Raoul Wallenberg – or another Swede?

As we all know, sound decision making depends on good information and in-depth analysis. Unfortunately, over long stretches of time the Raoul Wallenberg investigation has enjoyed neither. The question is: Was the failure to implement a systematic research approach and to correlate important details in any way intentional or simply due to overwhelming Cold War pressures? Or both?

The answer may lie in the fine print of a report released in 2003 by the so-called Eliasson Commission, which investigated the Swedish Foreign Policy Establishment’s handling of the Raoul Wallenberg case since 1945. The Commission stated that, due to time restrictions, it had to omit from its deliberations a sensitive topic: The fate of other Swedish citizens in Soviet captivity since 1945 and the possible implications for the Raoul Wallenberg investigation.

The importance of the subject is made clear by newly published records from the former Soviet Ministry of State Security (MGB) in Moscow. According to Wallenberg expert Vadim Birstein, statistics for the year 1948 list at least four Swedish nationals held under MGB investigation (meaning they had not yet been convicted), three of them for espionage. No names or case histories have been released and it is not known if Raoul Wallenberg’s name is among them. Investigators can make educated guesses as to who these men might be, but only the Russians can provide a positive identification.

Interestingly, it is not known exactly how many Swedes were held in the Soviet Union after World War II. Estimates range from 200 to 500 people.

A big problem for investigators has been how to define a ”Swede”. Many of the detained individuals who claimed to be Swedish were in fact stateless or mixed nationals. Some had lived for many years in Sweden, had even been married to a Swede, but did not have Swedish citizenship.

Apart from the well-known Kiruna Swedes (from the northern border region with Finland), missing ”Swedes” in the Soviet Union included fishermen; soldiers who served in the German Wehrmacht or SS; adventurers; engineers and technical personnel; Soviet residents of Swedish extraction (like those in Estonia or the ”Gammalsvenskby” settlement in the Ukraine); individuals working for various aid organizations after the war (like the Red Cross or Caritas Suecia); and an unspecified number of ”Swedish” agents.

These agents operated in the Baltic countries, for example, and in Eastern Europe, in largely unexplored industrial/military espionage networks of the 1940′s and 1950′s. The existence of such economic networks and the individuals who served in them have remained a closely guarded secret. Swedish files indicate that UD officials had a role in their administration and presumably also in tracking their members, though only a handful of officials had a full picture of all ongoing intelligence operations This basic compartmental approach led to serious (interdepartmental) knowledge gaps.

Of the few UD officials with broader knowledge of Swedish operations at least one, Gunnar Lorentzon [Economic section], also headed the Raoul Wallenberg investigation in the late 1950′s. Interestingly, a previously unpublished U.S. State Department document from 1959 reveals that while in charge of the Wallenberg investigation, Lorentzon considered the chances of Wallenberg’s survival after 1947, when the Soviets claimed he had succumbed to a heart attack in prison, surprisingly high – ”75 or 65 [percent].” Why, then, did the Swedish government not push harder for the truth?

The main explanation for Swedish caution at the time – Sweden’s need to safeguard its larger security interests and the resulting wish not to antagonize its giant neighbor – may require an asterisk. Running several agent groups (in violation of Swedish neutrality) while simultaneously trying to conduct an effective search for Raoul Wallenberg not only posed serious risks but also limited Sweden’s room to maneuver.

The post war espionage networks were undoubtedly of great importance to Sweden. The country regularly traded the collected information for news from other intelligence services. The cold truism of espionage is that the focus has to be on information, not on people. It is always people, however, who ultimately suffer. Keeping the cases of other missing ”Swedes” almost entirely separate from the Wallenberg investigation, even to the point of not informing lower level UD investigators about these other men, had serious ramifications.

A spotlight on the critical years 1961-1965 illustrates the point:

In January 1961, Swedish Professor Nanna Svartz brought news from a highly placed Soviet colleague, Professor A. L. Myasnikov, that Raoul Wallenberg, contrary to Soviet claims, was now, in 1961, alive, although in poor physical condition. Prime Minister Tage Erlander immediately requested Wallenberg’s release, but the enthusiasm did not last long. Myasnikov claimed that he had been misunderstood and Swedish officials backed off.

