To coincide with Holocaust Reader’s recent interview with Nicholas Meyer, I wrote a Twitter thread about the unexpected connection between Star Trek’s Mr Spock and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish Diplomat who used his position in Hungary in 1944 to issue papers allowing thousands of Jews to leave the country. The text and photos that made up the thread appear here:
In 1981, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer was sitting on set, reading the paper, when he saw something that made him jump out of his chair. Few people know that it made its way into the film and connects the death of Spock with a great hero of the 20th Century.
Meyer is a history buff and interested in the life and fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who in 1944 was representing his country in Hungary. When deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz began, Wallenberg used fake diplomatic papers to help up to 10,000 reach safety.
When the Red Army occupied Hungary in 1945, Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet police under suspicion of espionage. He was transported to Moscow, eventually being held in the infamous Lubyanka prison. What happened next was shrouded in mystery for decades.
In the decades that followed, survivors of the Holocaust searched for information about his location. Reports emerged that he had been seen in Soviet prison camps. Was he alive or dead? His mother wrote to famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, asking for help finding him.
In 1980, newly elected America Representative Tom Lantos convinced the American government to make Wallenberg an honorary US citizen, so the USSR could be formally pursued for information about his whereabouts.
Lantos was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who had hidden in Budapest in a safehouse set up by Wallenberg. In 1981, an event was held in Los Angeles, to raise money for the search. It was covered by the LA Times; Simon Wiesenthal was there, pictured in the paper with Wallenberg’s sister Nina and actor Jon Voight.
In late 1981, Nicholas Meyer read this article on the set of Star Trek. But what did this have to do with Mr Spock?
In the article, Wiesenthal was reported as telling the assembled audience “only he who is forgotten is really dead.” Meyer read this on the day of shooting a scene from the end of Star Trek II, as Kirk, McCoy and others talk about their lost friend, Mr Spock.
Meyer realised this HAD to go in the scene. In the end, it changed a little; Dr McCoy says of Spock “He’s really not dead, as long as we remember him.” Mr Spock had sacrificed himself to save the crew of the Enterprise.
This small connection between fiction and history remained virtually unknown, until I asked Nicholas Meyer about it when interviewing him about his latest novel, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols.
Science fiction fans will know that Spock returned from the dead in Star Trek III, much to Meyer’s annoyance. But what of Wallenberg? Was he found, decades after his disappearance?
Despite sightings, the Soviets always maintained that Wallenberg was dead, and in 2016 the Swedish government accepted this was likely, declaring him dead-in-absentia. The most likely story is that he died as early as 1947, in Soviet custody. The circumstances remain unclear.
Raoul Wallenberg remains, though, one of the great heroic figures of recent times, and as Simon Wiesenthal and Dr McCoy remind us, those we have lost are not really gone, as long as we remember them.
Images in this post are used under the principle of fair use for the purposes of review, education and study, and will be removed at the request of the copyright holder(s).