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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Every day costs human lives."
Alex Kershaw's "The Envoy" is a well-researched account of the fate of Hungary's Jewish population during the final years of World War II. It is also a tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life repeatedly to save as many Jews as possible. In January, 1942, fifteen Nazi party officials attended a conference at Wannsee, on the outskirts of...
Published on October 25, 2010 by E. Bukowsky

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Factually rich, but emotionally cold
As the Third Reich trembled and collapsed, Adolf Eichmann vowed to finish carrying out the Nazi's horrific Final Solution-to cleanse Hungary of her remaining Jewish population. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat posted to Budapest, would become famous for his exhaustive efforts to save these, the last Jews, not only of Hungary, but of Europe. In this work of...
Published on June 22, 2011 by lit-in-the-last-frontier


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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Every day costs human lives.", October 25, 2010
Alex Kershaw's "The Envoy" is a well-researched account of the fate of Hungary's Jewish population during the final years of World War II. It is also a tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life repeatedly to save as many Jews as possible. In January, 1942, fifteen Nazi party officials attended a conference at Wannsee, on the outskirts of Berlin. One of the attendees was Adolf Eichmann, "the head of the Gestapo's Section IVB for Jewish Afairs." After a discussion that lasted an hour and a half, the group decided that Eichmann "would be the chief administrator of 'the greatest genocide in history.'"

Before Hungary's Jews became a target for annihilation, many terrified refugees fled there from occupied countries such as Czechoslovakia. At one time, Hungary was "a promised land for Jews on the run; the only place where you could be a Jew and stay alive." Three hundred thousand Jewish refugees from Nazi-controlled Europe sought sanctuary in Hungary, but they would eventually realize, to their horror, that they had unwittingly jumped from the frying pan into the fire. In 1944, with the cooperation of the Hungarian government, the Germans decided to launch an initiative to remove "the country's million-odd Jews, the last significant population in Europe." "It will be a deportation surpassing every preceding operation in magnitude," Eichmann crowed.

The author focuses on several families and individuals who struggled to stay alive. He follows their efforts to escape deportation as the noose gradually tightens. Some fled to forests. In other cases, righteous gentiles protected their Jewish neighbors by hiding them in attics, cellars, and crawl spaces. These were chaotic times, during which Hungarian Jews rode a roller coaster of emotions that ranging from guarded optimism to terror and despair.

Thirty-two year old Raoul Wallenberg was superbly qualified to launch a rescue mission. He spoke German and some Hungarian; he was from Sweden, a neutral country; and he was "an independent spirit who [did] not need much direction." Using any method at his disposal, including trickery, political pressure, and bribery, Wallenberg managed to save thousands of Jews. America's War Refugee Board provided funds to the tune of more than $200,000 to help bankroll Wallenberg's efforts. Sadly, after the war, this courageous man disappeared into the Soviet prison system. His family's untiring efforts to locate him were unsuccessful.

"The Envoy" is a readable, detailed, and moving work that shows humanity at its most bestial and most sublime. Kershaw vividly demonstrates how prejudice and hatred can lead even cultured and educated people to commit unspeakable atrocities; how a lucky few miraculously survived to recount their amazing experiences, although the trauma they suffered would remain with them for the rest of their lives; and how one courageous and daring man, with the help of other like-minded individuals, brazenly defied the Nazi juggernaut and followed the dictates of his conscience. The book is enhanced by an extensive bibliography, black and white photographs, informative endnotes, and a thorough index.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Story of Raul Wallenberg and Holocaust Survival, November 12, 2010
The Envoy is Alex Kershaw's testimonial to Raul Wallenberg and his campaign to save the Jews of Hungary from extermination by Nazi Germany in 1944. Best-selling author Kershaw dramatically pulls the reader into the diabolical campaign of Adolf Eichmann to send more than 250,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. With the nail-biting suspense of a winning novelist, Kershaw uses solid research and anecdotal data to show how it felt to be just one step ahead of the SS and their cruel Hungarian proxies, the Arrow Cross.

Based upon the latest information from survivors, international archives, personal interviews and multiple records, The Envoy is a brilliant examination of the rescue of Hungarian Jews near the end of the Holocaust, led by the brave Swiss diplomat, Raul Wallenberg. Kershaw gives the reader a fiery collection of facts as explained in detail by survivors and records, woven into a thrilling and detailed account of Wallenberg's courageous efforts to save thousands Jewish families from certain death.

