HAMILTON — Citizens of Hamilton, Ont., last week held a program to commemorate Raoul Wallenberg Day, which is observed on Jan. 17.
UJA Federation of Hamilton’s Holocaust Education Committee and city council, however, hope to eventually honour Wallenberg with a more lasting tribute.
Last month, council agreed to honour Wallenberg, possibly by naming a park within the city for him. Hamilton’s public works department is looking into a location.
City councillor Maria Pearson, chair of the city’s facilities naming subcommittee, hopes for more than a park naming.
“I am hoping to work with [the culture department] to have some sort of statue instead of just naming a park,” Pearson said. “This was one man, a single person trying to safeguard so many people and putting his life in danger to do this. I am not saying he’s the only one. I am sure there are others, others we don’t even know. But that’s why we have to honour the ones we do.”
Ernie Mason, who was saved by Wallenberg, spoke to council to help convince them to create a tribute. Mason also shared his story at the Raoul Wallenberg Day event, which took place Jan. 16 at Adas Israel Congregation. The Holocaust Education Committee presented a program that included Mason’s personal testimony, a short film, poetry, music and a preview of the Wallenberg stamp, which was released the next day.
Wallenberg saved as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. Often in dangerous circumstances, he handed out a protective document called the Schutz-Pass, featuring the symbols and colours of Sweden, to Jews. At the end of the war, he was taken into Soviet custody. His fate was never discovered and his body has never been found.
Mason was 10 years old in 1944. His father and older brother, Laszlo, were sent to a work camp, where his brother was killed. Another older brother went to Auschwitz, and his older sister lived with a friend, posing as a Christian.
Mason lived with his mother and baby brother near Budapest. They were also posing as Christian and living with a host family. After six weeks, they left so as not to endanger their host family.
His mother headed to the Swedish Embassy, where she had heard they could get citizenship papers. Encountering a long line, she went to the back of the building and a man who spoke German let them inside. He gave them papers and put them in a safe house, where they remained until the end of the war.
Mason later learned that the man was Wallenberg.
“He saved my life. Without him, my children and grandchildren would not be here. Now that the opportunity is here to do something nice in his memory, I think it is very important,” said Mason. “Heroes are few and far between, and I think he was one of them.”
Mason came to Hamilton in 1949. He and his wife, Dorothy, have been married for 52 years. They have two children and four grandchildren.
Madeleine Levy, co-chair of the Holocaust Education Committee, said she is proud of the committee’s nationally recognized education work, but there is no tangible recognition of the Holocaust in Hamilton.
“We thought Raoul Wallenberg could be that lightning rod,” she said. “He exemplifies the power of one and is someone Hamiltonians could be inspired by.
“This tribute within the city will also be a testament to all Holocaust survivors who have made Hamilton home and contributed to Canada in many ways. We want to leave a legacy to citizens of Hamilton and ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten.”
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