Chance find reveals only known footage of Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg

Sharp-eyed researcher recognizes famous Swede, who saved tens of thousands of Jews, in anonymous archive film broadcast on Swedish TV

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Raoul Wallenberg, right, with Jews in the Swedish Embassy in Budapest, exact date uncertain (Courtesy Yad Vashem)
Raoul Wallenberg, right, with Jews in the Swedish Embassy in Budapest, exact date uncertain (Courtesy Yad Vashem)

In newly discovered footage of Swedish Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg — the only known instance that he was caught on film — the man who would go on to save tens of thousands of Jews can be seen instructing army recruits at a firing range in 1940.

The archive movie was first broadcast a month ago during a cultural program on the Swedish public service television SVT, but it wasn’t until last week that a researcher realized that the instructor overseeing the gun practice was Wallenberg.

It is the only known footage of Wallenberg, who, as a Swedish diplomat in Hungary, was credited with helping at least 20,000 Jews escape the Holocaust. He is believed to have died in Soviet captivity, but when and how remains unclear.

In the 25-second clip, Wallenberg can be seen at a central Stockholm location in what researchers say was the summer or autumn of 1940. Wallenberg, who would have been 29 at the time, wears an army uniform as he instructs recruits firing rifles at targets in the basement of a building.

According to Swedish media, the film showed an exercise of the Swedish Home Guard, a reserve force set up in 1940.

Gellert Kovacs, a Wallenberg scholar, happened to see the initial broadcast and thought he recognized Wallenberg. He found the clip online and after carefully reviewing it concluded that it was indeed the famous diplomat.

“I am now 100 percent sure – it’s Raoul Wallenberg,” Kovacs told SVT. For confirmation, he contacted another researcher, Susanna Berger, and she agreed with his assessment.

Wallenberg’s sister, Nina Lagergren, 96, told SVT that “there is no doubt” that it is her brother, based on the way he moved and stood in the clip.

“It’s a very emotional experience. It’s magical,” said Lagergren, who has not seen her brother since 1945, when he disappeared after being captured by the Soviet Army.

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

A young architect and businessman, Wallenberg volunteered to travel to Hungary in 1944 as a special envoy to aid a US effort to rescue Jews from extermination at the hands of Nazi Germany.

In January 1945, while the Soviets were engaged in a prolonged and bloody battle with the Germans over Budapest, the 32-year-old diplomat was called in for questioning at the Russian headquarters in Debrecen over allegations of espionage. He was never heard from again.

The Soviets initially denied he was in their custody, but in 1957 they said he had died of a heart attack in prison on July 17, 1947. His fate was considered a mystery for decades. In 2016, 71 years after his disappearance, Swedish authorities officially declared him dead.

Many countries have memorials commemorating his works, 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.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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