In the depths of the northern winter of 1945, Raoul Wallenberg disappeared.
We do not know his fate, but it is thought he died later that year.
By this time, the war was over, and the Jewish people saved by Wallenberg were counting the miracle of their survival and beginning to contemplate new lives in places of safety like Israel and Australia.
Wallenberg never saw our lovely land in his 34 years on earth.
And yet today we join his name with that of our nation as its first honorary citizen.
I believe this is entirely fitting: as a tribute to this man of “moral courage and heroic example”.
As a statement of the values Australians hold close to our hearts.
As an expression of our deep gratitude for all that our nation gained when so many saved by Wallenberg came to these shores.
Raoul Wallenberg would have been brilliant in any era.
He was physically brave.
He possessed strategic brilliance and peerless, nerveless negotiating skills.
But what makes his name live on is the way he employed these skills in the service of humanity.
He acted as though there were no strangers.
He lived as though every day might be his last.
That’s how Frank Vajda comes to be here with us in Canberra today.
As a nine-year-old in Budapest, Frank and his family had been reported to the authorities for not wearing the yellow Star of David.
A band of armed men came and seized them and dragged them to a military barracks where they were lined up in front of a machine gun.
The soldiers were debating whether to shoot them on the spot or throw them into the Danube when some men in civilian clothing suddenly appeared – Raoul Wallenberg and his escort – who negotiated their safe release.
The escort was a man named John Farkas – a resistance fighter who was Wallenberg’s companion during those desperate days in Budapest.
Mr Farkas came to Australia in 1949 and lived an unassuming life until his heroism was uncovered by the ABC Four Corners program in the early 1980s.
In almost four decades, he had never spoken of his deeds until a journalist came to ask.
Mr Farkas passed away in 1987 but his son George is here among us, proudly bearing witness.
Frank Vajda and George Farkas have known of each other for years, but they have not met until today: this story of courage reaching across decades, generations and continents.
So friends, we are here today to celebrate something exceptional in the human spirit.
Something that will keep teaching us lessons for as long as humans record their history.
Something for which we have profound gratitude because the deeds of one man secured, for tens of thousands, the most precious gift of all: the gift of human life.
As the last witnesses to the horrors of World War II leave us, it is vital, it is imperative, to keep alive the memory and example of individuals like Raoul Wallenberg.
That is why there are memorials to Wallenberg all over the world – in Budapest, Tel Aviv, London, Argentina, the United States and here in Australia.
But perhaps the most poignant monument is the one outside his birthplace in Sweden.
It is a bronze cast of his briefcase, standing on the cobblestones as though he had just put it down momentarily, its precious cargo of live-giving passports still inside, testament to the example of what one individual can do, even in the face of catastrophic evil.
An embodiment of the Jewish proverb reminding us that even when we are without choice, we can mobilize the spirit of courage.
Raoul Wallenberg’s fate may never be known for sure.
He has no grave.
But his legacy endures.
It is measured in the example he sets for our own and future generations.
But it is also measured in the tens of thousands of deaths he prevented through his actions.
Some of the individuals whose lives he redeemed became part of our first, great transforming wave of post-war immigration; among the first to pledge themselves to their new home after Australian nationality was formalised in 1949.
Now, seven decades later, Raoul Wallenberg will join them as an honorary Australian citizen.
This will be the first time this honour has been bestowed by our country.
And I cannot imagine a more fitting individual upon whom to bestow it.
I conclude by expressing my gratitude to the Governor-General for this magnificent act of state to enshrine this most righteous of human beings in our national family forever.