Kershaw told the story of this champion.
Hungary's experience in the Holocaust was generally not a well-known one, thus although the brave and righteous Wallenberg had saved far more Jews than Oskar Schindler, his fame could not rival his German counterpart. Through careful research, Kershaw told the Swedish diplomat's willingness to work toward a goal greater than himself, supported by stories of his associates, Swedish and Hungarian, Jewish and Christian, who allowed him to accomplish all that he had. One minor complaint I had with the book was that the author took some lengths to set up the book, with earlier chapters taking detours from the main topic going as wide as the Wannsee Conference and Elie Wiesel. Nevertheless, once Wallenberg entered the stage, this book quickly became a gripping drama. Glimpses of his rival Adolf Eichmann, the man in charge of the deportation of Hungarian Jews, were also offered, contrasting Wallenberg with the personalities opposite him. The end result was an inspiring piece of work that told a story of human nature at its best as Wallenberg ignored all risks to his own person so that he could save many others; that number could never be known, but it was estimated to be more than 10,000.
Well-informed, Wallenberg had learned not only German atrocities but also that of the Soviets'. When Soviet forces entered Budapest, he was placed under arrest and simply disappeared, tragically ending his story. The final chapters of the book briefly dealt with the Wallenberg family's failed quest to locate him and Israel's successful attempt to kidnap Eichmann from Argentina.
I had reivewed this book in its audio book form. George Guidall performed very well with the narration, keeping good pace and reading clearly.
I found Alex Kershaw's The Envoy to be an exciting and inspiring work that presented the courage of mankind in the darkest of times. I recommend this book to those with interest in the Holocaust and humanitarianism.
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George Patton, 31 May 1944