On 6 May 2013 the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, will bestow Australia’s first posthumous Honorary Citizenship award to a former Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg. In a covert diplomatic operation involving hundreds of people, Wallenberg was credited with saving tens of thousands of Jewish people from the Nazi concentration camps in occupied Hungary during the Second World War by issuing them with a Swedish Government protective travel document known as ‘the Schutzpass’
. Wallenberg was detained by Soviet authorities on 17 January 1945 and was reported to have died while in prison on 17 July 1947. He has already been granted posthumous honorary citizenship by the United States
(1986), and Hungary
(2003).Announcement of the award
On 15 April 2013, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced
The award of honorary Australian citizenship is symbolic recognition of Mr Wallenberg’s tireless devotion to human life during the Holocaust.
The same day federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said
the Coalition welcomed the award, adding:
The ceremony at Government House will recognise Raoul Wallenberg’s remarkable service to humanity and provide an opportunity for Holocaust survivors and their families to honour his memory.
The Australian Jewish community also welcomed
the news of the Australian award.
Wallenberg’s memory in Australia
On 30 November 1989, four Australian politicians spoke about Wallenberg in federal parliament, including the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who said
In the period from his arrival in Budapest on 9 July 1944 to his disappearance at the hands of the Red Army on 17 January 1945, Raoul Wallenberg and his colleagues in the Swedish legation saved perhaps 100,000 people from certain death.
At the very end of the Nazi occupation of Budapest, when he learnt of Eichmann's plan for a total massacre of the 69,000 or so Jews who were still alive in the so-called General Ghetto, Wallenberg intervened in a final flourish of threats and brinkmanship to prevent the order being carried out. When Soviet forces took control of Budapest some few days later, they found some 120,000 Jews who had survived the final solution—the only substantial Jewish community left in Europe.
Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Peacock, endorsed
the Prime Minister’s tribute, adding:
Contrary to Soviet accounts of his death in 1947, there have been reported sightings of Raoul Wallenberg in various Soviet prisons, some of which, as I recall, date as recently as 1980. Until an objective international inquiry is given free access to all relevant information, written or otherwise, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, final judgment of the circumstances of Raoul Wallenberg's disappearance and alleged death will need to be reserved.
The Minister for Consumer Affairs, Senator Nick Bolkus, noted
on the same occasion ‘the continued international concern’ about Wallenberg’s fate whilst praising ‘the selfless and heroic work of Raoul Wallenberg in saving the lives of tens of thousands of potential victims, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of Nazi terror during the Second World War’.
In the year marking the centenary of Wallenberg’s birth, Mark Dreyfus (then Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innovation) honoured Wallenberg in parliament on 20 June 2012, and acknowledged
‘the work of Judi Schiff and the Raoul Wallenberg Unit of B'nai B'rith in Melbourne
’ that was established in 1985.
Josh Frydenberg, a Member of the House of Representatives, recalled
on 16 August 2012 in parliament that the Australian neurology professor, Frank Vajda
, was, together with his late mother, saved by Wallenberg in October 1944.
On 26 November 2012 upon inauguration of a Wallenberg memorial garden
at the Australian National University, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr listed
other Australian memorials dedicated to Wallenberg:
- a memorial built in 1985 in Studley Park Road and Denmark Road, Melbourne, as the world’s first memorial to Raoul Wallenberg outside Budapest
- the second Australian memorial at Edgecliff Road and Queen Street Woollahra, Sydney, also built in 1985 and
- the naming of a tree in Raoul Wallenberg's honour, in March 1989 by the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, in front of the new Parliament House.
The posthumous awarding of honorary citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg in May 2013 by the Australian Government is perhaps the most significant honour yet in Australia to his memory.
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