Rescuer of Jews becomes honorary Aussie citizen

By Greg Ansley

Photo / AP
Photo / AP

Australia yesterday conferred its first honorary citizenship on Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who disappeared into a Soviet jail after saving tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps.

Among the survivors rescued by Wallenberg - often snatched from trains about to leave for extermination camps - were refugees who migrated to Australia after the war.

"Today, Raoul Wallenberg becomes an honorary citizen of Australia, an expression of our deep gratitude for all that our nation gained when so many saved by Wallenberg came to these shores," Prime Minister Julia Gillard told a ceremony in Canberra. "We are here today to celebrate something exceptional in the human spirit."

Among the guests at the ceremony at Government House was Melbourne neurologist Professor Frank Vadja, who was saved as a 9-year-old when he and his mother were about to be executed by a firing squad in Budapest.

With others, they had removed the compulsory Star of David patch from their clothing and were pushed against a wall by troops of the fascist Arrow Cross party, which murdered up to 15,000 Hungarians and sent 80,000 more to death camps.

After arguing for their lives, they were allowed back to their rooms to collect clothing with the patch attached, where they tried to put them back on with safety pins.

"They all laughed at us," Vadja told ABC radio before the ceremony. "We were marched about 600 yards down the street to a military barracks, and lined up in front of a machine gun in front of a wall.

"Suddenly civilians arrived and we were told it was Wallenberg, then the atmosphere changed and we were taken back to a protected house.

"Everyone looked at us as though we had come back from the grave. It was really unbelievable."

No one knows how many others were saved by Wallenberg, but estimates run as high as 100,000.

The 34-year-old special envoy used bluff and false documents to confer Swedish citizenship on condemned Jews in a desperate race against the Nazis' accelerating efforts to slaughter as many as possible as Soviet troops neared Budapest.

Shortly after the Hungarian capital fell in 1945 Wallenberg was arrested for reasons that remain unclear and sent to Moscow's notorious Lubyanka prison, where Soviet officials declared in 1947 that he had died from heart failure.

However, doubts persist, with reports he survived as late as the 1980s.

- NZ Herald

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