Marianne Balshone said she and other Jews lived in abject fear when the German military rolled into Hungary near the end of World War II, systematically killing many of them because of their religion.
Ms. Balshone, who spoke yesterday at the Toledo-Lucas County Main Public Library in downtown Toledo to about 100 students and educators, said she's alive today because of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who made up protective passes that kept about 100,000 Hungarian Jews from genocide. She said some 600,000 Jews were murdered in Hungary during the Nazi occupation.
Ms. Balshone, who now lives in Florida, made her comments at a Diversity Breakfast, sponsored by Toledo's Board of Community Relations and the United Jewish Council of Greater Toledo.
"He wasn't Jewish, but he came to save many of us," she said. "[The United States] is the country that everyone wants to come to. You can speak freely and do what you like. You can stand up and be just as heroic as Raoul Wallenberg. I hope you understand this."
Ms. Balshone said she was born to a well-to-do family in Budapest and that her privileged upbringing was shattered when Germany occupied Hungary in 1944. Many of her relatives in provinces outside Budapest were murdered.
She said that Jews were made to wear yellow stars on their clothing so they could be identified. Mr. Wallenberg created a fake diplomatic passport, with the Swedish flag and crown, proclaiming the holders of the pass as Swedish citizens. Mr. Wallenberg then purchased buildings so Jews who had his passes could live.
"The Germans were very paper-minded," Ms. Balshone said. "The papers told you who you were. When they saw the passes, they honored them since Sweden was recognized by Germany as a neutral country. That was part of the miracle of Raoul Wallenberg."
Ms. Balshone described one moment that German soldiers raided one of Mr. Wallenberg's buildings where her husband lived, and she saw her husband and other men being marched to a river. Witnesses informed Mr. Wallenberg. She said that Jews, at times, were marched to the river, shot, and thrown into the water.
"[Mr. Wallenberg] went to the river and said, 'You cannot touch these people. They are Swedish citizens,'●" Ms. Balshone said. "He told them to show their papers, but they didn't have them because the German soldiers made them empty their pockets before they left. It was his charisma that prevented the Germans from shooting them, and I later saw my husband march back with those men."
Ms. Balshone told the students that they should speak out against racial and ethnic injustice.
She said that it wasn't good enough to speak out for their own personal causes but to advocate for everyone's justice.
After the war, Ms. Balshone and her family immigrated to the United States.
Mr. Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet Union in 1945. Russian authorities said that he died in 1947 of a heart attack, but other reports stated that he continued to live in Soviet prisons.
Wendy Goldstein, a spokesman for the United Jewish Council, said Ms. Balshone also will speak at its annual Yom Hashoah Celebration at Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim, 6453 Sylvania Ave., Sylvania, at 7 p.m. tomorrow.
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