In 1936, Wallenberg began working for a Dutch bank in Haifa, a city in present-day northern Israel. While living in Haifa, he heard firsthand accounts from German-Jewish refugees about the plight of Jews under Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who became the chancellor of Germany in 1933 and whose anti-Semitic Nazi Party was in control of the country.
By the early 1940s, Wallenberg had taken a job with a Stockholm-based food-exporting company. Its owner, a Jew, could no longer safely travel through much of Europe, which by that time was under Nazi domain. Wallenberg replaced him on such trips and thus became acquainted with Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Mass Murders of Hungarian Jews: 1944 In January 1944, the United States established a War Refugee Board to set in motion efforts to rescue European Jews and other Nazi victims. That March, the Nazis occupied Hungary, which was home to the last sizeable Eastern and Central European Jewish population. The pro-Nazi Hungarian government supported Germany’s plan to obliterate all European Jews. Also in March, Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962), the Nazi official responsible for overseeing the extradition of Jews to death camps, was sent to Budapest by Hitler. Eichmann’s mission was to supervise the liquidation of all Hungarian Jews.
By the summer, the Nazis had detained approximately 400,000 Hungarian Jews and dispatched them via deportation trains to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps (located in Poland, which was then occupied by Germany), where they were exterminated. An additional 200,000 were in Budapest, where they resided in ghettos and awaited their fate. Meanwhile, the War Refugee Board requested that Sweden, which had stayed neutral during the war, send a special envoy to Budapest to spearhead a rescue effort. Wallenberg was selected to be that envoy. He was an ideal choice, as he was sympathetic to the plight of European Jews, could speak Hungarian and German and was familiar with Budapest.