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The Truth about Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg: Report of the Swedish–Russian Working Group

Stockholm: Swedish Ministryfor Foreign Affairs, 206 pp.

Report on the Activities of the Russian–Swedish Working Group for Determining the Fate of Raoul Wallenberg (1991–2000)

Moscow: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 37 pp.

Liquidatsia: The Question of Raoul Wallenberg’s Death or Disappearance in 1947

by Susan Ellen Mesinai
48 pp.

Cell Occupancy Analysis of Korpus 2 of the Vladimir Prison: An Examination of the Consistency of Eyewitness Sightings of Raoul Wallenberg with Prisoner Registration Cards from the Prison Kartoteka

by Marvin W. Makinen and Ari D. Kaplan
63 pp.

Swedish Aspects of the Raoul Wallenberg Case

by Susanne Berger
63 pp.

1.

On January 13, 1945, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, accompanied only by his chauffeur, left his legation in Budapest for a meeting with officers of the advancing Soviet army, which was then in the process of “liberating” the city from the pro-Nazi government. Wallenberg’s apparent purpose in seeking out the Soviets was to ensure the protection of Jews and their property in Budapest, and to make security arrangements for members of his legation. Wallenberg was not a career diplomat. He was a businessman with experience in Hungary who had, on the initiative of American officials, been appointed to work in Budapest as an employee of the War Refugee Board (WRB), an agency established by President Franklin Roosevelt for the purpose of rescuing Jews from the Nazis. To assist Wallenberg, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided him with a diplomatic passport and the rank of legation secretary at the Swedish legation. From July 9, 1944, the date of his arrival in Budapest, to the following December, Wallenberg saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from deportation to death camps, both by issuing them “protective passports” (documents which gave the holder the protection of the Swedish legation) and in some cases by negotiating directly with the Nazis for their freedom in exchange for money.

But for all his sophistication in dealing with the Nazis, the thirty-two-year-old Wallenberg was, according to one of his colleagues at the legation, “naive when it came to the Russians.” Whether he met with Soviet officers remains unknown. It is now clear, however, from recently released reports, that Wallenberg, despite being a diplomat from a neutral country, was promptly taken into custody by the Soviet army and that three days later, on January 16, the Soviet deputy minister of defense, Nikolai Bulganin, sent a coded telegram to the commander of the Second Ukrainian Front, Marshall Malinovsky, ordering Wallenberg’s arrest by the notorious military counterintelligence branch known as SMERSH, a Russian acronym for “Smert’ shpionam,” meaning “Death to Spies.”

Why the Soviets arrested Wallenberg and took him off to Moscow, together with his chauffeur, Vilmos Langfelder, has remained unclear for the past fifty-six years. An even deeper mystery is what happened to Wallenberg after he arrived in the Soviet Union. Despite the persistent efforts of Wallenberg’s family, historians, journalists, politicians, and a host of prominent international figures, Wallenberg’s fate has never been clarified. Indeed, perhaps the greatest puzzle of all is why, after all these years, the Wallenberg case is still unresolved.

The most far-reaching and thorough investigation into the Wallenberg affair was conducted, and recently concluded, by the Joint Swedish–Russian Working Group on Raoul Wallenberg, whose members included officials from the Swedish and Russian foreign ministries, representatives from the Swedish and Russian security agencies, and also Wallenberg’s half-brother, Guy von Dardel. Their investigation began in September 1991, just a month after the coup attempt in Moscow, and the Swedish members were hopeful that, under the new Russian policy of openness, long-suppressed information about Wallenberg would finally be released.1 Unfortunately, although the Russians have provided significant new materials relating to Wallenberg, their archival policy has become increasingly restrictive, and some key collections that were accessible in 1991 were later closed.2 Moreover, the authors of the published reports did not have direct access to several important archives, including those of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and the counterintelligence service, as well as the archives of the Swedish intelligence service. Until the materials in these archives can be consulted, all conclusions about Wallenberg’s fate must remain preliminary. A further problem is that Russian authorities claim Wallenberg’s prison file—clearly a crucial piece of evidence—is missing.

Nonetheless, the reports of the working group, issued separately by the Swedes and the Russians in January 2001 along with three additional reports by the group’s independent consultants, significantly improve our understanding of the Wallenberg affair. Ten years of painstaking archival research and interviews in Russia, Sweden, and numerous other countries uncovered many new details about the Stalinist prison regime, the political machinations of Soviet leaders (not only among themselves but also with respect to Sweden), and the arbitrary way in which they disposed of the lives of innocent people.

What is also revealed in these reports is that the Wallenberg case goes well beyond the individual tragedy of a young man whose heroism saved the lives of thousands of Jews. Wallenberg, who belonged to one of Sweden’s most prominent financial families, was a pawn in a larger political game played out by the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, by Sweden as the tensions of the postwar era increased. Indeed, this is a game that has continued for more than a half-century, with the Soviets (and later the Russians) stonewalling efforts to find out the truth about Wallenberg and Swedish authorities, for one reason or another, not pressing as hard as they might.

2.

