(Times of Israel) I want to explain why I chose to hitchhike,” wrote Swedish student Raoul Wallenberg in a letter home in 1932, after travelling across America. “To begin with, I hate the train and dislike bus trips… When you travel like a tramp, things are totally different. You take for granted that you will have to be on alert the whole time, and if it then turns out to be relatively trouble-free, all the better. You are in intimate contact with many new people every day. It is training in diplomacy and tact, for that is how you get the rides.”
The qualities turned out to be essential for Wallenberg, who as a diplomat during the Second World War coordinated the rescue of tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary, only to disappear after being arrested by the Russians. Indeed, the four years he spent in America studying architecture at the University of Michigan were formative, infusing in him a very American “can-do” attitude, say historians and officials at the school.
“It clearly prepared him for what he was going to encounter nine years later in Budapest,” says John Godfrey, Assistant Dean of the Rackham Graduate School. “Everything in his correspondence points forward to where he ended up.”