SYDNEY (JTA) – Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, was made Australia’s first honorary citizen.
At a ceremony Monday at Government House in Canberra, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was “entirely fitting” that “this man of moral courage and heroic example” be named as Australia’s first honorary citizen.
Among the guests was Frank Vajda, who faced near-certain death from a firing squad in 1944 when Wallenberg arrived to secure his release. Also present was George Farkas, whose father, John, was Wallenberg’s right-hand man and escorted him on his missions handing out life-saving Swedish visas.
“Frank Vajda and George Farkas have known of each other for years but they have not met until today,” Gillard said.
Speaking on behalf of the Jewish community, Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said, “By honoring the late Raoul Wallenberg with Australian citizenship, Australia is not only paying tribute to him, to what he achieved and what he stood for, but is also making a statement about who we are as a nation.”
Australia’s head of state, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, said the framed certificate naming Wallenberg as an honorary citizen will be rotated between the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Center in Melbourne and the Sydney Jewish Museum.
Wallenberg was last seen in January 1945, at the age of 34, before he was arrested by Soviet forces.
America, Canada and Israel also have named him an honorary citizen.