March 2, 2009

Holocaust hero’s parents ‘killed themselves in despair’


An undated file photo of Raoul Wallenberg

STOCKHOLM (AFP) — The mother and stepfather of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swede who saved thousands of Jews during World War II before he disappeared, killed themselves in despair at his fate, his sister said Monday.

Wallenberg, who was working as a diplomat in Nazi-occupied Budapest when he managed to rescue tens of thousands o f Jews destined for death camps, went missing after his arrest by Soviet forces in Hungary on January 17, 1945.

His fate has remained a mystery since then.

Wallenberg’s half-sister Nina Lagergren told Swedish media for the first time Monday that Raoul’s stepfather Fredrik von Dardel and mother Maria Wising Wallenberg killed themselves by taking overdoses of sleeping pills two days apart in February 1979, 34 years after Raoul’s disappearance.

”That is correct. It was very difficult for them that they never managed to find Raoul,” Lagergren, who turns 88 on Tuesday, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

The information was part of a long investigative article on Wallenberg published in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday.

Nina Lagergren in 2003 in front of a monument of her brother Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest

Wallenberg rescued thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by providing them with Swedish passports and buying off Hungarian fascists and Nazis. He was supported in his efforts by Sweden and the United States.

After the fall of the Nazi regime, Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet troops and is believed to have then been transferred to a prison in Russia.

The Soviet Union claimed he died in the prison in 1947, although his body was never recovered.

For decades, his family and loved ones, as well as experts around the world, rejected the official Soviet version of his death.

A Swedish-Russian working group claimed in a 2001 report that he was kept alive in Soviet prisons as a possible bargaining chip with the West, even though there was no hard evidence to support that suggestion.

Reported sightings in Soviet prisons over the years fuelled rumours that he could still be alive.

Wallenberg would be 96 years old now.