Per Anger in Sweden, 2000
Per Anger forged a close friendship with Raoul Wallenberg in Hungary in 1944 while the two worked side by side to save the Jews of Budapest. In 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of Wallenberg’s disappearance, Anger came to Ann Arbor to accept the sixth Wallenberg Medal. For many, it was deeply moving to meet the person who witnessed Wallenberg’s extraordinary humanitarian actions up close. “Never has a man succeeded in modern times to save that many people in such a short time as Raoul Wallenberg did,” Anger told the audience gathered on a crisp October evening in Rackham Auditorium for the Wallenberg Lecture.
The fascinating story that Per Anger told that night was a great tribute to an enduring friendship. Anger had returned to Sweden from Budapest in the spring of 1945 to the realization that Wallenberg was imprisoned in Russia. After that time, he and his wife, Elena, raised a family and traveled the world together while Per pursued a career as a Swedish diplomat. But Anger never flagged in his attempts to discover what happened to his friend.
He did not talk much in his lecture about his own heroic role in Budapest. Perhaps the knowledge that he has lived a full and happy life, in contrast to Wallenberg, keeps Anger from dwelling on his own considerable humanitarian accomplishments. Before Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in July 1944, Per Anger and his small staff at the Swedish embassy had already saved 700 Jewish lives. It all began when Hungarian businessman Hugo Wohl, who was a Jew, asked his friend Per Anger for help. Wohl and his family were about to be deported. In those days, Anger was someone who did not break rules. But when faced with the opportunity to save a friend’s life, he remembers thinking, “We have to try something.”
Per Anger (left) in Budapest
Anger created a provisional Swedish passport, or visa, that protected Wohl and other Jews from the Nazis. When Wallenberg arrived at the embassy, remembers Anger, “he looked at my visas and said, ‘Good, but I can do it better.’” Together Wallenberg and Anger designed the Schutzpass, a more elaborate version of Anger’s passport, laughing when they discovered that they had accidentally placed the Swedish crowns upside down. “The Nazis didn’t notice,” Anger recalled. He helped Wallenberg buy up “safe houses” with American money to shelter the many newly minted Swedish citizens holding Schutzpasse. Wallenberg continually went to the railway station to get people away from the Nazis, said Anger. “I was with him sometimes—he always bluffed—‘I remember you over there, I gave you a passport the other day,’” Anger recalled Wallenberg telling a Jew on a train. “I tried to copy him,” said Anger, who also accompanied Wallenberg on death march rescue missions to the Hungarian-Austrian border. “He always found a solution, invented a new way of saving people.” He would say to startled Jews on their way to Auschwitz, “Oh, you remember—the Hungarians confiscated your passports,” related Anger. “They remembered, and we took fifty people away.”
Per Anger in Jerusalem
In Sweden after the war, Anger became head of a special Raoul Wallenberg commission. He resigned that position early in 1951 because of frustration with the Swedish government, which refused to take up the question of Wallenberg’s fate with the Russians. But for the rest of his career, Anger pursued any leads that came up. In 1979, when Anger retired after forty years of distinguished diplomatic service to his country, he began to devote more time than ever to Wallenberg’s fate. “I always had in my mind as soon as I finish my job, as soon as I retire, I will concentrate all my efforts on the Raoul Wallenberg case,” he told his biographer Elizabeth Skoglund. Anger never relinquished his goal of one day discovering the truth about what happened to his friend after the Russians arrested him in Budapest and his efforts to bring the Wallenberg story to the world’s attention.
Per Anger received several awards throughout the years. He was honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by the State of Israel in1982, an award given to gentiles who with danger for their own lives rescued Jews during World War II. In November 1995, he was honored with the Hungarian Republic’s Order of Merit. In September 1996, he was honored by the Jewish Council of Sweden. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published in 1996 an updated edition, with a foreword by Congressman Tom Lantos, of Per Anger’s first-hand testimony, entitled With Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest: Memories of the War Years in Hungary. In 1997, Elisabeth R. Skoglund wrote the biography of Per Anger, A Quiet Courage—Per Anger, Wallenberg’s Co-Liberator of Hungarian Jews”. He was made an honorary citizen of Israel in 2000.
Per Anger died on August 25, 2002 at the age of 88. A tree has been planted at Yad Vashem to honor him.