Per Johan Valentin Anger is among the non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. He is honored by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and listed among the Righteous Among the Nations.
Anger was born December 7, 1913, in Gothenburg, Sweden. He studied law at the University of Stockholm, and then later at the University of Uppsala. After he graduated in November 1939, the same day as war broke out between the Soviet Union and Finland, Per Anger was drafted to the army. Shortly thereafter the Foreign Department offered him a trainee position at the Swedish legation in Berlin, Germany. Per Anger finished his army service in January 1940, and by the end of that month he arrived in Berlin. This is where his diplomatic career began.
Per Anger was young and inexperienced when he arrived in Berlin in January 1940. World War II had been going on for almost five months at this time. He was placed in the trade department and worked on trade between Sweden and Germany. From that position, he witnessed the masses' fascination with Hitler and his propaganda.
Probably the most dramatic experience of his time in Berlin was when the Swedish legation had received reliable information from underground movements regarding the Nazi-German attack on Norway and Denmark. There was uncertainty if Sweden was included in the plan. Per Anger was now responsible for sending the coded telegram to Stockholm. That night he couldn't sleep due to his thought that he might have made a mistake when he sent the cipher, so that the Foreign Department couldn't interpret it -- then one would read in future history books about how "Sweden because of the Swedish attache Per Anger in Berlin were taken by surprise by a German invasion army!"
The message got through as it should, but the Foreign Department in Sweden didn't believe these statements and did not inform its neighboring countries. A few days later the legation desperately sent a new message to the Foreign Department with information from an even more reliable source. Now it was taken seriously, and Norway was warned. The Norwegian Foreign Minister Kut called for the German military attache and asked if this information was accurate. The German, of course, denied everything. The following day that same officer took control over Oslo.
In June 1941, Anger returned to Stockholm and became an official Swedish diplomat. He worked at the Foreign Department's trade section on the relations between Sweden and Hungary until March 1942. The work mostly concerned the import of Hungarian food provisions in exchange for Swedish steel.
On June 12, 1942, Per Anger was appointed second secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest, Hungary. On November 26, he began his duties there.
The Swedish legation in Budapest was a very small unit at that time. The equivalent to ambassador was Minister Carl Ivan Danielsson, and thereafter Per Anger in the order of precedence. Formally he was the second secretary, but in protocol he acted as first secretary. Further the legation consisted of Dénes von Mezey, who was in charge of administration, Harry Wester who was the military attache, Margareta Bauer and Birgit Brulin who were secretaries, and finally the Swedish Red Cross representative in Budapest, Valdemar Langlet.
Per Anger's main work was still Swedish-Hungarian trade. The years from his arrival in Budapest until the German occupation in 1944, Anger has described as relatively harmonious. There was no shortage of food, the restaurants were open, and the Gypsies played music in the restaurants, like before the war. The Jews were discriminated against and didn't have the same rights as others, but their situation was not as difficult as it would become after the German invasion.
In his book, Per Anger describes how reports of liquidation in gas chambers in Poland, had reached Budapest in 1942.
On March 19, 1944, Germany invaded Hungary. After the German invasion the situation changed drastically. Per Anger witnessed the Nazi persecutions and how their "final solution" plans were put in motion. He was shocked the first day when suddenly every fourth person on the street was wearing a yellow Star of David.
In an interview for the magazine Vi, Per Anger recalled:
"First then everything was revealed. Mainly by stories from people who managed to escape. We sent home reports of extermination camps, sketches of the gas chambers in Auschwitz...//... We became witnesses to what we didn't think was possible: a systematic extermination of people."
In an interview with Dr. Paul Levine, Per Anger speaks about the first days after the occupation:
"The first days we couldn't do so much. I mean, we didn't know what was going to happen. We understood that now would be a hard time for the Jewish population and it (the persecutions) started just a few days later. So then we were forced to mobilize our powers. From that moment everything that had to do with trade with Sweden or other routine errands were of course put aside, and we concentrated... the whole legation concentrated on one thing. To save... try to save human lives."
Jews with relatives or business associates in Sweden started to line up in front of the Swedish legation to ask for help. Per Anger came up with the idea to issue provisional passports. The passport was in fact a kind of travel document that was given to Swedish citizens abroad who had lost their real passports. Minister Danielsson gave his approval for them, but said that Per Anger would take responsibility for them. Afterward, the Swedish Foreign Department also came to approve the passports. Dénes von Mezey managed through his contacts with the Hungarian authorities to negotiate that the bearer of such a passport would be respected as a Swedish citizen, and that this person would need not wear the yellow Star of David. This way interment and deportation would be avoided.
Per Anger also came up with the idea to issue special certificates to the many Jews who had applied for Swedish citizenship. More than 700 provisional passports and certificates were issued at first, and the rumor started to spread among the Jews of Budapest. The documents completely lacked any form of legality in international law.
The Swedish legation acted on behalf of seven countries in Hungary at this time. Simultaneously the stream of people seeking help from the Swedes increased. This brought about the legation's request for reinforcements. At the same time negotiations were taking place between the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Department and the World Jewish Congress regarding sending a person to Hungary with a mission to lead the rescue of Hungary's Jews.
It was Raoul Wallenberg who was appointed to be this person. He was given the status of legation secretary in Budapest and arrived there July 9, 1944.
