Crowds gathered in the town of Sigtuna, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Stockholm to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, whose defiance of the Nazis has been commemorated worldwide in statues, streets names, and on postage stamps.
Wallenberg served as Sweden's envoy in Budapest from July 1944—where he saved the lives of at least 20,000 Jews by giving them Swedish travel documents, the so-called "shutzpass," or moving them to safe houses. He is also credited with dissuading German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of the city's ghetto.
But, in January 1945, the young Swede was arrested by the Soviet Red Army on leaving Budapest to go to the eastern part of the country, and suddenly disappeared.
The Soviets initially denied they had detained him, but later said he had died of a heart attack in prison on July 17, 1947.
Doubts remain over his death, with new evidence suggesting that he may have lived beyond the official death date. Researchers are still struggling to get access to Russian archives they say could shed clarity over what actually happened.
"It is shameful that we still live in such uncertainty over his fate," author and researcher Ingrid Carlberg said Saturday
Sunflowers decorated a water-side auditorium in Sigtuna, where the Raoul Wallenberg Academy was hosting the event. The blue and yellow colors of the Swedish flag draped the back-wall as the academy served up slide-shows, choirs and a string of speeches.
Swedish parliament speaker Per Westerberg told a crowd of dignitaries, among them Crown Princess Victoria, Education Minister Jan Bjorklund and members of Wallenberg's family, that few people could ever have imagined what greatness the young envoy would achieve in 1944.
He described Wallenberg—an honorary citizen of the U.S., Canada and Israel—as "one of the greatest role models for humanism and civil courage during Europe's dark period."
"Was it a coincidence that it was him, Raoul Wallenberg, who got asked to go to Budapest?" added Wallenberg's half-sister's granddaughter, Cecilia Ahlberg, as her 91-year-old grandmother, Nina Lagergren, looked on. "I think not: he was the right man, in the right place," Ahlberg said.
Swedish authorities have been criticized for failing to pressure the Soviets for more information once they learned Wallenberg had been detained, although an official apology was issued to his family around 10 years ago.
At the commemorations organized by the academy, parliament speaker Westerberg described the handling of the case after his arrest as a "great diplomatic failure."
"There is no doubt whatsoever that more could have, and should have, been done," he said.
The Soviets have never explained why Wallenberg was arrested, and some historians have suggested that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin may have suspected Wallenberg was a Western spy and wanted to exchange him for Soviet defectors who had fled to Sweden, but then changed his mind.
Visitors to Sigtuna on Saturday were greeted with a copy of a letter penned by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who hailed Wallenberg's bravery and acts of righteousness.
"The extraordinary courage and actions of Raoul Wallenberg stand as a powerful testament to the difference that a single individual can make by doing everything possible to save human lives and uphold human dignity," he wrote.