Whose Raoul Wallenberg is it?: The Man and the Myth: Between Memory, History and Popularity


  • Tanja Schult Department of History, Stockholm University, Sweden




Raoul Wallenberg, hero, myth, Holocaust memory, popular memory culture, uses of history


Raoul Wallenberg is widely remembered for his humanitarian activity on behalf of the Hungarian Jews in Budapest at the end of World War II, and is known as the Swedish diplomat who disappeared into the Soviet Gulag in 1945. While he successfully combated Nazi racial extermination politics, he fell victim to Stalinist communism – yet another barbaric, totalitarian regime of the 20th century.

Given Wallenberg’s biography, his mission and his unresolved fate it is no wonder that Wallenberg became a figure of mythic dimensions. It is the mixture of heroics and victimhood, as well as the seemingly endless potential of possible adaptations that secures this historic figure and his mythic after-narratives its longevity. While it is without doubt the man behind the myth who deserves credit – first the man’s realness gives the myth credibility – it is the myth that secures the man’s popularity. The man and his myth depend on each other.

In this article, I will give an overview of how Wallenberg was perceived and described by survivors, in popular scholarly literature, how he has been researched by historians, and how he has been presented in different media. It will become apparent that the narrators have sought to satisfy different needs, e.g. psychological, political, and commercial ones. The narrators’ intention and attitude towards the historic person and the myth which surrounds him is of primary importance. I will show how different approaches to, and uses of, the myth exist side by side and nourish one another. And yet they can all simultaneously claim existence in their own right. By providing examples from different times and places, I like to illustrate that the popular images of Wallenberg are far less one-sided, stereotypical and homogeneous than they are often portrayed and hope to draw attention to the great potential that the Wallenberg narrative has today, as his 100th anniversary approaches in 2012.


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Documentary and Feature Films

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How to Cite

Schult, T. (2010) “Whose Raoul Wallenberg is it?: The Man and the Myth: Between Memory, History and Popularity”, Culture Unbound, 2(5), pp. 769–796. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.10241769.



Theme: Uses of the Past; Nordic Historical Cultures in a Comparative Perspective