Thousands of Hungarian Jews were rescued from death in Nazi extermination camps thanks to the Swedish diplomat Per Anger.
Not only did Per Anger ferry out reports of the systematic extermination of Europe’s Jews, he also fashioned false passports to save the lives of potential victims. As the enormity of the calamity became obvious, Sweden posted a special envoy to Budapest, operating under diplomatic cover, the now legendary Raoul Wallenberg. Anger, working hand in glove with Wallenberg, snatched several hundred Jews from forced marches out of Budapest.
Nor was Anger’s heroism restricted to subverting the Holocaust. During the early 1940s, he had already established a reputation for siphoning vital intelligence from Berlin to Stockholm.
Anger’s diplomatic career started in January 1940, when he joined the Swedish delegate to Berlin as a 26-year-old trainee. At great personal risk, he contacted underground movements, and conveyed their warnings of an impending German invasion of Scandinavia to Stockholm.
By the time his bosses alerted Norway, it was already too late. The Oslo government summoned the German military attaché, who denied everything. The next day, Germany overran Norway.
Anger returned to Stockholm in June 1941, and worked in the foreign ministry’s trade section, dealing with Hungary. Impressed by his diligence and perspicacity, Anger’s masters appointed him second secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest, a position he took up on November 26, 1942.
Anger’s colleagues included Hugo Wohl, the Hungarian-Jewish head of a Swedish firm in Budapest; the Swedish legation’s veteran chief, Carl Ivan Danielsson; and the Swedish Red Cross representative, Valdemar Langlet. Together they were to become, in the words of US Senator Tom Lantos, “radiant sparks of humanity that glowed in the darkest of midnights”.
At first, Hungary seemed comparatively peaceful. Anger married his wife, Elena, in 1943, and found time to hunt game in Transylvania. In 1941, Hungary, under the right wing regime of Admiral Horthy, had joined Germany in attacking the Soviet Union. Yet Third Reich pan-Aryan fantasies found little resonance among the Magyar nationalists of Budapest.
Hungary was also the only oasis for Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. By 1944 the community numbered nearly 750,000 people. Refugees told Anger of Nazi atrocities. Some camp escapees drew sketches of gas chambers, which Anger forwarded to his superiors in Stockholm.
Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad in 1943 led some Hungarian politicians to consider signing a separate peace with the Soviet Union. But Hitler would have none of it. Frustrated with Budapest’s vacillations, Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944.
For Hungary’s Jews, this was a catastrophe. They were corralled into ghettos, robbed of their property and forced to wear the yellow star. Next, the Nazi in charge of the murder of Europe’s Jews, Adolph Eichmann, arrived in Budapest, and began rounding up every Jew in sight. Hugo Wohl approached Anger in desperation. The Swedish diplomat instantly issued Wohl with a false provisional Swedish passport. Soon hundreds of Jews followed Wohl’s example, and other legations copied Anger’s initiative, like the Papal Nuncio and the neutral Spanish. Initially, 700 of such false provisional Swedish passports were issued.
Wallenberg in Budapest
But their efforts were a drop in the ocean. By the time Wallenberg arrived in July 1944 – at the instigation of the US War Refugee Board and Sweden’s own Jewish community – Eichmann had sent more than 400,000 Jews to the death camps. A game of cat and mouse ensued. Wallenberg hosted Eichmann at the legation, but the Nazi, while accepting that Hitler was losing the war, insisted on carrying out his “duties”, and ominously warned Wallenberg to avoid “accidents”. Days later, a truck crushed Wallenberg’s car – luckily without him inside.
Swedish Diplomat Per Anger saved thousands of Jews in Budapest
Meanwhile, Anger, Wallenberg, Langlet and Danielsson set up bogus safe houses throughout Budapest, disguised as Swedish libraries and research institutes.
Next, they started issuing a Schutzpass, or “protective pass”, whose colorful royal Swedish motif persuaded the Nazis and their Hungarian lackeys to release Jews in their charge.
But by November 1944, forced death marches had begun, and Anger and Wallenberg drove up and down the columns, issuing passes and defying German guards by literally snatching Jews from their hands.
In January 1945, Wallenberg bullied a senior German commander into cancelling plans for the wholesale massacre of Budapest’s remaining Jews. Two days later, the victorious Red Army arrived. Wallenberg was arrested as “a foreign spy” on January 17, and was never seen again. Anger, too, was taken into Soviet custody, but released three months later after Swiss intervention. He credited Wallenberg with saving 100,000 Jewish lives.
A Quiet Courage
So what made Per Anger stand up to evil when so many other Europeans remained silent? Aspects of his upbringing suggest clues. He was born in Gothenburg, the eldest of three boys, to an engineer father and a language teacher mother. Theirs was a close-knit family, noted Elizabeth Skoglund in her 1997 biography, A Quiet Courage. Anger’s deeply held Lutheran beliefs helped him through the first crisis in his life, the accidental death of his brother Jan, an air force pilot, in 1936.
Anger studied law at the universities of Stockholm and Uppsala. He graduated in 1939, and took up his Berlin posting after a brief stint in the army.
After returning to Sweden in 1945, he took various overseas appointments – Egypt and Ethiopia during 1946, France from 1953, Austria from 1955, and San Francisco in 1961. In 1966, he was put in charge of Sweden’s international aid program. He became ambassador to Australia in 1970 and Canada in 1976, and won a dream retirement posting – ambassador to the Bahamas – in 1978.
Anger’s natural modesty made him keep Wallenberg’s story alive in speeches and books, while downplaying his own role in wartime Budapest. When, in 1956, he helped those thousands of Hungarians crossing the Austrian border, among them were several Jews whom he had saved in 1944.
Righteous Among The Nations
In 1982 Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum named Anger as one of the “righteous among the nations”, alongside saviors like Oskar Schindler and Wallenberg, and he was awarded honorary citizenship by Israel in September 2000. In 1989 Anger confronted Mikhail Gorbachev about Wallenberg’s whereabouts, but to no avail. Even at home, Anger faced resistance, says Skoglund, as “pusillanimous” bureaucrats tried to muzzle him so as not to upset Russia.
Per Johan Valentin Anger, righteous diplomat, born December 7, 1913; died August 25, 2002
Swedish Diplomat Per Anger
FAQ Passport History pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट
1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?
The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...
2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?
Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...
3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?
"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...
4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?
Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...
5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?
Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.
6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?
7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?
During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...
8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?
Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.
9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?
Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.
10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?
A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉
11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?
First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...
Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.
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