Wallenberg looked at the old documents and then presented the idea of a new document he thought would be more effective; the protective passes -- Schutzpasse. Wallenberg was well aware of how flashy papers printed in color with signatures, seals and stamps impressed the Germans. The result was a document printed in yellow and blue with the Tre Kronor--three crowns from the Swedish state symbol--and the signature of the Minister. Once again, these documents had no legal support whatsoever, but Germans as well as Hungarians came to respect them.
In August 1944 Per Anger traveled to Stockholm to request even more reinforcements for the legation. The new people came to be the attache Lars Berg the administrator Göte Carlsson, and the Swedish "Save The Children" representative Asta Nilsson. Consul Yngve Ekmark was also tied to the legation and organized storage and distribution of food, medicine and clothing for the rescue operation.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Per Anger was asked if he ever partook in the direct rescue of Jews. He answered that he sometimes received calls from Wallenberg who asked him to go to the train station to save people from the deportations when he was hindered to do it himself.
This is how Anger described one of those situations:
"When Wallenberg one day was somewhere else, I went to a station from where a train with Jews was about to depart. There was no time to be diplomatic with the Germans. I explained that a terrible mistake had been done because they apparently were on their way to deport Jews with Swedish protective passes. If they weren't released immediately I would see to it that Veesenmayer was notified. The German train commander didn't dare risking being reported to the feared Veesenmayer. I went in to the wagons to call for names, but only found two Jews with protective passes. With the help of the present Hungarian police officer, Batizfalvy, who in secrecy worked in cooperation with Raoul Wallenberg and me, I succeeded, in defiance of the SS commanders order, to leave the station with 150 Jews towards freedom, 148 of them without protective passes."
On November 10, 1944, the Russians and Americans bombed the Hungarian railroads and made train deportations to Auschwitz impossible. Adolf Eichmann then suggested letting the Jews in Budapest march 180 kilometers to the Hungarian-Austrian border station at Hegyeshalom. Possession of protective passes didn't help this time. Per Anger describes in his book how "thousands of people were taken as they walked and stood."
Raoul Wallenberg, Per Anger, and the legations of other neutral countries reacted quickly. In his book Anger describes one of their car trips along the death marches:
"One of the first days in December 1944 Wallenberg and I took a car ride along the road the Jews [were] marching on. We passed these crowds of miserable people, more dead than alive. With gray faces they staggered forward under chops and hits from the soldier's rifles. The road was lined by dead bodies. We had our car filled with food that we managed to distribute in spite of prohibitions, but it didn't last very long. At Hegyeshalom we saw how the ones who arrived were handed over to a German SS commando under Eichmann, who counted them like cattle. '489--correct' ('vierhundertneunundachtzig--stimmt gut!'). The Hungarian officer received a receipt that everything was in order.
Before this handing over we managed to save some hundreds of Jews. Some had Swedish protective passes, others were gotten out by pure bluffing. Wallenberg didn't give up and made renewed journeys when he in similar ways managed to reunite some additional Jews with Budapest."
The death marches to Hegyeshalom ended on December 10, 1944. At that time 37,000 Jews had been put on the march from Budapest--27,000 arrived at the border station.
When the Soviet troops seriously got closer to Budapest, the Swedish legation was offered the chance to leave the country by the Foreign Department due to the large risks. In spite of bombs and grenades falling over their heads, and their lives being threatened by the Arrow Cross, everyone remained in Budapest, except one of the women who was persuaded to go home. They knew that if they left the country their proteges wouldn't stand a chance and all rescue work would have been in vain. There was no other guarantee for their safety.
From now until the Soviet army's entry into Budapest, everyone lived in constant fear. More time was now spent underground in shelters than above. Dispersed over different places in the city, the Swedes quickly lost contact with each other. After the Russians arrived, everyone found each other again--except for Raoul Wallenberg.
The last time Per Anger met Wallenberg was January 10, 1945. He had then asked Wallenberg to cancel his operation and stay in the Buda-side of the city, otherwise his life would be in great danger. Wallenberg refused to interrupt his work. On January 17, 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was taken away by the Russians. His fate is a mystery to this day.
The members of the Swedish legation were put in Soviet "custody" over some period, until order of their return home came from Moscow. April 18, 1945, the Swedish legation from Budapest arrived in Stockholm. This ended the "Budapest adventure" for secretary Per Anger.
The war was over, but now Per Anger's search for Wallenberg started. He has been one of the leading figures in this search throughout the years, and he has also helped spread information about Wallenberg's deeds around the world.
After Budapest, Anger continued his diplomatic career, serving, for example, as Sweden's ambassador to Australia and Canada.
In 1989, as an example of Ambassador Anger's efforts, he urged the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to intervene in the Wallenberg affair. Holding an extension phone, Anger listened as Kohl called Mikhail Gorbachev and pleaded "let that old man go." The Russian had no answer, says Anger, who then went to Moscow to appeal personally to the Soviet leader: "He showed no interest" and "implied that he had no control over the KGB."
Per Anger has received several awards throughout the years. He was awarded as a "Righteous Among the Nations" by the State of Israel and Yad Vashem in 1982, an award given to gentiles who with danger for their own lives rescued Jews during World War II. He has a tree planted in his honor in "The Avenue of the Righteous" in Jerusalem. In November 1995, he was honored with the Hungarian Republic's Order of Merit, which was handed to him by the Hungarian President, Arpád Göncz. In September 1996, he was honored by the Jewish Council of Sweden.
In 1997, the first book about Per Anger was published, A Quiet Courage—Per Anger, Wallenberg's Co-Liberator of Hungarian Jews”. The book was written by Elisabeth R Skoglund and published by Baker Books.
Per Anger died on August 25, 2002.