The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday approved plans to place an 18-foot statue at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue to honor Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Hungary from deportation to Nazi death camps during World War II.
By a 13-0 vote, the council approved an agreement with Great Western Bank and the Jewish Community Foundation that allows the foundation to erect the statue outside the bank's two-story branch office. The agreement requires the city and the foundation to maintain the statue, which organizers hope to dedicate next spring if fund raising is successful.
"It is not our normal policy to encourage people to put things up on our property, but this is one of those rare cases where the cause is worth the effort," said Ian Campbell, senior vice president at Great Western.
"It is obvious that Raoul Wallenberg was a hero and a remarkable man, someone that is not only important to the Jewish community but to any thinking person in society," Campbell said.
Last year, the city designated the corner outside the bank as Raoul Wallenberg Square, after an unsuccessful effort by some Jews to rename the entire stretch of Fairfax Avenue within the city in honor of the diplomat.
At that time, a group of Fairfax-area Jews whom Wallenberg saved began organizing to erect a monument in his name.
"It is important for the second and ongoing generations to be aware of what this man did," said Paul Brooks, whose parents survived in Nazi-controlled Budapest thanks to protection extended to them by Wallenberg. "This man for no other reason than his own altruism decided to risk his life . . . for a cause he really had no relation to."
Wallenberg, a Lutheran who was sent to Hungary by the Swedish Foreign Ministry in July, 1944, is credited with saving about 20,000 Hungarian Jews by providing refuge for them in houses protected by the flags of neutral Sweden, Switzerland or Portugal. He is also credited with saving the lives of about 70,000 people when he persuaded a German officer not to follow orders to destroy the Budapest ghetto.
Brooks, who is leading the monument effort, said the Jewish Community Foundation/Wallenberg Fund has raised $50,000 for the statue, with most of the money coming from Jews who survived the Holocaust, Swedes and various corporations. The group still needs to raise an additional $100,000, he said.
Italian artist Franco Assetto, who will be reimbursed only for the cost of materials, has designed and sculpted the monument at his studio in Turin, Italy.
The monument features two stainless steel wings, symbolizing an angel of mercy, surrounding a brass and gold silhouette of a man, representing Wallenberg and the spirit of compassion in mankind. The base will be covered with thousands of pebbles, each representing a life that was saved.
Brooks said the statue is intentionally abstract because the group decided that it would be inappropriate to erect a lifelike statue of Wallenberg because there is no clear evidence that he is dead.
Wallenberg vanished after the Soviet Red Army invaded Budapest and arrested him on Jan. 17, 1945. The Soviets later reported that he died in prison in 1947, but some people believe he is alive based on reports of sightings in prison camps and mental hospitals.
For the same reason, the statue's organizers, who originally set out to erect a memorial to Wallenberg, have stopped using the word memorial in their fund-raising efforts.
"Certain unnamed sources objected to us using the word 'memorial' because he might not be dead, so we changed that immediately to say, 'A statue in the honor of,' " Brooks said.
Suzanne Zada, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, who is assisting in the fund-raising effort, said the statue's significance transcends any debate about Wallenberg's fate.
"He didn't save me from anything, but in retrospect, he saved my soul," Zada said. "Even though I didn't meet anyone who was decent, he has reminded me that there was at least one. It is important that we remind the new generation that there were some decent people, not just all the horrors."
Donations can be sent to the Raoul Wallenberg Fund, 2265 Westwood Blvd., No. 987, Los Angeles 90064.