A single human being has the power to make a difference in the lives of thousands.

That is the message behind "Wallenberg," a musical about Raoul Wallenberg which recently opened in the New York area.

The production tells the dramatic story of the Swedish non-Jew who left his wealthy family and the safety of neutral Sweden behind him in 1944 to save Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Using every means at his disposal, the 32-year-old succeeded in rescuing over 100,000 Jews within a six month period.

Using every means at his disposal, the 32-year-old succeeded in rescuing over 100,000 Jews within a six month periodWhile Oscar Schindler is a household name, due largely to the acclaimed film "Schindler's List," Wallenberg – who saved many more people - is virtually unknown. And that's a tragedy, say the show's organizers.

"He saved more people than any other person or organization and he risked his life to do so," said Benjamin Rosenbluth the composer who wrote the score for the production. "This story screams to be told passionately to the public, and what better way than through a musical?"

Playwright Laurence Holzman first came up with the idea of a Wallenberg themed production years ago while teaching a sixth grade Hebrew school class about the Holocaust. He noticed a tiny footnote at the bottom of the page about Wallenberg and was stunned.

"I had a solid Jewish education and never learned anything about Wallenberg," Holzman said incredulously. "If he saved more Jews than any other organization or government, why don't people know about him?" He called Felicia Needleman, his longtime writing partner and told her, "We have to tell this story. I don't want my kids' idol to be Brittany Spears when there are incredible people like this to look up to."

Born in 1912 into one of the most prominent and wealthy banking families in Sweden, Wallenberg came to America as a teenager to study architecture at the University of Michigan. In 1935 he earned a degree in architecture, graduating with honors and winning the award for the student with the highest scholastic standing.

After leaving Ann Arbor, his grandfather sent him to Cape Town, South Africa, to practice architecture at a Swedish company. After six months in Cape Town, his grandfather arranged a job for Wallenberg at a Dutch bank in Haifa.

It was in Palestine (now Israel) that Wallenberg first encountered the suffering of the Jews in Europe. He saw formerly prosperous Jews who were flocking into Palestine bedraggled and penniless. He heard their haunting stories of Nazi persecution. But he didn't know what to do about it.

After his return to Stockholm in 1936, he worked as an apprentice to Kalman Lauer, a Hungarian Jew who ran an export/import firm trading between Stockholm and Central Europe. As a Jew, Lauer found it too difficult to travel to Hungary, the main market for his specialty foods. Wallenberg took over the firm's foreign division. His remarkable ability to learn languages made him invaluable and he traveled frequently to Budapest.

Lauer later recommended Wallengerg when the American War Refuge Board was looking for a Swedish citizen to take on the task of rescuing the Jews of Budapest in 1944. For Wallenberg, Olsen's offer was irresistible, an opportunity to accomplish something truly meaningful. He agreed to go to Hungary.

With permission from no one, he announced that it granted the holder immunity from deportation to the death campsHis efforts over the six months following his arrival in Hungary in July 1944 were daring, inventive, and courageous.

He did whatever he could there to save the Jews. After he reached the maximum number of passports he was permitted to issue, he invented a special Swedish passport, the "Schutzpass." With permission from no one, he announced that it granted the holder immunity from deportation to the death camps. Wallenberg distributed his Schutzpass to Jews indiscriminately and saved 20,000 Jews with that venture alone.

He also kept hundreds of Jews sheltered in Swedish "safe houses," which he purchased or rented using American funds. On many occasions, Wallenberg pulled Jews off cattle cars, claiming them as Swedish citizens. When the Nazis needed the trains for the war effort and Adolf Eichmann began marching the Jews to the camps by foot, Wallenberg rescued many of them from these "death marches," as well.

Wallenberg was well known to the Nazis, whom he bribed, manipulated, confronted, and harassed tirelessly. Eichmann referred to him as "Jewdog Wallenberg." As the weeks passed, Wallenberg's life was increasingly in danger. One day his car was blown up. He began sleeping in a different place each night.

But he didn't let anything stop him. When the Nazis were about to bomb the Budapest Ghetto, which was home to the city's remaining Jews, Wallenberg persuaded the commander heading that mission to call off the attack. In January 1945, the Soviets entered Budapest and abducted and imprisoned Wallenberg. He was never again seen in the free world.

Theories abound explaining why Wallenberg was imprisoned. According to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, "The Soviets probably thought that Wallenberg's work had some ulterior motive. They presumably also suspected him of being an American agent. They were certainly also very skeptical of Raoul Wallenberg's contacts with the Germans."

Over the years, there were various accounts of Wallenberg's fate. The Soviet government announced that Wallenberg had died of a heart attack in prison in 1947. But a number of former Soviet prisoners who escaped the Gulag in the decades since reported that they had seen, spent time with and even befriended Wallenberg in various prisons and institutions. The last such report was in 1981. That same year, President Ronald Reagan made Wallenberg an honorary citizen of the United States.

The show is bringing his name and deeds to life. Its positive message – about the power of one person to make a difference in the world - is one the show's producers are eager to share.

That the Wallenberg musical has taken so many years to bring to fruition is due in large part because the writers aimed to tell the story without bending the factsThey hope to eventually bring their show to a stage on Broadway. But in the meantime, they are reaching out to schools and yeshivas across the New York and New Jersey area to arrange for students to see the show, which has been funded in part through the International Raoul Wal­lenberg Foundation, a non-profit which aims to publicize and promote the good works of Wallenberg and other saviors of the Holocaust.

That the Wallenberg musical has taken so many years to bring to fruition is due in large part because the writers aimed to tell the story without bending the facts. They spent months researching Wallenberg's life to create a script that was consistent with history. They even held readings for survivors who were saved by Wallenberg to guarantee authenticity.

A group of Wallenberg Jews attended a 2004 reading at Manhattan's Symphony Space and admitted that initially, they had been nervous the play wouldn't be respectful of their story.

"An elderly woman stood up after the reading and exclaimed, "That was me you just portrayed when he pulled me off the death march." Someone else revealed she saw herself in a scene which depicted Wallenberg creating fake passports for the Jews. Wallenberg's own niece came in from France for a reading and then met with the cast to give them a better sense of who the characters were because she knew them. "We heard the stories directly from the people who experienced it," said the show's composer, Benjamin Rosenbluth. "That was mind blowing."

As the final chapter on Wallenberg's fate continues to be written, recognition of what he achieved in Hungary continues to grow. In Israel, he is honored at Yad Vashem—Jerusalem's memorial to Holocaust victims—as the most outstanding of the "Righteous Gentiles."

In 1985, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick, speaking on the fortieth anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg's arrest, said Wallenberg "has become more than a man, more even than a hero. He symbolizes a central conflict of our age, which is the determination to remain human and caring and free in the face of tyranny. What Raoul Wallenberg represented in Budapest was nothing less than the conscience of the civilized world."

For more information, visit www.wallenbergthemusical.com