Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Cotler says Raoul Wallenberg’s incredible heroism has universal lessons for us all

“Raoul Wallenberg Commemorative Day Demonstrates How One Person With the Courage to Care and Commitment to Act Can Confront Evil and Transform History”

Montréal – The Honourable Irwin Cotler – who helped initiate Raoul Wallenberg Commemorative Day – said that Wallenberg – who saved more Jews in six months in Hungary in 1944 than any single government – embodies the Talmudic idiom that “if you save a single life, it is as if you had saved an entire universe”.

Cotler, a former Minister of Justice, who earlier this week addressed the opening of Sweden’s international Wallenberg exhibit in Toronto as well as Montreal students commemorating Wallenberg Day in Montreal, said that Wallenberg’s incredible heroism foreshadowed today’s foundational principles of international justice:

“First, in the distribution of schutzpasses – diplomatic passports conferring immunity on their recipients – and in the establishment of safe houses conferring diplomatic sanctuary on their inhabitants – Raoul Wallenberg is credited with saving 50,000 Jews by these means alone. His deeds affirmed and validated the principle of diplomatic immunity and the remedy of diplomatic protection – a foundational principle of international law.

Second, in his singular protection of civilians amid the horrors of the Holocaust, he manifested the best of what we today call international humanitarian law.

Third, in his organization of hospitals, soup kitchens, orphanages – the staples of international humanitarian assistance that provided women, children, the sick and the elderly with a semblance of dignity in the face of the worst of all horrors and evils – Wallenberg symbolized the best of what we today would call international humanitarian intervention.

Fourth, in saving Jews from certain deportation, atrocity and death, he symbolized what today we would call theResponsibility to Protect doctrine.

Finally, in warning the Nazi generals threatening to blow up the Budapest Ghetto that they would be held responsible for their war crimes – from which they desisted – Wallenberg was a forerunner of the Nuremberg principles and what today we would call international criminal law.”

Cotler – who served as keynote speaker at the first Stockholm Conference on the Holocaust in 2000 – said that “Wallenberg’s heroism embodies and symbolizes the universal lessons of the Holocaust, with their contemporary international resonance and importance for our time:


The dangers of state-sanctioned cultures of hate and incitement – the Responsibility to Prevent;

The dangers of indifference and inaction – the Responsibility to Act;

The dangers of impunity – the Responsibility to Bring war criminals to Justice;

The dangers of assaults on the vulnerable – the Responsibility to Protect;

The dangers of la Trahison des Clercs – the Responsibility to speak truth to power;

The dangers of racism and anti-Semitism – the Responsibility to Confront and Combat.”

Yet while Wallenberg saved so many, he was not himself saved by so many who could have done so. Rather than greet him as the liberator he was, the Soviets — who entered Hungary as liberators themselves — imprisoned Wallenberg. He disappeared into the Gulag, and the Soviets claimed that he died in July 1947.

Cotler, who chaired the International Commission on the Fate and Whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg, said “The time has come for Russia to open up its archives and to unlock the secrets of history so that we can finally learn the truth about this disappeared hero of humanity. For us, there should be no other choice.”

Cotler concluded – echoing the theme of his message at the concluding forum of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Year at the Swedish Parliament in December 2012, “May Raoul Wallenberg Day be not only an act of remembrance – which it is – but a remembrance always to act.”

Original statement published here: