Valdemar Langlet was the head of the Swedish Red Cross in Hungary in the last years of the Second World War. This was the period when Hungary's Jews were being deported to the death camps, and in which the vicious Arrow Cross regime seized power, beginning a reign of terror. During all of the changes of government Langlet worked hard to save as many people as he could, including a large number of Jews. His main technique was to issue unofficial 'Letters of Protection', which looked like official Swedish identification, as well as taking over as many buildings as he could afford and giving them apparent diplomatic protection.
These memoirs were written very soon after Langlet's return to Sweden, and were published in 1946. He was thus writing at a time when the post-war settlement of Europe had not become clear. When he left Hungary a democratic government had been formed in the Soviet occupied zone, and it wasn't entirely clear what would happen next. Langlet even had an interview with the Hungarian Communist leader in which he denied that a Stalinist regime would be forced on Hungary (the same leader then went on to do just that!).
Langlet can't have been easy to work with - his views on virtually all of his colleagues are negative, or at best rather nit-picking. He got hardly any support from the Swedish Red Cross after the war, and these memoirs can't have helped his cause! His memoirs demonstrate very clearly that you can be difficult but also a great humanitarian.
Although Langlet's humanitarian work is impressive, it is actually his observations of the Hungarian political scene that make the most impact here. We trace the way in which dissatisfaction with the post World War One settlement led Hungary slowly into the hands of Nazi Germany, and the efforts made by the last semi-independent Hungarian governments to escape from that control as the war turned against them. These efforts failed and the Fascist 'Arrow Cross' ended up in charge, inflicting a reign of terror in Budapest that only ended when the Soviets arrived. Langlet's description of the early days of Soviet rule makes it clear that that the Russians were a significant improvement on the Arrow Cross, but were still capable of random acts of brutality and oppression. His fellow Swede Raoul Wallenberg was abducted by the Soviets and died in captivity in Moscow in 1947.
This is an invaluable memoir written by an unsung hero of the Second World War, bringing his own exploits to the attention of a modern audience as well as providing a view into the brutal end to the war in Hungary.
The First Act: The Deportation of the Jews
The Second Act: The Swedish Red Cross
The Third Act: Under the Arrow Cross
The Fourth Act: The Hungarian Republic
A Swedish Finale
Author: Valdemar Langlet