Artists son seeks place for Wallenberg bust at S.F. Jewish museum

Peter Lancz knows where Raoul Wallenberg is. He’s in Montreal. You can’t miss him. Great location. Giant head. No body.

The flesh-and-blood Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews, is dead. Most likely he perished in a Soviet jail, but no one knows for sure.

Yet the massive, bronze bust crafted by Paul Lancz, Peter’s father and one of the many Jews saved by Wallenberg, lives on.

Peter Lancz has moved to San Francisco. And he’d like to bring a several-ton Wallenberg with him.

“I think people should make an example of the role he played. He was a non-Jew who sacrificed his life for truth and justice,” said Lancz in his soft, French Canadian accent. “His legacy could serve as an inspiration for the future.”

It’s not just Wallenberg’s legacy Lancz is thinking about — it’s also his father’s. Peter Lancz, known in Canada as the Rodin of Quebec, died four years ago. Twenty-five of his works grace Montreal, but he always saw his 1996 bust of Wallenberg as his crowning achievement.

Peter Lancz, who worked as his father’s agent for nearly 30 years, helped recast Wallenberg busts in Paris and Budapest (the diplomat’s old stomping ground) as part of the Raoul Wallenberg Worldwide Campaign against Racism.

Raoul Wallenberg High School in San Francisco has asked to purchase one. Lancz is touched by the offer, but hopes to place the eight-times-life-size piece in a more prominent city spot. Specifically, he’d like it to grace the exterior of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

He has called the museum’s executive director, Connie Wolf, and board president Roselyne Swig, but nothing is set in bronze yet. Lancz has his heart set on a spot near the jagged, blue-and-red future museum.

“The whole purpose would be to inculcate [the message of Wallenberg’s life] into the minds of future generations,” he said. “The greater the visibility, the better.”

The elder Lancz’s subjects ranged from Wallenberg to Stalin to David Ben-Gurion. Some he met face-to-face, among them Ben-Gurion, whom he managed to talk into sitting for some modeling sessions during a 1967 Israel Bonds Society seminar at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel. But he never did meet Joseph Stalin, although he received a commission to create a work on the dictator from Hungary’s communist government before the 1956 uprising, during which Lancz fled Hungary for Canada.

Peter Lancz estimates that the complete cost of creating and bringing a bronze Wallenberg bust to San Francisco would be $35,000. He considers it well worth the price. “It is the quintessential symbolic and educational tool to combat hate and intolerance, the world over,” he said.

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Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.