Now that researchers have shown in two proven instances that Russia for many decades has deliberately withheld key information in the Raoul Wallenberg case, where does that leave the investigation of his fate?
For as yet unexplained reasons, Russian officials chose to mislead for decades not only the general public, but also an official Swedish-Russian Working Group that investigated the case from 1991-2001. This group included official Swedish representatives as well as Raoul Wallenberg’s brother, Guy von Dardel. Russia did not merely obscure inconsequential details of the case but instead failed to provide documentation that contains information which goes to the very heart of the Wallenberg inquiry. These are:
1. Copies of the Lubyanka prison register from July 23, 1947. They show that a “Prisoner Nr. 7? was interrogated on that day, six days after Raoul Wallenberg’s alleged death on July 17, 1947. Russian officials did not show this page to Swedish investigators during the Working Group, citing “privacy” concerns. They have since acknowledged that “Prisoner Nr. 7? almost certainly is identical with Wallenberg.
2. Investigative material about Willy Roedel, Raoul Wallenberg’s longterm cellmate in Lefortovo prison (1945-1947). In 1993, Russian officials provided the Working Group with a few loose pages about Roedel. They specifically denied that any of Roedel’s interrogation protocols had survived. Just a few weeks ago, however, researchers learned that two of these interrogations had been published as part of a new collection of documentation issued by the Central Archives of Russia’s State Security Service (FSB). It now appears that not only Roedel’s statements are available, but that fifty-seven pages from his file have been deliberately withheld. Some of the material apparently dates from the years that Roedel spent together with Raoul Wallenberg.
An obvious question presents itself: If Raoul Wallenberg died in 1947, why this grand effort at deception? At the moment, only one answer seems plausible: Russian officials did not want to complicate matters, as this information undoubtedly would have. If researchers had learned in 1991 that Raoul Wallenberg was alive six days after his supposed death on July 17, 1947, then an all-out effort would have followed to uncover the full circumstances of his fate.
Also, if large parts of Roedel s file have survived, then quite obviously similar files must have been created for other key persons in the Wallenberg drama, such as Wallenberg himself or for Vilmos Langfelder, Wallenberg’s driver who was arrested alongside him in January 1945. And just as obviously, their files too may well still remain accessible in FSB archives (After all, from where exactly did Wallenberg’s possessions magically reappear in 1989?).
So, what would these papers tell us? Most likely they will reveal information about Wallenberg’s time in captivity, how he was treated, about his health, about his background, his experiences and activities in Hungary, and – most importantly – about how his case was handled by Soviet authorities. In fact, if Wallenberg’s file also survives – as we now must assume – then it would undoubtedly include information about the genesis of a key document in his case, the so-called Smoltsov report from 1947, which announced to the world that Wallenberg had died suddenly of a heart attack in Lubyanka prison on July 17, 1947.
When Soviet officials in 1957 released this note from Lubyanka prison doctor A.L Smoltsov, almost everyone questioned the details of the story. The general wisdom, however, was that while this version may not have been true in fact, it was most likely true in spirit. That is, Wallenberg had most likely died, but had probably been executed.
The motives of the Soviet government were quite clear. Officials wanted to present a credible version of Raoul Wallenberg’s demise in prison without implicating any living members of the regime. Therefore, the former Soviet Minister of State Security, Viktor Abakumov, who had been killed in 1954 and A. Smoltsov, who was also no longer alive, were singled out for blame.
However, it is equally obvious that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 – when he invited Wallenberg’s family to Moscow to present them with his belongings – and later Russian President Boris Yeltsin – whose government in 1991 oversaw the Swedish-Russian Working Group – should have had full knowledge of both “Prisoner Nr. 7? as well as the existence of Roedel’s file. Why did they not order an “unvarnished” revelation of Wallenberg’s fate at the time? They could have easily apportioned blame to former Soviet governments for the elaborate cover up in the Wallenberg case. So, what do the withheld records contain that still make a full presentation of Raoul Wallenberg’s fate in Soviet prison impossible?
Either Russian officials simply did not want to expose their predecessors’ follies or there is more in the censored files that would arouse investigators’ curiosity. For one, if Wallenberg did not die in 1947 but some years later, it would raise important questions about both the official Russian and Swedish handling of the case. Maybe Russian authorities simply wanted to avoid what they considered to be unnecessary headaches.
However, numerous unsolved questions remain about Wallenberg having possibly survived for years in captivity. What is most upsetting is that Russia allowed an official commission to waste countless years and valuable research monies on trying to track down information that Russian archivists literally had at their fingertips.
Swedish officials too should take a close look at how they handled the Wallenberg inquiry since 1991. It may provide valuable lessons for future commissions. It is becoming painfully obvious that relying on a simple qustion-answer format in politically sensitive cases cannot be trusted to yield fully reliable information. Swedish officials were urged again and again by independent experts to insist on direct access to proffered material, to allow investigators review of the documentation in the original and in context of the respective archival collections. The recent revelations unfortunately confirm that it is impossible to draw valid conclusions from photocopies alone.
Secondly, investigators must now assume that all the other alleged “holes” in the official Russian record – where documentation supposedly does not exist – can in fact be filled. This includes vital information about key investigative files from Raoul Wallenberg’s fellow prisoners or other witnesses (often claimed to be lost or censored, due to “privacy” reasons); important information about the system of numbering prisoners (supposedly “destroyed” or “unavailable”); as well as important correspondence records from Security Services to the Soviet leadership, including key files of the Politburo and Central Committee (many equally “inaccessible”).
Swedish officials should seize the opportunity to act decisively, especially with the upcoming festivities in 2012 that will mark Raoul Wallenberg’s 100th year. The Swedish government has unfortunately relegated the Wallenberg case to a subject of purely historical inquiry and as such has placed the onus almost exclusively on researchers to make progress in the case. Yet Swedish officials know exactly that such progress can only come from Russian intelligence files – as the recent discoveries confirm – that remain out of reach of investigators. So, the only reasonable conclusion for researchers to draw is that Sweden, despite its oft-repeated assertions to the contrary, does not place a premium on solving the Wallenberg case.
Sweden already has missed two important chances to press Russia for clear information. During two official meetings with President Medvedev in early 2010, Swedish Prime Minister Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Bildt chose to address the Wallenberg case only in the most general terms. They did not demand immediate full disclosure from Russian officials about the fact that Wallenberg was apparently alive after 17th July 1947, but instead simply stressed that Sweden expects an open archival policy.
Things have improved ever so slightly in recent months, with the Swedish Ambassador in Moscow formally requesting more specific information from key Russian archives and unhindered access to a number of important collections. It is doubtful, however, that such inquiries on the ambassadorial level alone will carry enough weight to make a noticeable impact.
What is needed is an official high-level request from the Swedish government for full truth in the case, with a small group of researchers authorized to review critical intelligence documentation in Russia. The time of doubt whether such material exists or whether the Raoul Wallenberg case can be solved is past: Russian officials have wiped those doubts cleanly off the table once and for all.
About Susanne Berger
For six years Susanne Berger served as a consultant to the Swedish-Russian Working Group on the Fate of Raoul Wallenberg. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C. Her research addresses the wider political and economic aspects of Wallenberg’s humanitarian mission to Budapest, as well as their associated effects on the investigation of his disappearance.