Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Envoy by Alex Kershaw

Published:  2010 by Da Capo Press
Source:  borrowed from the library

  In  high school history class, I did a book report on a biography of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.  His is a fascinating story, not only for his heroic efforts in saving lives but also for the mystery surrounding his disappearance into the Soviet Union almost immediately upon the Soviets' liberation of Hungary.

 The Envoy is an account of the fate of Hungarian Jews towards the end of World War II.  Up until mid-1944, Jews in Hungary were relatively safe from the Nazis; however with Germany increasingly on the losing side of battles, Adolf Eichmann - the architect of the Holocaust - was brought in to begin liquidating the last large cohort of Jewish people in Europe.  While other countries looked on passively, Raoul Wallenberg took it upon himself and his nation to save as many Jews as he could by providing them with Schutzpasses - documents conferring Swedish citizenship upon the bearer and therefore protection from transport to the concentration camps.  His work was certainly not done completely on his own, but Wallenberg himself risked his own safety on numerous occasions to ensure the protection of the vulnerable. 

  Once Hungary has been liberated by the Soviet troops, the fates of both Wallenberg and his adversary Eichmann are tracked.  Eichmann's escape from Europe, subsequent capture by Israeli agents and his trial are well documented and is described briefly in this book; it is Wallenberg's fate, however that is still the cause of speculation.  Taken into the Soviet Union after the liberation, it appears that he was considered a German spy (having in his papers several phone numbers for Eichmann, whom he contacted in his efforts to rescue Jews) and was imprisoned; officially the Soviet Union said that he died of a heart attack in prison in 1947 but his family refused to believe this and despite no assistance from the Swedish government to act on behalf of their own missing diplomat, they have tried learning his true fate for over sixty years.

  Along with profiles of several Jews Wallenberg saved, this book provides insight into both sides of the Holocaust that isn't normally seen in one place.  The efforts to kill Jews are placed alongside efforts to save them, and the courage of those needing to be rescued and the rescuers themselves has greater emphasis when viewed next to the evil that worked against them.



  1. Had I been in the Eichmann family, I would have also had a very hard time believing that he died of a heart attack as well. This books sounds positively gripping, and like something that would really interest me. I have sort of been shying away from WWII literature, because I became a little burnt out with it over the past couple of years, but this one sounds like something I should take a chance on. Thanks for the very insightful and thought provoking review. This book is going on my short list!

  2. Isn't it amazing how many fascinating stories we hear, luckily from first hand sources about the WWII era.

    Thanks for putting this book on my radar screen.

  3. This sounds absolutely incredible - I hadn't heard of this one before so am excited to pick it up now.


What do you think? Good or bad, I'd love to hear from you (but be nice - I'm sensitive!)