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Updated 10:00 AM October 13, 2003
 

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Holocaust survivor Basch to get Wallenberg medal


One of the Holocaust survivors whose story was told in the Oscar-winning Best Documentary Feature "The Last Days" will be awarded the 13th Wallenberg Medal at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in Rackham Auditorium. Provost Paul N. Courant will confer the medal on Bill Basch, who then will deliver the Wallenberg Lecture.

Basch at age 17 (Photo courtesy Rackham Graduate School)

"The Last Days" was produced in 1999 and chronicles the final days of the Jews of Hungary as they were rounded up by the Nazis in 1944. Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg was executive producer of the film.

In the documentary five Holocaust survivors, all Americans now, tell the story of their deportation to the camps, escapes from execution and eventual liberation. The film takes them back to their hometowns and to the camps. Basch took his son, Martin, to the place where he was interned.

Basch was the son of a grocer in a small Hungarian village and grew up in a loving family. But by 1942, he had fled to Budapest, joined the Underground, and become one of a legion of young volunteers who risked their lives to deliver food and passports to the Jews living in Raoul Wallenberg's safe houses. Eventually Basch was captured while trying to deliver a Schutzpass—an official-looking passport-type document created by Wallenberg that declared Budapest Jews were protected by the Royal Swedish Legation, a stall tactic until the Jews could be hidden. Basch survived the horrors of Buchenwald and Dachau and today describes Wallenberg as his hero.

Wallenberg was a Swedish citizen who graduated from the U-M College of Architecture in 1935. In 1944, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest where his incomparable personal courage and ingenuity saved 100,000 Jewish lives, Courant says.

The Raoul Wallenberg Endowment was established in 1985 to commemorate him and to recognize those whose own courageous actions call to mind Wallenberg's extraordinary accomplishments and values, Courant says. Previous Wallenberg Medal recipients include Nobel laureates Elie Wiesel, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Miep Gies, the woman who supported Anne Frank and her family in hiding.

The Wallenberg lecture and medal ceremony is co-sponsored by the Wallenberg Endowment, the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and the U-M Hillel.

The events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Lynne Dumas at (734) 647-2644 or ledumas@umich.edu.

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