Remarks at the Tree Dedication in Honor of Raoul Wallenberg
Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for that kind introduction. It is truly an honor for me to be here today, on this 100th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg's birth, to dedicate this tree and to be in the company of Mr. Wallenberg’s sister, Nina Lagergren, and Kate Wacz, one of the many to whom Wallenberg gave the gift of life. I am also honored to join the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, Per Westerberg, Ambassador Jan Eliasson, and State Secretary Belfrage.
During World War II, Raoul Wallenberg could have chosen to live a life of comfort and safety with his loving family. Instead, he risked his life to save the lives of others. Raoul Wallenberg paid dearly for his brave choice and his actions speak to the core of our common humanity. As Americans, we are deeply grateful that Wallenberg said ‘yes’ when the United States War Refugee Board approached him on the idea of traveling to Budapest to try and save the largest remaining concentration of Jews in Europe. Amid so many missteps in responding to the Holocaust, encouraging Wallenberg to go to Hungary was one of the things we did right.
We return, decades later, to Wallenberg because his actions show timeless courage and a powerful and continuing relevance to the world we face today. They embody the democratic values that the United States and Sweden share. They embody the courage of the individual, of the dissenter, of the independent moral conscience in a world full of wrongs, of the hero who sees injustice and takes action. Wallenberg gave his life for his commitment to those values.
Wallenberg was a son of Sweden, but also a friend of America. We are honored to consider him one of our own – adding one more to the many ties that bind our nations together. The United States and Sweden work together with a shared mission of advancing human dignity and protecting universal rights around the world. Together, we supported the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as they made the impressive journey to become stable and prosperous members of the EU and NATO. Together we are supporting the people of the Middle East who are working to leave behind a history of oppression to create a future of economic hope, political freedom and human dignity.
Raoul Wallenberg’s life-giving legacy reminds us of a question that we should all be asking, amidst the daily business and the pull of our national interests: How do we ensure that every individual – regardless of race or religion – is able to live a life of freedom, a life with dignity and respect? How do we prevent the sins of history and our past failures to stop mass killings of civilians, from being repeated? How do we pass on to the next generation a sense of the importance of not being indifferent?
In seeking answers, we are fortunate to have as tireless a partner and as steadfast a friend as Sweden.
It is striking that, while he trained as an architect, Wallenberg left no building behind. Instead he left behind a legacy much more enduring than any physical structure or any physical monument. Today, the granddaughters and grandsons of those whom Wallenberg saved are building a better world as doctors and scientists, mothers and fathers, farmers, teachers, and legislators.
Among them is the late Tom Lantos, who championed human rights around the world from inside the United States Congress, and his grandson, Tomicah Tillemann, who is Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Civil Society.
Thus it is fitting that so many of the lives he saved, and the generations that followed, are being devoted to public service, promoting freedom, and defending those too powerless to defend themselves. To quote an old hymn, these deeds will his memorial be.
Today, in dedicating this Horse Chestnut tree, we remember Raoul Wallenberg, we show our gratitude, and we reaffirm our commitment to the legacy of humanitarian work that continues in this name. And we reaffirm, together once again, the importance of not being indifferent. Thank you.