MARGATE — State and local officials remembered a man of courage as they joined in Tuesday night for the dedication of an intersection named after Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
Signs reading Raoul Wallenberg Plaza were unveiled following brief remarks by Margate Mayor Mike Becker and Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who both thanked Beth El Rabbi Aaron Krause for his role in renaming the intersection of Jerome and Fulton avenues.
Also present at the unveiling was Tom Kennedy, of Margate, who knew Wallenberg in Europe.
Wallenberg issued thousands of neutral Swedish passports to Hungarian Jews during World War II, allowing them to escape the concentration camps.
Wallenberg himself, however, did not meet the same fortuitous end. Interned by the Soviets, Wallenberg apparently died in a Moscow prison in 1947 — though his family believes he may have lived for much longer.
"With all the ‘thank-yous,’ we're here to thank Raoul Wallenberg," Levinson said. “John F. Kennedy often quoted Edmund Burke … ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ Wallenberg did a lot. The lowest count of the lives he saved is 10,000, the highest, 100,000. If there were a few dozen more Wallenbergs — which there weren’t — maybe there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust – which there was.”
Krause said that Wallenberg, “an unusually wonderful human being … deserves the title more than any other person of the hero of the Holocaust.”
Kirk Wisemayer, acting Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties, said earlier Tuesday that “it’s a story that appeals to (those) of all backgrounds, because Wallenberg himself was non-Jewish and risked his own life to save Jews. There are people in the world, then and now, willing to step up and help others, and that really resonates.”
Following the unveiling, state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno spoke in a ceremony inside Beth El.
“We talk about what will happen in the past so we never forget,” Guadagno said. “Yes, forever the plaza will be a reminder of the heinous, murderous crimes that occurred in our lifetimes or our parents’ lifetimes. … (But) it will be forever a reminder of courage.”
Among the onlookers was Bernie Gest, of Margate.
“It’s very emotional for the Jewish people, and if you know the story you can understand why I say that,” Gest said. “Any Jewish people still here indirectly owe that fact to him and people like him — of which there were few.”
Said Krause, “As people are driving down the street, if they had never heard of Raoul Wallenberg before, at least their curiosity will be raised.”
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