Kershaw's meticulous research opens a comprehensive analysis of Adolph Eichmann and his desperate need to fulfill Hitler's command to make Europe Judenrien. We learn that the chain-smoking Nazi leader was compelled to do anything that would endear himself to The Fuehrer. In this case, it was the destruction of the Jews of Hungary. Kershaw describes how Eichmann poured himself into the task with gusto.

By 1944, most of the Jews of Europe had already been shot and buried or gassed to death in a Nazi death camp. Only the Jewish families of Hungary remained alive. Eichmann's job was to send them as quickly as possible to Auschwitz, for Special Treatment. In April and May, Eichmann increased the evacuation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to an estimated rate of 12,000 per day. When trains and trucks had been commandeered to the front lines, Eichmann forced innocent Jewish men, women and children onto a terrifying death march. Kershaw deftly employs interviews and recorded data, bringing to life some of the most tormenting and frightening moments of this march.

At that time, the world had begun to discover the vast persecution and genocide of European Jews by Nazi Germany. Upon learning that the Jews of Hungary were about to be exterminated, President Roosevelt ordered diplomat Iver Olson to Stockholm, to intervene. Because Sweden was officially neutral in WWII, only their diplomats could go to Hungary to provide protection for Jews. Olson named a tall, thirty-two year-old Swedish diplomat named Raul Wallenberg for the position. The affluent Wallenberg, whose academic credentials came from The University of Michigan, was fluent in German, Hungarian and Russian. His mission was to save as many of Hungary's Jews as possible by providing them with Swedish protection papers, called a "Shutzpass." He also financed the purchase of 32 safe houses, protected as Swedish property. He put up signs such as "The Swedish Library" and "The Swedish Research Institute" on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings to bolster the deception. Into these safe houses poured the lifeblood of Hungarian Jewish families. Most Jews caught outside of a safe house were sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Others were shot by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, their bodies dumped into the Danube.

Together with Swedish diplomat Per Anger, Wallenberg distributed thousands of protective passports and bribed hundreds Hungarian officials. In doing so, at the danger of his own life, Wallenberg defied Eichmann and the brutal Hungarian Arrow Cross. Tens of thousands of Shutzpass papers were created; the lucky recipients were boarded in Wallenberg's Budapest safe houses. There was little food, heat or water. Most buildings had been deprived of electricity through massive Allied bombings. Survivors hid in scorching attics, froze in damp, cramped basements and at every moment faced arrest and deportation to Auschwitz, or summary execution. Parents watched in horror as their children caught outside a safe house were shot. But thousands of Wallenberg Jews remained alive through his courage and determination.

Two days before the Russian Army occupied Budapest, Wallenberg negotiated with Eichmann to cancel a final effort to organize a death march of the remaining Jews in Budapest by threatening to have him prosecuted for war crimes once the war was over. Then, as Budapest was liberated by Russia, Wallenberg traveled to meet with the leading Russian general, in order to negotiate fair treatment of his Jews. Wallenberg was arrested by Russian authorities and sent to Moscow. He then disappeared completely.

If there is a portion of The Envoy that leaves the reader disappointed it is the lack of data about Wallenberg after he was detained by Russia. Could Kershaw have dug a little deeper? Perhaps this will be the subject of a future work. The photographs at the end of the book enhance the depth of the story. Yet, we are left to wonder what really happened to this wonderful, courageous man after his arrest by Soviet Russia.

As many as 100,000 Wallenberg Jews survived and perhaps one million of their progeny are alive today because of his resolve and courage. Kershaw's brilliant effort is one that should be read by everyone who values freedom, tolerance and liberty. Named a "Righteous Person" by Israel, generations will live on because of Wallenberg's courage. Alex Kershaw has delivered a masterpiece about Raul Wallenberg, as witnessed from every perspective.

