There have been only two foreign nationals who have been named honorary United States citizens by Congress. The first person to receive that honor was Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England during World War II. In 1981, the United States Congress voted to confer honorary United States citizenship upon Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish citizen. During World War II, the Nazi government of Germany occupied almost all of Europe. The Swedish government, which declared itself “neutral,” maintained relations with both the Nazi government and the Allied countries. In 1944, as the Nazis were carrying out the execution of millions of Jews (the "Final Solution"), the world was generally ignorant of the genocide. In 1944, Hungary, which had been a country aligned with Nazi Germany, signed a peace pact with the Soviet Union and the Allied powers. As a result, the Nazi government took over Hungary and began to focus on the execution of the Jewish population in that country, shipping them to concentration camps in Poland and Germany. The Swedish Red Cross, becoming aware of the “Final Solution” in 1944, wanted to rescue the Hungarian Jewish population. In June of 1944, Raoul Wallenberg was approximately 32 years old and a businessman. He had a degree from the University of Michigan and had built a small fortune as an import/export trader. Wallenberg’s business partner was Koloman Lauer, an active member of the Swedish Red Cross. The Swedish Red Cross requested the Swedish government to place an individual in the Swedish Embassy at Budapest who would be dedicated to rescuing the Jewish population. Lauer suggested that Wallenberg be that person. After a long selection process, the Swedish government appointed Wallenberg, who was criticized as being too young and too inexperienced in diplomatic matters, to be the “First Secretary” at the Swedish legation at Budapest. *** In July of 1944, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest. By this time over 400,000 Hungarian Jews had been sent to death camps. Only 237,000 were left to be deported. Wallenberg had to work fast if he was to rescue anyone.
Upon his arrival, Wallenberg shocked the diplomats by his use of creative, daring and unconventional methods. Knowing that the remaining Jewish population was on the verge of being wiped out, Wallenberg immediately bribed and threatened Hungarian government officials to get cooperation for his plans to help the Jews. Wallenberg first began leasing buildings in war torn Budapest. He then designated the buildings as being subject to diplomatic immunity and protection, posting signs on the buildings which labeled them as “Swedish Diplomatic Library,” “Swedish Research Institute,” or “Swedish Consulate.” Wallenberg then filled the buildings with Jews who were about to be deported. He then claimed to the Hungarian government and the Nazi officials that the Nazis could not enter the buildings because of diplomatic immunity. One day Wallenberg saw a train loading 1,600 Jews that was to leave Budapest. He knew that they were being taken to a concentration camp. Having no time to spare, Wallenberg drafted a letter from the Swedish King and delivered it to Miklos Hortly, the head of the Hungarian government. The letter demanded that the deportation stop. When he delivered the letter, Wallenberg also offered bribes to the government officials, who quickly agreed to stop the train at the Hungarian border and to send the occupants back to Budapest.