WWII hero Raoul Wallenberg declared officially dead 71 years after he vanished mysteriously

A World War Two hero, credited with helping at least 20,000 Hungarian Jews escape the Holocaust, has been pronounced dead 71 years after he vanished in mysterious circumstances.

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who helped thousands escape the Nazis by giving them Swedish passports and sheltering Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory.

He was serving as his country’s special envoy in Budapest in the latter stages of the war, between July and December 1944, when he issued the protective passports.

By that stage more than 400,000 Jews had already been deported, the vast majority to the death camp in Auschwitz, where they were murdered.

Details of Wallenberg’s death are scarce. He was arrested by the Red Army on suspicion of espionage in 1945, but the Soviets initially denied he was in their custody.

It wasn’t until 1957 that they changed their story, saying the diplomat, nicknamed the Swedish Schindler, died of a heart attack in prison on July 17, 1945.

His personal belongings, including his passport and cigarette case, were returned to his family in 1989 – a decade after his mother and stepfather had both committed suicide, distraught over the lack of information about Wallenberg’s disappearance.

Two years later, an investigation concluded that Wallenberg had been executed in 1947, possibly having been exposed to C-2 poison.

Nevertheless, there have been numerous unconfirmed witness reports claiming to have seen him many years later.

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For more than seven decades he was officially considered a missing person in Sweden, long after authorities gave up hope of finding him alive.

The Swedish Tax Agency, which registers births and deaths in Sweden, has now confirmed that Wallenberg had been pronounced dead.

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Pia Gustafsson, who heads the agency’s legal department, told The Associated Press that the decision was taken on October 26 after an application from Wallenberg’s family.

She said the date of Wallenberg’s death was set as July 31, 1952, a date chosen by default under a rule saying a missing person who is presumed to have died should be declared dead five years after his disappearance.

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She told reporters: ‘This date is purely formal. Legally, we must choose a date at least five years after his disappearance and there were signs of life until the end of July 1947.’

Last year Wallenberg’s family said a declaration of death would help deal with the trauma they had lived through.

Wallenberg vanished after being arrested by the Red Army in 1945.

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Wallenberg, who was born in 1912, helped Jews escape Nazi-occupied Germany by giving them Swedish passports.

Many countries have memorials commemorating his work, including Israel, which designated him as one of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations,’ the highest honor granted to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

He became the second person, after Winston Churchill, to be declared an honorary citizen of the United States.

This followed a bill sponsored by Congressman Tom Lantos, who was himself saved by Wallenberg.

He is also an honorary citizen in Canada, Hungary, Australia and Israel.