'Swedish Schindler' declared dead by his homeland

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Stockholm (AFP) - Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Jews during World War II, was finally declared dead by his homeland on Monday over 70 years after disappearing into the hands of the Soviet Union.

The announcement brings only a partial closure to one of the greatest mysteries of the Cold War -- the fate of the so-called "Swedish Schindler" -- as his body was never returned to his family.

Wallenberg issued Swedish papers to tens of thousands of Jews, allowing them to flee Nazi-occupied Hungary and likely death.

But months before the war ended, the Soviets invaded Budapest and summoned the Swede to their headquarters in January 1945.

He disappeared, and his fate became a flashpoint issue between the West and the Soviet Union.

"The official date of his death is July 31, 1952", said Pia Gustafsson, an official from Sweden's tax authority, which registers birth and deaths.

"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," she said.

The decision came after a representative of Wallenberg's family asked for a death certificate from Sweden, which published search notices for him and received no new information on his whereabouts.

- Killed by KGB? -

A statement sent to AFP in 2015 by the family said Wallenberg's "declaration of death is a way to deal with the trauma we lived through, to bring one phase to closure and move on."

Wallenberg was sent as a special envoy to the capital of Nazi-controlled Hungary in 1944, and by early 1945, he had issued Swedish papers to thousands of Jews, allowing them to flee the country and likely death.

The Swedish diplomat, who was 32 when he disappeared, also acquired buildings to house as many Jews as possible and provide them with extraterritorial status.

He organised the Budapest rescue mission which, according to some estimates, saved 100,000 people from persecution.

Wallenberg's efforts earned him the nickname "Swedish Schindler" in reference to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who rescued some 1,200 Polish Jews during the war.

In 1957, the Soviet Union released a document saying Wallenberg had been jailed in the Lubyanka prison, the notorious building where the KGB security services were headquartered, and that he died of heart failure on July 17, 1947.

But his family refused to accept that version of events, and for decades tried to establish what happened to him.

In 2000 the head of a Russian commission of investigation conceded Wallenberg had been shot and killed by KGB agents in Lubyanka in 1947 for political reasons, but declined to be more specific or to cite hard evidence.

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