Reviewer Charles S. Weinblatt is the author of Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story (Mazo Publishers 2007).
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Factually rich, but emotionally cold, June 22, 2011
As the Third Reich trembled and collapsed, Adolf Eichmann vowed to finish carrying out the Nazi's horrific Final Solution-to cleanse Hungary of her remaining Jewish population. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat posted to Budapest, would become famous for his exhaustive efforts to save these, the last Jews, not only of Hungary, but of Europe. In this work of non-fiction, Alex Kershaw recounts the story of several people who worked to subvert Eichmann's plans, but his focus is principally on Wallenberg, the man who acted more selflessly and saved more lives than any other.

Because I have long been passionate about the story of Raoul Wallenberg, I think that I might have expected more than this book could realistically deliver. Kershaw's research can certainly not be faulted. The reader is given plenty of details to become a fervent admirer of Mr. Wallenberg, and like every good historian, Kershaw employs a vast cast of first person accounts and other primary source materials. But for me the deluge of facts washes away the humanity of the story. Adolf Eichmann told Raoul Wallenberg that one hundred deaths are a catastrophe, but one thousand deaths are a statistic. So many events are skated over so quickly that its effect becomes desensitizing; I needed Kershaw to go deeper, to draw me into the grievous depths of a few stories. This story cries out for narrative non-fiction full of soul-felt catastrophe but delivers statistics.

This book was not on my reading list; I picked up the audio version because one of my favorite narrators, George Guidall, did the reading. While not my favorite of Guidall's works, I think his gentle, fluid delivery did much to salvage the bald prose.

If you are interested in the waning days of World War II in Hungary, Raoul Wallenberg, or the Holocaust, you would likely find this book worth your while. I do feel, however, that those with an emotional attachment to the plight of the Hungarian Jews might wish to approach this account with caution, as the cold recitation of facts might prove rather unsettling.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Envoy a revelation, November 18, 2010
I just finished this book and it succeeded in allaying and obliterating any ignorance I had of Raoul Wallenberg's exploits in Hungary in 1944. It is also an intimate depiction of Adolph Eichmann, his cohort, and the Third Reich-history vis-a-vis Hungary in the third act of WW2. I didn't know that Himmler ordered a cessation of deportations and that Eichmann disobeyed him. I only had a slight knowledge of the nazi seizure of power in the wake of Admiral Horthy's kidnapping. Also included are the underlings, Theodore Dannaker, for example, a player in the 1942 expulsion of the Jews from Paris. The book's later pages include the the swallowing of Wallenberg by the ridiculous NKVD, the pathetic attempts by the family to uncover what happened to him and, finally, the entirely unsatisfactory and cynical Soviet explanation of his death due to a "heart attack". Finally, Hungary is shown for the nexus of hideous anti-semitism that it was. I love being edified. Well done, Mr. Kershaw.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary story, extraordinarily well told! Totally inspiring!, November 9, 2010
This is one of the best non-fiction books I have read in years. I couldn't put it down. It is a complicated story with sub-stories and nuances brilliantly dealt with by Kershaw. It gave me a lot of insight into a story -- the holocaust -- I THOUGHT I knew but now realize I actually didn't know the half of. It is absolutely gripping, as fascinating as it is devastating. But in the midst of the horror is the incredible story of this young man, only 32, who risked terrible danger because he was, as he said, 'only one life' in comparison to the thousands he came to save. Brave and inspiring. I highly highly recommend it!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads Like a Thriller - Brilliantly Told, December 9, 2010
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Alex Kershaw's non-fiction account of the end of WWII and the fate of Hungarian Jews reads like an excellent thriller, the only frightening difference being that the story is true, and in these pages the cruelty and savagery of the Nazis takes on a whole new light. Raul Wallenberg's determination to save the Jews of Hungary - the day-in-day-out struggle against all odds - is an important story to be told - and one that readers will not soon forget. Beautifully and sensitively written, this story reminded me of the very best human qualities that sometimes, though rarely, emerge out of the darkest moments of our history. Kershaw is a truly brilliant writer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great book by Kershaw, December 1, 2010
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I have read several books about the Holocaust, and yet, found The Envoy to be very informative and well-written. The Envoy was so gripping, that I could not put it down. Alex is a wonderful author, and I have enjoyed several of his books, and look forward to reading his entire collection. I strongly recommend his book, "Escape From The Deep"; another "can't put down" book. Alex writes about brave, courageous people with compelling stories that should be remembered and passed on from generation to generation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Overview of the End of WWII in Hungary, November 30, 2010
Alex Kershaw's The Envoy is a wonderful overview of the end of WWII in Hungary. It tells the fate of Hungarian Jews by focusing on several survivors' stories. At the same time, it also describes the activities of Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg who was sent to Hungary to try to help the Jews there, and came into direct confrontation with Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Final Solution. By contrasting Wallenberg and Eichmann, Mr. Kershaw is able to paint a picture in large of the world of the Hungarian Jew and the situation in 1944/54. That large picture in combination with the individual stories makes for very emotional, interesting reading. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Raoul Wallenberg and his work (along with the work of many other dedicated people) in Hungary.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One Man, Many Passes, 100,000 Lives, November 17, 2012
By 
Grey Wolffe "Zeb Kantrowitz" (North Waltham, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Of all the 'righteous' gentiles listed along the walk at Yad Vashem, you will find the most honors and gifts left at the Raoul Wallenberg site. Who was this man and why did he risk so much for people he didn't know? He was a member of the privileged family of well known bankers from Stockholm. He knew that after the war, Swedes would have to admit their complicity in working with the Nazi hierarchy during the war. Sweden supplied iron ore to Germany, until the Russians closed the Baltic ports, to build munitions and armored vehicles. Wallenberg's family was one of the banks that supplied credit to Germany in return for plunder from all over Europe.

