April 18, 2010

Was Raoul Wallenberg ”Prisoner Nº 7”?


When I established the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, together with my late friend and former Chairman of the United States Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress, he told me that his lifelong dream was to see his rescuer, Raoul Wallenberg, returning home.
Tom passed away in 2008, without being able to realize his goal. Yet, his legacy lives on with me and with all my colleagues, staff and volunteers, who work days and nights at the Wallenberg Foundation to document and research the legacies of Raoul Wallenberg and the other rescuers of victims of the Shoah.
The recent revelations about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate might bring us a little closer to achieving Tom’s unfulfilled mission, which is shared by Raoul’s living relatives and by millions of people around the world.
Raoul Wallenberg was one of the greatest heroes of mankind. As a young man with a bright future, he could have chosen a different, more convenient path. Instead, he launched himself into a dangerous mission in wartime Hungary and in a matter of months, facing daily death threats from the Nazis, he had managed to save scores of Hungarian Jews from extermination.
Following his awe-inspiring feat, on January 17, 1945, he was abducted by the Soviets, together with his faithful driver, Vilmos Langfelder. None of the two was ever to be seen again.
Until a few days ago, the official Soviet version, and that of their Russian successors, has been stubbornly consistent and clearly unfounded, to the effect that Wallenberg had been executed on July 17, 1947, in the Lubyanka prison. Now, in a letter addressed to one of our members, the renowned researcher, Susanne Berger, as well as to Dr. Vadim Birstein, the FSB (the Russian Secret Service, formerly known as KGB) is acknowledging that ”most likely,” Wallenberg became ”Prisoner Nr. 7” and underwent a thorough interrogation on July 23, 1947, six days after his alleged execution.
Back in 2006, the then Deputy Head of Mission of the Russian Embassy in Washington, Mr. Darchiev, wrote to our Foundation that: ”responsibility for the death of Mr. Wallenberg lies with the USSR leadership at that time and on Stalin personally. No other authority could deal with a Swedish diplomat, representative of a neutral state, a member of the ”Wallenberg House,” well known both abroad and to the Soviet government.”
To be sure, all facts seem to support this claim. Since the Stalinist rule was ruthless but well organized, it is highly unlikely that such a high-profile prisoner as Raoul Wallenberg could have been executed without leaving a mountain of official documents.
Back in 1976, I was abducted by a state-sponsored rightwing paramilitary gang in Argentina. These sinister people accused me of ”infecting the Catholic Church with the virus of Judaism,” as I have devoted all my life to foster the interfaith dialog. Thanks to my wife Perla and to my dear friend, the late Catholic priest, Father Horacio Moreno, I managed to survive and be here to tell the story.
My nightmare was over in a matter of days, but I was able to taste the impotence of being in captivity, during which I dreaded to be forgotten.
I can only imagine what Raoul has been feeling during all those years (how many?) in confinement and this mere thought breaks my heart.
As a Jew and as a human being who cherishes the values of civic solidarity, I pledged to Tom and to myself that until my last breath I would not give up my struggle to get Raoul back home.
On April 12, the State of Israel and the Jewish people will commemorate the Holocaust Martyr’s and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. This is a good occasion to join forces and urge President Dimtry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to grant unfettered access to the FSB archives and put a final closure to this tragic story.
Raoul Wallenberg should be allowed to reunite with his family. If he is no longer alive, he deserves to be a hero with a grave.
Baruch Tenembaum
Founder of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation