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Holocaust hero Wallenberg honored by UT students

By Danielle Gamble
On August 22, 2012

Michael Gammo believes the U.S. has become a country of bystanders.

“We see problems and we hear what is going on in the world, but you don’t see anyone jumping on a plane to try and help solve them,” the junior majoring in biology said. “These are ideals we should aspire to, not as students, but as human beings.”

Gammo believes Raoul Wallenberg embodies these ideals.

Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who used his skills as a document forger to save about 100,000 people during the Holocaust.

“I’d heard about Oskar Schindler and ‘Schindler’s List,’ but I’d never heard of Wallenberg, so I was really surprised by the amount of amazing stuff the guy did,” Gammo said. “He just went above and beyond what you would expect a normal person to do.”

To celebrate the life of Wallenberg, Gammo and Alyssa Brown created a gallery of about 14 panels of information about Wallenberg, complete with a sculpture by Brown.

At the site, a reception for this year’s Raoul Wallenberg Award scholarship recipient Carolina Wishner, a master’s student in public health, will take place Wednesday at noon.

S. Amjad Hussain, professor emeritus of surgery in the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences, will also be honored for his lifetime of teaching and research.

The display will stay up for about two months in the hallway outside of Carlson Library.

Gammo said he was approached by Tom Barden, Dean of the Honors College, about assisting with the display.

“It started back in May, doing the initial research, and then it kind of continued into reading a couple biographies and finding out about his life story and how we wanted to portray it,” Gammo said.

While the original project consisted of printing out replications of posters from the Brooklyn museum, Gammo said the idea snowballed into a full-blown exhibit.

“When it came to setting up the display and making it look nice, we realized that was above both our abilities, so we called in for back-up. We were looking for someone who could help it not look like a bunch of goofy science fair posters.”

Enter Brown, a senior majoring in new media, who created designs for the prints and supplied creativity to the display.

“I agreed with a little hesitation, not knowing all that I was going to do for it. I wasn’t aware it was going to be such a large project,” Brown said, laughing slightly.

Despite the load, Brown found time to create an original sculpture out of used wood and 10,000 nails that will hang on the wall of the exhibit.

Brown said she was so inspired by Wallenberg’s efforts, she asked herself the question, “How much is 100,000?”

“Even though only one nail represented 10 lives, hammering in each individual nail really put into perspective how many people he saved,” Brown said. “It made me realize that if he can save that many lives, I can save someone.”

Brown said while she was initially daunted, she was excited to create such a large body of work for one project.

“It’s very fulfilling,” Brown said, “to have my own show, essentially, with the help of Michael… and with all the attention it’s already received, it’s very gratifying. It’s proving the effort that’s gone into it and, ultimately, proving the work of Raoul Wallenberg himself.”

While Gammo and Brown are both excited about their own work, they both point to Wallenberg as their source of inspiration.

Gammo said his favorite story about Wallenberg happened in 1944, near the end of the war.

While the Nazi’s forced thousands of Jews to march from Hungary to Poland in an effort to exterminate as many as possible, Wallenberg traveled with the Jews, distributing protective documentation that claimed they were Swedish citizens.

“When the death marches weren’t killing Jews fast enough, the Nazis loaded cattle cars with people to ship them to concentration camps,” Gammo said. “So what Wallenberg did was drove a car next to the train, hopped onto the outside of a train, and was literally running on the roof of the train, throwing documents down to the people while Nazis shot at him.”

Brown said she hopes this exhibit inspires students as much as she was inspired, and that it promotes the great things he has done.

“This is me speaking Raoul Wallenberg’s story,” Brown said.

Gammo said Wallenberg’s selflessness is something he does not see very often in today’s society, and he hopes visitors will be inspired by Wallenberg’s sense of humanity.

“This guy was one of the upper class, he was wealthy, he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he was a Swedish gentile who had no reason whatsoever to go to Hungary and put his life on the line for people,” Gammo said. “He risked his life just because it was the right thing to do.”

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