Sweden declares Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg officially dead

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Wallenberg disappeared after his arrest by the Soviet military in 1945

Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who helped thousands of Hungarian Jews to escape Nazi mass murder in World War Two, has been formally pronounced dead by Sweden's Tax Agency.

He was arrested by Soviet forces in Hungary in 1945 and disappeared. He is thought to have died in a Soviet prison, but his fate remains a mystery.

Thousands of Jews escaped deportation to Auschwitz because Wallenberg gave them Swedish protective passes.

His story became legendary after 1945.

The former Soviet authorities said he must have died in a Moscow prison in 1947.

But his family were sceptical about that version of events, and spent decades trying to establish what actually happened to him.

'Died in 1952'

Last November they called on the Swedish Tax Agency to officially declare him dead. The request was made via Sweden's SEB Bank, acting as a trustee.

"He shall be deemed to have died 31 July, 1952," the tax agency said.

Pia Gustafsson of the tax agency said that date was chosen because it fell "five years after he went missing, which was believed to be the end of July, 1947".

That procedure complied with a Swedish law used in cases where the circumstances of death were not clear, she told the BBC.

His family requested that he be declared dead officially, in order to "let Raoul rest in peace", Sweden's Aftonbladet daily reported.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Stockholm, August 2012: Wallenberg's sister Nina Lagergren helped to unveil a memorial to him

In August the World Jewish Congress quoted a report alleging that Wallenberg was executed in a Soviet prison in 1947. The claim was made in a diary by Ivan Serov, a former director of the Soviet KGB secret police.

The Israeli Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem honours Wallenberg as one of the "righteous among the nations" for having saved so many Jewish lives in the war.

Wallenberg's rescue efforts began in July 1944, after his arrival as a diplomat in Budapest. The Nazis had already deported nearly 440,000 Jews from Hungary, most of them to the Auschwitz death camp, where many were murdered on arrival.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The intensive search for Wallenberg continued for decades but was fruitless

Ms Gustafsson said two contradictory Russian statements had contributed to Sweden's decision to declare Wallenberg dead:

  • The "Smoltsov report" which said Wallenberg died of a heart attack in his cell in a Moscow prison on 17 July 1947
  • KGB documents handed over in 1991 revealed Wallenberg had been questioned in Moscow's Lubyanka prison on 23 July 1947.

Wallenberg's mother Maj von Dardel and stepfather Fredrik von Dardel committed suicide in 1979, heartbroken over the Soviet authorities' failure to disclose details of Wallenberg's fate, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Budapest 2003: Nina Lagergren stands by a Hungarian monument to her brother

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