May 6, 2013

Holocaust hero to become honorary Aussie


Issued protective passports and provided shelter to Jews during the war
Saved tens of thousands from the Holocaust
His fate remains a mystery

THE late Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg will become an honorary Australian citizen for saving tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in World War II.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who made the announcement on Monday, said it was the first time Australia was bestowing such an honour.

The award of becoming an honorary Australian citizen was a “symbolic recognition of Mr Wallenberg’s tireless devotion to human life during the Holocaust”.

“The lives of those he rescued are Mr Wallenberg’s greatest memorial and Australia is honoured to have survivors he rescued living in Australia today,” Ms Gillard said in a statement.

Mr Wallenberg led a rescue operation in Hungary during World War II, saving tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by issuing protective passports and providing shelter in diplomatic buildings.

He was arrested by Soviet troops in January 1945 and his fate remains a mystery, although some reports say he died two years after the war ended.

In 1957 the Soviet Union claimed he had died of a heart attack in his cell in July 1947, but several former prisoners from the infamous Gulag prison system say they knew him as Prisoner Seven. Rumours have circulated that the diplomat cooperated with American intelligence agencies and a former KGB general once referred to a Western Diplomat held prisoner at the organisation’s headquarters at the Lubyanka prison for 30 years.

Why he was captured and kept a prisoner by the Soviets remains unknown, despite an admission by Russian authorities in 2000 that he was executed at the Lubyanka in 1947. Last January Swedish authorities announced they were holding a new inquiry into his death.

Mr Wallenberg had previously been recognised as an honorary citizen of the United States, Canada, Hungary and Israel.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce will host a presentation ceremony at Government House in Canberra on Monday, May 6.