Raoul Wallenberg's story of courage and selflessness

PBS continues to fill its air time with diverse and diverting programming. Three shows - a special, a pilot for a possible series, and a premiere of a new series - air this weekcq, and all are well worth watching.

One of them - Hitler's No. 1 Enemy: Buried Alive (PBS, Wednesday, 8-9 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) - is an instant classic, mainly by dint of its riveting subject matter. The program, which will undoubtedly be repeated many times in the weeks and years ahead, is the story of an almost mythical figure in recent history: Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

Toward the end of World War II in Hungary, Wallenberg, scion of a wealthy Protestant Swedish family, risked his life over and over again to confound Nazi official Adolf Eichmann and save the lives of thousands of Jews. Wallenberg issued thousands of totally illegal ''protection passports,'' which identified the holders as Swedish emigrants under the protection of the Swedish crown, and boldly snatched doomed Jews from under the eyes of both German and Hungarian troops involved in transporting them to Nazi concentration camps.

When the war ended, Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Russians and never officially seen again, although several former inmates of Russian prison camps say he has been in Soviet prisons. The USSR insists he died in 1947 in prison, although there are many who claim to have seen him after that date. It has never been explained by the Russians why he was in custody at all, although this film makes it clear that the Russians regarded him first as an advocate of a separate peace between the Western Allies and Germany, then as an American spy during the cold war period.

''Hitler's No. 1 Enemy'' interviews Wallenberg's family and friends, diplomats on all sides of the conflict, survivors, and firsthand observers. Intercut with a variety of period footage and still photos, the interviews reveal a unique story about an unobtrusive man who chose to risk everything for his fellow man. The film gives a hint as to secondary motivations when his sister explains that as a young man Raoul was much impressed by the ''Scarlet Pimpernel'' story and later variations of the tale.

Director/producer David Harel considers the film his major mission in life - his father was among those rescued by Wallenburg in Budapest. And he has spent many years tracking the story. Even now, there remains a faint hope that Raoul Wallenberg may still be alive in a Russian prison camp. Recently, President Reagan, with much congressional urging, made Wallenberg an honorary citizen of the United States so that the country may legally demand information about him from the Russians.

Produced by Rubicon Films in Canada, ''Hitler's No. 1 Enemy'' is an extraordinary film about an extraordinary man. It tells a story of incredible selflessness and compassion - the epitome of humanity. If there are those who may be ashamed to have lived through the era of Hitler without having done more to stop the genocide, they can at least be proud of Raoul Wallenberg, a man who recognized what was happening - and did something about it. One hopes the film will help in the battle to discover once and for all what happened to this modern-day martyr, and, perhaps, even to rescue him from Russia where he has been ''buried alive'' for more than 38 years.

'Inside the White House'

It's just a bit like the Mad Hatter's tea party in ''Alice in Wonderland.''

Are you ready for four grande dames of the Washington press corps sitting around the living room, gossiping about - well, let's be kind and call it reviewing - the behind-the-scenes White House? Inside the White House, (PBS, Wednesday, 10:30-11 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) features hostess Jo Ann Rowe (Rowe News Service) chatting away with Helen Thomas (UPI), Sarah McClendon (McClendon News Service) and Betty Beale (Beale News Service) about their personal reactions to past and present presidents and their intimate impressions of what they have seen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the years since FDR.

How do they view the mood in the White House now? Says Sarah McClendon: ''Confident, arrogant, they think they own Congress.'' Says Helen Thomas: ''High state of belligerence, election fever.'' Says Betty Beale: ''Upbeat. Reagan is the nearest thing to a 9-to-5 president we have ever had.''

They discuss the possibility of a woman vice-president in 1984, a woman president in the future, and the only names which come up as possibilities are Lady Bird Johnson and Jean Kirkpatrick. All seem to agree that the past first lady most qualified to have served as president was Eleanor Roosevelt. And the most outstanding Presidents they have observed during their lifetimes: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman.

''Inside the White House'' is lots of fun - it's like going to a feminist tea party as the Invisible Man. Just be prepared for everybody talking over everybody else's lines and nobody ever quite finishing a train of thought. You may find yourself longing for the comparative serenity of ''Washington Week in Review.'' 'The New Tech Times'

High-tech is invading your home, whether you like it or not.

If your place in the world of telecom

munications puzzles you - and you wouldn't be alone - PBS has now come up with a new series to help you extricate yourself from the seeming quagmire of computers, video games, laser disks, etc.: The New Tech Times (Thursdays, starting Oct. 20, 9:30-10 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats).

The host is ex-FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson, a volatile administrator who turns out to be a surprisingly bland TV personality. The weekly series promises to discuss home computers, satellite dishes, cordless telephones, home robots, videodisc players, video games, digital audio discs, videotext, and other new technologies.

In the premiere show, there is a very superficial look at home computers with advice from an expert: ''Carefully shop around.'' (I could have told him that.)

Then there is another expert look at the ''personality'' exercise videodiscs on the market - Jayne Kennedy, Jane Fonda, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Simmons. According to the show's expert, all of them teach you to exercise the wrong way, and may be doing more harm than good.

And finally, there is a survey of video games and an explanation of how laser ''diskographics'' is beginning to take over . . . and why.

Nicholas Johnson sums it all up in this premiere episode. ''High-tech - will it blow our minds or just empty our pockets?''

It's a good question. A fairly good show. Now, will future episodes really answer the question without too much hedging? The exercise cassette segment did that - and there's a need for more such straightforward no-holds-barred analyses.

Best of all, at the end of this show there is ye olde faithful Edwin Newman with a delightful essay on high-tech language and how it is sneaking into common usage. He warns against such words as courseware, software, input, byte, and cad. He's troubled by the tendency of computer language to spread into everyday English language.

If you'll pardon the expression, Ed, your input adds a great deal to the show.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.