HC Deb 22 March 1989 vol 149 cc1101-3 4.16 pm
Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the award of honorary British Nationality to any individual for outstanding humanitarian services in Hungary during the period July 194–4 to January 1945. At the outset, let me say that the intention of the Bill is that honorary British citizenship should be awarded to Raoul Wallenberg. Early-day motion 234 encapsulates the spirit of the Bill, and I am grateful to those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have signed it, thus showing their support for the measure.

I wish to record my thanks to those who have assisted me in preparing the Bill. They include United States Congressmen Ted Weiss and Tom Lantos, Mrs. Rachel Haspel of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States, the Jubilee Campaign, Miss Louise Smith and Mr. Paul Lennon.

I shall first address the work of Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest in those incredible closing months of world war 2; then I shall explain why I think that honorary British citizenship should be awarded.

More than 100,000 men, women and children undoubtedly owe their lives to Raoul Wallenberg. Although the great majority of them were Jewish, the record shows that Catholics in Budapest were also persecuted and that Wallenberg protected them. Raoul, who has rightly been called "the righteous gentile" did not stop to inquire about religion; he saved all he could, regardless of faith.

When Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on 9 July 1944, newly appointed to the Swedish legation, he immediately went into action. He arrived dressed in a windbreaker, carrying a rucksack, a sleeping bag and a revolver. The latter, he said, was merely to give him courage; he never used it. He immediately began to issue certificates for the Jewish people who already had visas for Sweden. He invented, on the spot, a procedure that was subsequently the saviour of thousands of people—the Schutpass or protective passport. That consisted of an official-looking document with the Swedish colours, the Swedish coat of arms and the ambassador's signature—all the formality necessary to impress the Germans.

Wallenberg negotiated with the Germans for permission to distribute 5,000 of those passports. Instead he printed and distributed thousands more than the original limit. He rented houses, protected them under the flag of Sweden, and sheltered as many persons as he could. Those houses held about 20,000 people. Wallenberg encouraged other embassies to follow that example, bringing the number rescued in that way to 50,000 people.

Wallenberg was untiring and relentless in his efforts, repeatedly risking his own life. The Germans made several attempts to kill him. He knew the danger, but he would not withdraw. He had authority, diplomatic status and undaunted courage, and he intimidated the Nazis by his mere appearance.

Almost daily, Wallenberg went to the railway stations in Budapest where Jewish people were on their way to Auschwitz in cattle cars with the doors nailed shut. He commanded the doors to be opened as he looked for people with Swedish passports. He would take people who had a driver's licence, a library card, a receipt or any piece of paper written in Hungarian, which the Nazis could not read. He marched away with 100 people here and 100 there, in front of the Nazi guards. The same story was repeated in the death marches to the Austrian border.

Wallenberg's greatest skill was in negotiating with the Germans. At one time the Hungarian Nazis—the so-called Arrow Cross—in their desperation decided to exterminate the general ghetto. People had been herded into the area and put into star-marked houses as a last stop before Auschwitz. Families were separated and no food or clothing was provided. People were at a level of exhaustion and despair. As the Soviets closed in on the city, the Nazis decided to blow up the ghetto. Wallenberg heard of the plan. He confronted the Nazi leaders and told them that he personally would see them hanged as war criminals if they proceeded with their outrageous action. The plan was stopped, thus sparing an estimated further 70,000 lives.

Wallenberg was only 32 years old. He was viewed by Hungarian Jewry as a saviour—a white light in a horrible darkness. In those nightmarish days, he was already a legend. The fact that he existed was passed among the Jews in whispers through the streets of Budapest.

After the Russians took Budapest in January 1945, Wallenberg mysteriously disappeared. The Russians said that they had taken him into protective custody. Then a curtain of silence fell on his fate. Efforts to obtain his release, or any information about him, have been ignored by the Russians. Andrei Gromyko informed the Swedish Government in 1957 that Wallenberg had died of a heart attack 10 years earlier in a Soviet prison. He would have been only 36 years old. No prison records have ever been produced. However, over the years, continued reports from former prisoners of the Gulag, independently and without knowledge of each other, have consistently testified to the fact that he was still alive in the Soviet prison system.

The flagrant disregard by the Soviets of Wallenberg's diplomatic status—in violation of international law—is a fact that cannot and should not be ignored. Whether he is alive or dead is, of course, of utmost importance, but that has no direct relevance to the decision to bestow upon him honorary British citizenship. Bestowing honorary citizen-ship is not only the greatest recognition that we could give Raoul Wallenberg, but the action would be our most appropriate. Raoul Wallenberg was not the head of state of a great Government. This act is not a self-interested national investment in future political alliances. This man's life shows the heroism, willing self-sacrifice and dedication to a cause that is unparalleled in our time. He has illuminated our history.

We need to take this unprecedented action to let the Russians and the world know that in a civilised society the violation of international law and human rights will never be ignored, that we do not forget and that Raoul Wallenberg will not be abandoned by Britain.

It would be fitting and appropriate if, on 9 July 1989 —45 years to the day after he began his mission in Budapest—we could announce that Raoul Wallenberg is, from that day forward, an honorary citizen of Great Britain.

Undoubtedly Raoul Wallenberg is deserving of limitless praise for his selfless and courageous action. Unlike many others who preferred to remain indifferent in the face of the unspeakable horrors of the holocaust, Raoul Wallenberg refused to ignore the perverted evil of the Nazi regime. He acted; we can do no less on his behalf.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Ms. Diane Abbott, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Peter Archer, Mr. David Atkinson, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mr. Alistair Burt, Mr. Cecil Franks, Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Ivan Lawrence and Mr. Rhodri Morgan.