As the Third Reich trembled and collapsed, Adolf Eichmann vowed to finish carrying out the Nazi’s horrific Final Solution-to cleanse Hungary of her remaining Jewish population. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat posted to Budapest, would become famous for his exhaustive efforts to save these, the last Jews, not only of Hungary, but of Europe. In this work of non-fiction, Alex Kershaw recounts the story of several people who worked to subvert Eichmann’s plans, but his focus is principally on Wallenberg, the man who acted more selflessly and saved more lives than any other.
Because I have long been passionate about the story of Raoul Wallenberg, I think that I might have expected more than this book could realistically deliver. Kershaw’s research can certainly not be faulted. The reader is given plenty of details to become a fervent admirer of Mr. Wallenberg, and like every good historian, Kershaw employs a vast cast of first person accounts and other primary source materials. But for me the deluge of facts washes away the humanity of the story. Adolf Eichmann told Raoul Wallenberg that one hundred deaths are a catastrophe, but one thousand deaths are a statistic. So many events are skated over so quickly that its effect becomes desensitizing; I needed Kershaw to go deeper, to draw me into the grievous depths of a few stories. This story cries out for narrative non-fiction full of soul-felt catastrophe but delivers statistics.
This book was not on my reading list; I picked up the audio version because one of my favorite narrators, George Guidall, did the reading. While not my favorite of Guidall’s works, I think his gentle, fluid delivery did much to salvage the bald prose.
If you are interested in the waning days of World War II in Hungary, Raoul Wallenberg, or the Holocaust, you would likely find this book worth your while. I do feel, however, that those with an emotional attachment to the plight of the Hungarian Jews might wish to approach this account with caution, as the cold recitation of facts might prove rather unsettling.