May 14, 2012
Remarks at the Tree Dedication in Honor of Raoul Wallenberg
Remarks by William J. Burns, Deputy Secretary,
US State Dept.
Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for that kind introduction.
It is truly an honor for me to be here today, on this 100th
anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg's birth, to dedicate this
tree and to be in the company of Mr. Wallenbergs sister,
Nina Lagergren, and Kate Wacz, one of the many to whom Wallenberg
gave the gift of life. I am also honored to join the Speaker
of the Swedish Parliament, Per Westerberg, Ambassador Jan
Eliasson, and State Secretary Belfrage.
During World War II, Raoul Wallenberg could have chosen
to live a life of comfort and safety with his loving family.
Instead, he risked his life to save the lives of others.
Raoul Wallenberg paid dearly for his brave choice and his
actions speak to the core of our common humanity. As Americans,
we are deeply grateful that Wallenberg said yes
when the United States War Refugee Board approached him
on the idea of traveling to Budapest to try and save the
largest remaining concentration of Jews in Europe. Amid
so many missteps in responding to the Holocaust, encouraging
Wallenberg to go to Hungary was one of the things we did
We return, decades later, to Wallenberg because his actions
show timeless courage and a powerful and continuing relevance
to the world we face today. They embody the democratic values
that the United States and Sweden share. They embody the
courage of the individual, of the dissenter, of the independent
moral conscience in a world full of wrongs, of the hero
who sees injustice and takes action. Wallenberg gave his
life for his commitment to those values.
Wallenberg was a son of Sweden, but also a friend of America.
We are honored to consider him one of our own adding
one more to the many ties that bind our nations together.
The United States and Sweden work together with a shared
mission of advancing human dignity and protecting universal
rights around the world. Together, we supported the countries
of Central and Eastern Europe as they made the impressive
journey to become stable and prosperous members of the EU
and NATO. Together we are supporting the people of the Middle
East who are working to leave behind a history of oppression
to create a future of economic hope, political freedom and
Raoul Wallenbergs life-giving legacy reminds us of
a question that we should all be asking, amidst the daily
business and the pull of our national interests: How do
we ensure that every individual regardless of race
or religion is able to live a life of freedom, a
life with dignity and respect? How do we prevent the sins
of history and our past failures to stop mass killings of
civilians, from being repeated? How do we pass on to the
next generation a sense of the importance of not being indifferent?
In seeking answers, we are fortunate to have as tireless
a partner and as steadfast a friend as Sweden.
It is striking that, while he trained as an architect,
Wallenberg left no building behind. Instead he left behind
a legacy much more enduring than any physical structure
or any physical monument. Today, the granddaughters and
grandsons of those whom Wallenberg saved are building a
better world as doctors and scientists, mothers and fathers,
farmers, teachers, and legislators.
Among them is the late Tom Lantos, who championed human
rights around the world from inside the United States Congress,
and his grandson, Tomicah Tillemann, who is Secretary Clintons
Senior Advisor for Civil Society.
Thus it is fitting that so many of the lives he saved,
and the generations that followed, are being devoted to
public service, promoting freedom, and defending those too
powerless to defend themselves. To quote an old hymn, these
deeds will his memorial be.
Today, in dedicating this Horse Chestnut tree, we remember
Raoul Wallenberg, we show our gratitude, and we reaffirm
our commitment to the legacy of humanitarian work that continues
in this name. And we reaffirm, together once again, the
importance of not being indifferent. Thank you.