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Holocaust tales retold to keep memories alive

Author Kati Marton speaks about "Wallenberg," her book about a man who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, at the Central Y in Forest Hills. Photo by Steve Mosco
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Six million counts of murder.

The world knows all too well about the terrible atrocities committed during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany in World War II — the near-elimination of an entire race of humanity.

But rather than forget this frightful history, Anne Golden chooses to remember it and pay tribute to a heroic family member. Her grandmother, Mirra Golden, survived that dark time and now Anne celebrates her grandmother and others who continued to live.

“We can’t forget the survivors or those who died,” said Anne Golden, at the Central Queens YM & YWHA in Forest Hills, days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, April 19. “My grandmother was stubborn and filled with life — and I’m here because of her courageousness.”

Anne Goldberg gathered with dozens of others Monday at the Y, at 67-09 108th St., to hear the story of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat in Budapest who risked his own life to save close to 100,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944.

Kati Marton, an author and former ABC News correspondent, wrote a book in 1982 chronicling Wallenberg’s heroic efforts and his extraordinary journey. Marton has just published the centennial edition of her authoritative biography, “Wallenberg,” and spoke to the gathering at the Y about him.

“Many countries have built memorials to the man,” she said. “Our job is no longer to raise memorials, but to raise questions to what his actions say about the rest of the world, including our own country, that failed to act.”

According to Marton, Wallenberg, who was born in 1912, left a comfortable life to give the chance of survival to thousands resigned to a hopeless end. He raced after lines of people being herded toward deportation trains, issuing Swedish documents on the spot.

“He manufactured Swedish passports, basically making instant Swedes out of any Hungarian Jew he could,” she said.

His humanity was not met with benevolence in the days after the war. When the Red Army marched into Budapest, Wallenberg was seen as an agitator and a threat to the Russian occupiers. He was arrested and sent to the gulag, where his fate remains unknown despite some tantalizing clues.

“It was not until the 1980s that the world took notice of the missing Swede. By then it was too late,” she said. “If anyone could die from heartbreak, it was Wallenberg’s mother, who did.”

Aside from the history of Hungarian Jews, writing the story of Wallenberg led Marton to her own history. While researching and conducting interviews with survivors and their kin, Marton learned that her Roman Catholic roots did not run as deep as she once thought.

“One woman said rather matter-of-factly, ‘Of course, he was too late to save your grandparents,’” she said. “I had no clue that my parents were Jewish and that they died in one of the first transports to Auschwitz.”

As Marton’s life was changed, so were countless other lives affected by the Swede. When Anne Golden thinks about Wallenberg, she sees a man who helped people taste freedom, as her grandmother was able to.

“He did what others were too afraid to do — stand up to the Nazis,” said Golden. “For that, we remember him.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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