Tanja Schult: Raoul Wallenberg Monuments in Budapest and worldwide
Raoul Wallenberg is today widely remembered for his humanitarian activity on behalf of the Hungarian Jews in Budapest at the end of World War II. In the year 2007, there exist more than 30 Wallenberg monuments in 12 countries on 5 continents: from Hungary to Sweden, from Canada to Chile, from Australia to Russia. The Raoul Wallenberg topic is a Holocaust related subject, but in contrast to monuments erected on the actual sites of the crimes and dedicated to Jews murdered in these places, the Raoul Wallenberg case allows also to tell of hope, shelter and rescue. Furthermore, the monuments are suitable to illustrate the respective nations dealing with the Holocaust. Against the background of the Wallenberg monuments in Budapest, especially Pál Pátzay’s The Snake Killer from 1949 and Imre Varga’s The New Raoul Wallenberg Memorial from 1987, Hungary’s dealing with its past and in particular with this prominent rescuer will be illustrated.
Pátzay’s original monument was turned down the night before its planned inauguration. Just like Wallenberg, it fell victim to the political developments of the immediate post-war years. Ironically, the monument, as the man himself in 1945, was brought to Debrecen. While Wallenberg became a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag, the monument was erected in Debrecen where it stands until today, however bereft its original meaning. It took 50 years before a copy of the work could be inaugurated in its planned setting in Budapest. Also the history of Imre Varga’s monument is an exciting story of great political relevance. With the quotation of the motif of the Snake Killer within his monument, Varga makes a direct connection to Pátzay’s disappeared monument, as also the title of Varga’s monument, The NEW Raoul Wallenberg Memorial, indicates. Until the installation of a copy of the Snake Killer in 1999, this allusion had of course political relevance and for the one who knows of the fate of Pátzay’s work, this double entendre is also transferable on Wallenberg’s fate: both monument and man disappeared to an uncertain fate. Varga created both a monument to Wallenberg as well as a monument over a monument, with which he paid tribute to the work of his teacher Pátzay. Varga’s monument came by in times of political changes, when it seemed somehow possible in Hungary, if still risky, to take up long hushed up subjects as the Holocaust or Raoul Wallenberg. Today, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the integration of Eastern Europe into the European Union, the political tensions of the middle until late 1980s and their relevance for the installation of a monument may seem far away. Nevertheless, they had an impact on where Varga’s monument could find its placement. The monument’s brief history explains its setting on the Buda-side of the Hungarian capital.
By placing the Budapest monuments in the broader context of the other existing Wallenberg monuments, the significance the Holocaust remembrance has received for the national and international human rights politics since the 1990s will be demonstrated. Thereby I will refer to the concept developed by the sociologists Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider in their book Erinnerung im globalen Zeitalter: Der Holocaust from 2001 (English translation followed in 2006: The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age.)