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Lawyer's Search for Wallenberg Hits Bookshelves

Morris Wolff’s quest to find Holocaust hero continues
By: Sammy Hudes
Published: July 6th, 2011 in Culture » Books » Interviews
Morris Wolff, author of “Whatever Happened to Raoul Wallenberg” Pic: Morris Wolff
“Whatever Happened to Raoul Wallenberg” Pic: Morris Wolff

Morris Wolff, a prominent international lawyer who has devoted his life to finding and rescuing Holocaust hero, Raoul Wallenberg, has written a book about the subject. Titled, “Whatever Happened to Raoul Wallenberg,” the book sells for just $9.99 on the Kindle or $24.95 in paperback. In it, the Philadelphia lawyer tells the complete story of his journey in attempt to find Wallenberg; through filing a precedent-setting lawsuit, speaking to former U.S. Presidents and outing the lies told by Russian officials in court.

The story begins with Wallenberg, who was from Sweden, travelling to Budapest, Hungary in 1944 at the request of the U.S. government. In an attempt to form a war refugee board made up of diplomats from neutral countries, he was assigned to act as a watchdog in Europe. Wallenberg decided to go beyond his duties, creating methods and strategies for rescuing Jews, such as issuing protective passports to prevent them from being deported. Wallenberg threatened the Soviet army, who wished to impose military domination, to stop abusing Jewish women or else he would serve as a witness at their war crimes trials. A thorn in their side, the Soviets handled the problem by arresting Wallenberg.

Wolff entered the story in March of 1983, with Wallenberg having already been in custody for 39 years. Asked what he could do, Wolff suggested filing a lawsuit against the Soviets, claiming kidnapping and other criminal behaviour that violated Wallenberg’s rights. Wolff took hold of the ship, pro bono, and began researching at the University of Pennsylvania law library. He consulted with professors from universities around the U.S., including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Chicago and the University of Houston. He was determined to rescue Wallenberg.

“He was a forgotten man when I first took the case,” Wolff tells Shalom Life. “Nobody knew Wallenberg’s name.”

Prior to filing the lawsuit, Wolff sent a letter to then U.S. President, Ronald Reagan pointing out his absolute power under the U.S. Hostages Act to demand the release of Wallenberg, a United States citizen, from Russian captivity. Unfortunately, as Wolff would learn later on, a conspiracy involving the State Department Legal Counsel kept the letter off the President’s desk.

Wolff proceeded to file the lawsuit against the Russians in February of 1984, in the U.S. Federal Court in Washington D.C. He won the case and the judge awarded Wallenberg’s family a total of $39 million in damages; $1 million for each of his years in captivity up to that point. Unfortunately, this did not lead to Wallenberg’s release, which was the more important issue on Wolff’s agenda.

“[My goal was] obviously to find Wallenberg alive,” he said.

Many believe that Wallenberg passed away shortly after World War II, as this is what was reported by the Russian government.

“There was never any evidence he was dead. The Russians kept making up lies and stories that he had died,” said Wolff, refusing to buy such excuses. “He had never died. There was no basis of it and [the judge] found that there was no basis of it. He accused the Russians of lying. The judge said that he found Russian claims of his death totally without credibility.”

Wolff has met with other notable politicians regarding Wallenberg’s release, including former U.S. President, Bill Clinton in 1993. Clinton has praised Wolff’s book, calling it a display of “how much one man can do to achieve justice.”

Related articles: Raoul Wallenberg, Holocaust, Lawyer, Book
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