Raoul Wallenberg Forest
This parkland is named in honor of Raoul Gustav Wallenberg (1912-1947), a Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from likely extermination by the Nazis during World War II.
Wallenberg grew up in one of Sweden’s wealthiest and most prominent families. As a student in Sweden and France, Wallenberg learned Swedish, English, German, French, and Russian language skills that later aided him in his humanitarian mission.
In June 1944, the War Refugee Board appointed Raoul Wallenberg first secretary at the Swedish legation in Budapest. Wallenberg arrived in Budapest the following month and immediately set to work. He designed counterfeit Swedish passports and distributed them on trains, to Jews bound for concentration camps. He purchased as many houses, villas, and buildings as possible and adorned them with the blue and yellow colors of Sweden’s flag, thereby making them neutral diplomatic property and safe havens for Jews. Wallenberg also organized and set up warehouses stocked with food to distribute rations to the needy and to bribe Nazi officers. The Germans slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Hungarians during the war, but Wallenberg almost single-handedly saved as many as 100,000 Jews from likely death through his cunning and bravery.
On January 17, 1945, Wallenberg left Budapest to meet with Soviet military officials in Eastern Hungary. This was the last time Wallenberg was ever seen in public. The Russian government claimed to have no knowledge of his whereabouts until 1957, when documents were released stating that Wallenberg had died of a heart attack in a Russian prison in 1947. To this day, Wallenberg’s fate remains unknown. Reports persist from released Russian prisoners claiming to have seen Wallenberg alive as recently as 1990, though recent information from Russia supports the notion that he was, in fact, executed in 1947. In addition to this forest, Wallenberg and his life-saving work are memorialized in a monument at 47th Street and First Avenue, and at Wallenberg Playground at 190th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, both in Manhattan.
Until the mid-1800s, when railways started bringing passengers to the area, the most common way to get to this region was by boat. Intricate stone walls from the 18th century, a sealed stone well, and human artifacts have all been discovered on the property, which was inhabited by Native Americans for generations. James Douglas, a renowned mining engineer, settled here in the 1890s, and is the namesake of one of the park’s bounding avenues. Another famous resident was U Thant (1909-1974), Burmese statesman and former Secretary General of the United Nations.
The Douglas-U Thant site, bounded by Palisade and Douglas Avenues, between West 235th and 236th Streets, was purchased from a real estate developer by the City for $4.85 million on August 14, 1990. On November 28 of that year, Mayor David N. Dinkins signed a bill sponsored by Council Member June Eisland naming the property Raoul Wallenberg Park. After visiting the park’s dense shrubbery and thickly wooded areas in 1996, Commissioner Stern renamed the property Wallenberg Forest.