Sweden has initiated a new investigation into the ultimate fate of the hero Raoul Wallenberg, who singlehandedly enabled as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews to escape death at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The effort is being launched in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wallenberg, who disappeared after his arrest by the Soviet military in 1945. Wallenberg rescued Hungarian Jews primarily by encouraging the issue of Swedish protective passports and offering shelter to the potential Nazi victims in buildings he bought and then designated as Swedish territory.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has asked experts to determine whether any new material might exist that could offer new information about what happened to the Swedish diplomat, said a spokesperson for Bildt. “The inquiry will be conducted by Hans Magnusson, a diplomat who directed a joint Swedish-Russian group from 1991 until 2001 in the same regard,” said Anna Charlotta Johansson. “It will look into whether there is any new information available, or that can be found, on what happened to Raoul Wallenberg.”
While the Soviet Union has claimed that Wallenberg was found dead of a heart attack in his cell in Moscow on July 17, 1947, there has been no documented evidence to that effect. According to independent researchers, proof does exist that he was still alive a number of days later, and that he may well have lived beyond that point. However, Russia has persistently denied researchers any access to files that may shed more light on the Wallenberg case, and Sweden has reportedly been lax about exerting pressure on Russia to be more forthcoming.
Bildt bemoaned the fact that there were minimal attempts to save the righteous Gentile when there was still a possible opportunity to do so. “The Swedish government’s lack of involvement after Raoul Wallenberg was captured and taken to the infamous Lubyanka prison in Moscow is both embarrassing and painful,” he said in Budapest, where he attended the opening of an exhibition on Wallenberg’s exploits.
The new probe has elicited a favorable response from a Holocaust survivors’ group. “Unraveling the mystery of Wallenberg is a moral obligation owed this selfless humanitarian,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement. “It is a disgrace that the answers to his tragic end remain unanswered.” Steinberg further stated that “Humanity owes his memory a debt that can never be repaid. Uncovering the truth is the least we can do.”
Hungary, Sweden and Israel have just launched the Raoul Wallenberg Year to pay tribute to the fearless diplomat’s deeds.
Two American researchers claim that a newly discovered memorandum from the Swedish Embassy in Moscow reveals how the KGB – the former Soviet secret police and intelligence agency – intervened in the early 1990s to try and stop the previous investigation from going forward. According to Russian scholar Vadim Birstein, one of the researchers working for the first Wallenberg commission, the group had just come upon some previously unknown documents in 1991 when the archive was closed to them. Anatoly Prokopenko, the former head of the Soviet “Special Archive,” told Swedish diplomats that he was ordered by the KGB to terminate the first Wallenberg Commission’s search for documents.
According to the memorandum, Prokopenko also said the KGB wanted copies of all documents already reviewed by the researchers. Prokopenko said the researchers had been overjoyed when they found an archive document detailing Wallenberg›s transfer from one Soviet prison to another. But the KGB officers on the panel immediately warned the authorities, and Prokopenko was ordered to bar the researchers from gaining access to the files.
Prokopenko said he acquiesced to the demand because he was working to open the archives to the public, and realized that open disobedience would cause him to be fired from the commission. “I had to make a sacrifice for the sake of uncovering numerous other secrets of the archive,” Prokopenko said. The archivist also says that, in the ensuing years, Russian authorities have become increasingly disinclined to permit public access to the archives.