Photo Credit: Hagstromer & Qviberg Fondkommission AB

A celebration of the 100th birthday of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of over 20,000 Hungarian Jews in the final days of World War II, also marks the renewal of investigations into the events surrounding his death.

The event, which took place in the portrait hall of Budapest’s National Museum in Hungary, was attended by a slew of international representatives, including the wife of late Congressman Tom Lantons, who was saved by Wallenberg, and Holocaust survivor and Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled.  A surprise to attendees was the participation of Iranian Ambassador to Hungary Seyed Agha Banihashemi Saeed, who remained throughout the duration of the ceremony, including during a speech made by Peled.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an open Holocaust denier and has made frequent calls for the destruction of Israel.

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Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who was also in attendance, has asked experts to open a new probe into what happened to Wallenberg after his capture in 1945.

Wallenberg was personally responsible for the issuing of Swedish diplomatic papers to Hungarian Jews beginning in July 1944, as well as for establishing hiding places for Jews throughout Budapest.

Wallenberg was arrested by Russian officers on January 17, 1945.  He was never heard from again, and his whereabouts or circumstances of death were never established. He was 32 years old at the time of his disappearance.

The new investigation will be led by Hans Magnusson, who began his inquiry into Wallenberg’s whereabouts in the 1990s along with Russian experts.  At the time, the Russians said Wallenberg was probably killed on June 17, 1947 in Soviet custody.  At the time, the Soviets said Wallenberg died of a heart attack in prison.  However, some evidence and eye-witness reports suggest he may have survived beyond that date.

Moreover, two US researchers are now saying a recently discovered Swedish document shows that the KGB intervened to thwart Magnusson’s investigation of Wallenberg’s disappearance.

At the ceremony, Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi admitted that Hungary played a role in the deaths of 600,000 Hungarian Jews, and reaffirmed Hungary’s current support for Israel.

The year of Wallenberg’s 100th birthday will include a Hungarian commemorative stamp, a national competition for high school students on Holocaust history, and an event honoring Hungarian non-Jewish “Righteous Among the Nations” at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

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Malkah Fleisher is a graduate of Cardozo Law School in New York City. She is an editor/staff writer at JewishPress.com and co-hosts a weekly Israeli FM radio show. Malkah lives with her husband and two children on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

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