Jewish group marks anniversary of WWII hero
Ruth Silverman Daily Herald Correspondent
Chicago Daily Herald
Without missing a beat, Victor Aitay says he knows exactly what he would do if he saw Swedish diplomat Raul Wallenberg in person.
"I'd hug him," he said of the man whom he credits for saving his life at the close of World War II. "He waged a one-man war against the Germans."
Hungarian-born Aitay, a concert violinist and co-concertmaster emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, found refuge in the Swedish Embassy in Budapest thanks to Wallenberg's efforts.
This week, the American Jewish Committee marked the 55th anniversary of his disappearance across Russian lines. Aitay of Highland Park and Ari Kaplan, who with Chicagoan Marvin Makinen is using computer data-base technology to analyze thousands of records from the Vladimir Prison in an effort to prove Wallenberg's whereabouts, marked the event in Chicago.
Aitay has attended all the annual remembrance ceremonies. Sometimes, he has played his violin; always, he remembers his own story, one of between 80,000 and 100,000 that were played out at the embassy. Most of those Wallenberg saved from certain death by creating false papers; for about 150 others, like Aitay, he provided shelter.
"I was 19 years old when I was a telephone operator in the embassy for the last few weeks of the war; I found my way to Wallenberg after I escaped from a labor camp," says Aitay. "I only saw him for minutes at a time. He always wore a backpack, because he never knew if he'd have to run or if he'd get back from the borders where he was rescuing people."
Aitay says, "Wallenberg's disappearance is the biggest catastrophe, because he couldn't enjoy the liberation and the gratitude of all those he saved."
The American Jewish Committee's new publication, "The Wallenberg Mystery: Fifty-five Years Later" details his efforts to save Jews, his relationship with the U.S. government, and the current state of knowledge about his disappearance. For information on the publication, visit the AJC Web site at www.ajc.org or call (312) 251- 8800, ext. 321.
at www.ajc.org or call (312) 251- 8800, ext. 321.
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