April 16, 2013
Saved Hungarian Jews salute citizen Raoul Wallenberg
FRANK Vajda was just nine when he and his mother were lined
up in front of a machine gun with about 30 other Jewish
Hungarians, waiting to be shot by members of the pro-Nazi
Arrow Cross Party.
Now 77 and a professor of neurology in Melbourne, he remembers
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg arriving to confront the
execution squad and eventually persuading its commanders
that he was entitled to take the Jews away.
"Wallenberg was probably the greatest humanitarian
of the 20th century," says Professor Vajda.
He and his mother, Marie, survived the war and eventually
made it to Australia. After the war, Wallenberg was arrested
by the Russian secret police and disappeared into one of
Stalin's prison camps. For decades Professor Vajda campaigned
to have the Swedish hero freed and then, when it was clear
he could not have survived, to have his heroism recognised.
Julia Gillard responded yesterday by announcing Wallenberg
would be recognised as an honorary Australian citizen, the
first time Australia had bestowed such an honour. The Prime
Minister said Wallenberg's extraordinary heroism saved tens
of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by issuing protective
passports and providing shelter for them in diplomatic buildings.
Professor Vajda said last night the bestowal of honorary
citizenship was a wonderful gesture. He said Wallenberg
had shown "tremendous, self-sacrificing guts".
The diplomat was not himself Jewish but a Lutheran by religion.
"But he sacrificed his life to save thousands of helpless
people," Professor Vajda said. "He was a remarkably
brave man." Welcoming the recognition, Tony Abbott
echoed the words of Jewish MP Josh Frydenberg, who told
parliament recently Wallenberg's courage "will always
represent a beam of light in what was one of the darkest
periods in the history of mankind".
Wallenberg has already been recognised as an honorary citizen
of the US, Canada, Hungary and Israel. He was awarded the
honour of Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the
Jewish people's living memorial to the Holocaust.
"The lives of those he rescued are Mr Wallenberg's
greatest memorial and Australia is honoured to have survivors
he rescued living in Australia today," Ms Gillard said.
The granting of citizenship will be marked by Governor-General
Quentin Bryce on May 6, the 100th anniversary of Wallenberg's