The working group’s ten-year investigation, and the five reports that resulted from it, go a long way toward explaining Russian motives for arresting Wallenberg and keeping him in prison at least until July 1947, the last date for which there is proof that he was alive. Although there is no record of formal charges against Wallenberg, it is almost certain that the Soviets arrested him because they believed he was a spy, for either the Allies, the Germans, or both. The WRB, for which Wallenberg worked in Budapest, cooperated closely with the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. In fact, Iver Olsen, who helped to organize Wallenberg’s mission and communicated regularly with him in Budapest, was the representative for both the WRB and the OSS in Stockholm. The Soviets were well aware of the OSS–WRB connection and of Wallenberg’s relations with Olsen, and so, as evidence cited in the reports suggests, the Soviets suspected that Wallenberg was, at least in some capacity, an OSS operative.3

According to the Swedish report, however, there is evidence that Wallenberg’s work on behalf of the WRB was purely humanitarian, and that any suspicion on the part of the Soviets to the contrary was incorrect:

An internal CIA document from 1955 indicates that when asked whether he had ever had operational contact with Raoul Wallenberg or used him operationally, Olsen repeatedly and categorically denied having done so. His contacts with Raoul Wallenberg had been only in his capacity as WRB representative. “Olsen was extremely emphatic on this point.” …None of the WRB dealings with Raoul Wallenberg reveals any direct links to intelligence work. …It cannot be ruled out that some OSS agents also perceived Raoul Wallenberg as an agent. On the other hand, the CIA has not found material anywhere that indicates that Raoul Wallenberg was aware of Olsen’s links with the OSS…4

Wallenberg’s many contacts in Budapest (evident in his appointment calendar, which was confiscated upon his arrest and returned by the Russians to Guy von Dardel in 1989) may also have aroused doubts on the Soviet side about the neutrality of his mission. According to the reports of Susanne Berger and Susan Mesinai, outside experts who served as independent consultants to the working group, several people who helped Wallenberg in his rescue work were involved in the Hungarian resistance movement and in other projects sponsored by Allied intelligence. Thus, for example, Wallenberg had contacts with the underground nationalist society, EXZ, made up of church leaders and aristocrats working toward an independent democratic leadership of Hungary.

Then there was Wallenberg’s close contact, for the purpose of negotiating for the lives of Jews, with Nazi leaders in Budapest, including Adolf Eichmann. Wallenberg himself received funds from the leading Jewish resistance organization, known as JOINT, whose representatives routinely made deals with Nazi officials to save Jews from the death camps. The Soviets were highly suspicious of JOINT, which they later claimed was part of a “global Zionist plot.” Also, according to the Russian report, some of the “protective passports” issued by Wallenberg to Hungarian Jews fell into the hands of the Nazis, who were then able to escape arrest when the Soviets occupied Hungary. The Russian report gives no evidence for this claim.

According to a SMERSH assessment from February 1945, cited in the Swedish report:

Instead of protecting the interests of the Soviet Union and Hungary, the Swedish Embassy and Swedish Red Cross are giving protection to the enemies of the Soviet Union and Hungarian people and providing them with refuge and sanctuary.

Presumably “enemies” referred to both members of the Hungarian underground who opposed Soviet occupation and Nazis who allegedly obtained Swedish passports.

Although SMERSH was arresting large numbers of people at random behind the front in Budapest, the order for Wallenberg’s arrest, coming as it did from high quarters in Moscow, must have been issued for a specific reason—presumably because Wallenberg was believed to be a spy. In view of the highly centralized structure of the Stalinist system and the fact that Stalin was a micromanager when it came to cases of important political prisoners, it is doubtful that either Deputy Defense Minister Bulganin or Viktor Abakumov, the chief of SMERSH, would have ordered Wallenberg’s arrest without Stalin’s explicit approval.

3.

Upon their arrival in Moscow on February 6, 1945, three weeks after their capture in Budapest, Wallenberg and his driver were imprisoned in separate cells in the NKVD’s notorious Lubianka prison. On Wallenberg’s prison card he was registered as a “prisoner of war,” and it was noted that he was arrested on January 19. Prison records released to the working group by Russian authorities show that Wallenberg’s first interrogation took place on February 8—“a typical night session lasting three and a half hours,” in the words of the Swedish report. According to these records, Wallenberg was not questioned again until the end of April, a month before he was transferred to Lefortovo prison in Moscow, together with a cellmate, Willy Roedel, a German diplomat. Although Wallenberg remained in Lefortovo throughout 1946, he was, so the prison records state, interrogated only twice during his incarceration there. After he was transferred back to Lubianka, in early March 1947, the records show only one further interrogation, on March 11, 1947.

Some of Wallenberg’s fellow inmates (several of whom were German prisoners of war interviewed after being repatriated by the Soviets in the early 1950s), as well as former prison staff and security officials questioned by the working group, suggest that Wallenberg was well treated physically despite the fact that he consistently refused to cooperate with his interrogators. According to these witnesses, there could have been a few additional, unrecorded interrogations, but the general impression of the witnesses was that Wallenberg was rarely questioned. If the Soviet prison records are accurate, then it is puzzling why the Soviets, in dealing with such a well-known prisoner, with extensive connections in the political and intelligence circles of the Western allies, would not have wanted to question him further. A look at what went on at the official level between Sweden and Russia on the Wallenberg matter, documented largely by materials from the Russian and Swedish Foreign Ministry archives, may provide some clues.

  1. 1

    Von Dardel took the initiative in organizing the effort to work with the Russians in determining Wallenberg’s fate when he and his sister, Nina Lagergren, visited Moscow in 1989.

  2. 2

    For example, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the agency responsible for prisons and labor camps, allowed partial access, in the early Nineties, to special collections that contained high-level correspondence and reports about foreign prisoners, but now these collections are completely closed.

  3. 3

    The Swedish report, for example, mentions that a Soviet deputy foreign minister in an “emotional outburst” told the Swedish ambassador in Moscow in 1979 that “Raoul Wallenberg had been spying for the USA and that the Americans privately admitted this.”

  4. 4

    Further release of US intelligence documents could affect these conclusions. Although some OSS and CIA documentation on the subject was released recently, a number of important files, including records of OSS communication between Budapest and Stockholm, remain classified.

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