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Happy Birthday, In Absentia

Happy Birthday, In Absentia

The landmark birthday of a hero was marked with elaborate celebrations in two European capitals this week, but the guest of honor was not present.

Raoul Wallenberg, whose 100th birthday was Saturday, probably is not alive. And no one has known his whereabouts for almost seven decades.

Wallenberg, the scion of a prominent Swedish banking family, traveled to Hungary, an ally of Nazi Germany, in July 1944 to save endangered Jews. He was credited with the rescue of up to 100,000 people by the end of the year, but was taken into Soviet custody in January 1945, and was never seen again.

He disappeared into the Soviet penal system; Soviet leaders over the years claimed that he died of a heart attack in 1947, but offered no proof, and reports of his sighting by released prisoners surfaced for many years.

Wallenberg’s birthday, Aug. 4, is now the “Day of Humanity” in Hungary, an occasion for honoring latter-day heroes. This year, “Wallenberg Year” in Hungary, saw a larger-than-usual celebration and the awarding of the first Award of the Society of Just People to Hungarian rescuers.

At the Holocaust Memorial Center and Museum of Budapest, above, the Day of Humanity was marked by a capacity crowd.

And in Sigtuna, a city 30 miles north of Stockholm, Wallenberg’s birthday was commemorated at the Raoul Wallenberg Academy.

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