In 1944, as the war was coming closer to Germany, the Nazis took over Hungary and tried to turn Budapest into a 'fortress city'. Admiral Horthy who was the 'Regent' of Hungary had been supplying troops to the Nazis since the invasion of Russia in 1941. But he had kept the Hungarian Jews (750,000) from being place under Nuremberg type rules. Once Horthy was pushed aside in 1944, Eichmann was sent to Hungary to exterminate the last large Jewish community in Central Europe. By August, there were only 250,000 Jews left in the Hungary, all of them in the two Budapest ghettos. Working with the Swiss (another guilty party in helping the Nazis) ambassador, Wallenberg helped to set-up housing that was under the protection of these neutral nations. Wallenberg gave out hundreds and thousands of 'Shutz Passes' which stated that these Jews were citizens of neutral countries and therefore protected.

Keshaw follows two Jewish families and how they survived and met up with those working with Wallenberg. He also follows Wallenberg and the members of his group in their fight to save as many Jews as possible from being sent to the ovens at Auschwitz. Great story and shows how much difference one person in the right place at the right time can make.

Zeb Kantrowitz
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the very maw of Death, February 14, 2011
By 
Jean E. Pouliot (Newburyport, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
For all the Raoul Wallenberg Avenues and Plazas in the world, I'd wager that few people know much about him. Myself? I knew the outlines - he saved lots of Jews and disappeared into the Soviet Gulag. Alex Kershaw's "The Envoy" fills in the missing pieces in a fast-paced, moving and sometimes terrifying book. The story takes place at a crisis point in the last months of World War II. The Final Solution had been implemented in nearly all of Nazi-occupied Europe. Only Hungary remained to be "cleansed." Adolf Eichmann made his headquarters in the Hungarian capitol of Budapest to oversee the deportations of Europe's last large group of Jews. Raoul Wallenberg, a young Swedish diplomat, arrived at the same time. The book tells the story of these two antagonists, as well as of several Jewish families caught in the middle.

The ferocity and inhumanity of the Nazis (and of their Hungarian fascist allies) is appalling. Thousands of Jewish men, women and children are force-marched in frigid November, with only the clothing they happened to be wearing when rounded up, toward a distant border town. That many died of exposure, hunger or exhaustion was the sadistic point. Yet wherever there were hopeless, suffering Jews, there was Wallenberg, passing out his Swedish exit papers to whomever he could reach. Taking advantage of the Germans' deference to authority and official-looking documentation, he saved many from the machinery of death.

The book ends with depictions of the capture and trial of Eichmann, the heart-breaking search for Wallenberg by his family, and the tender remembrances of those he saved. For any tending to believe Eichmann's self-pitying take that he was just following orders, this book will show what a monstrous lie that was. Kershaw's work is pitch perfect, well researched and feelingly told. A brilliant effort, in spite of the tragedy of the story.
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