What the public did not know is that Svartz’s testimony was not the only one of a highly secret Swede in Soviet captivity.

In December 1963, Marvin Makinen, an American student who had been arrested by the Soviets in 1961, testified that his cellmate, Zigurds Kruminsh, had told him about meeting a Swede in Korpus 2 (Section 2) of Vladimir prison, the Soviet Union’s most important isolator facility. Korpus 2 housed the hospital section where secret prisoners could be held in complete isolation from the outside world for years. Kruminsh further stated that the Swedish prisoner had been convicted on espionage charges.

Makinen’s statement should have electrified the search for Raoul Wallenberg, especially in connection with Svartz’s report, and the identification of ”the Swedish prisoner” should have immediately become a top priority. Instead, in 1965 the Wallenberg question was officially removed from the Swedish-Soviet agenda and it remained dormant for the next fifteen years.

With a scant archival record, one can only guess how Swedish officials pondered the wider implications of the Svartz/Makinen testimonies: Was the prisoner Kruminsh and Myasnikov encountered Raoul Wallenberg or another Swede? If there were other Swedish prisoners in Vladimir during the time of Kruminsh’s confinement there, (1956-1963), their presence could possibly account for rumors about Raoul Wallenberg. If, on the other hand, it could be shown that no other Swede was held in Vladimir at the time, the chance that the prisoner Kruminsh met was Raoul Wallenberg would dramatically increase.

Perhaps the most compelling case for Raoul Wallenberg’s presence in Vladimir prison in the 1950′s/60′s is the testimony of a former cleaning woman, Varvara I. Larina, who identified a picture of Raoul Wallenberg which had never appeared in the international press from a random lineup of photographs.

The testimonies of at least a half a dozen former prisoners in Vladimir during the 1950′s and 60′s echo similar awareness of a highly secret Swedish prisoner.

So, what about other ”Swedes” in Vladimir?

It was quite well understood, even in early years, that only a small percentage of all missing ”Swedes” would ever have been held in Vladimir prison where only the most important political prisoners were sent. It is not yet known if any of the four Swedish nationals under MGB investigation in 1948, for example, were later placed there.

In 1957, a former prisoner (Hunoldt) testified that in early 1950 he had shared cell with a Swede named ”Eriksson. ”Eriksson” claimed to have been formally affiliated with the Red Cross and was arrested, together with two colleagues, in Eastern Europe in 1944. The man clearly had very close ties to Sweden (his wife was supposedly from Uppsala) and he was definitely not Raoul Wallenberg. However, his similar case profile – a Swedish representative – could easily have led to confusion among fellow prisoners. Could he have been the man Kruminsh met some years later? Equally importantly, could he have been the same man Myasnikov referred to in his conversation with Svartz? So far, neither Sweden nor Russia has provided any information about ”Eriksson” or his two colleagues.

Vladimir’s archive identifies at least one Swedish spy: Isaak Markovich Wolfin, a former member of the Soviet Legation, Stockholm during the 1940′s, who was arrested in 1946, after his return to the Soviet Union. He was released from Vladimir in 1956. As a White Russian national and a known cell spy, Wolfin would not have been easily mistaken for a secret, isolated Swede.

Investigators wrestled with other sensitive issues. At the time of Svartz’s and Makinen’s testimonies, Swedish agent networks in the Baltic countries had been exposed and most agents had disappeared. It was unclear if the men were dead or in Soviet captivity. The same was true for a number of ”freelance” agents, ”Swedes” who had worked directly for British/American interests and who may have been held at Vladimir. The (until recently) unknown fate of the eight men crew of the Swedish DC-3 which was shot down by Soviet air power in June 1952 for years further complicated the picture.

When in 2003 the wreckage of the plane was finally discovered in the Baltic sea, it was possible to recover the remains of four crew members. Four others remain unaccounted for. In the end, then, the choices are limited: The ”Swede” Kruminsh met could perhaps have been a member of the DC-3 crew (quite unlikely), an as yet unknown ”Swedish” agent, or he was indeed Raoul Wallenberg. Larina’s photo identification lends the serious pursuit of this possibility all the more urgency.

By now it has become painfully clear that establishing the ”other Swedes’” full identity and formal tracking of their movements would have made the investigation of all cases much more efficient. July 17, 2007 marks the 60th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s alleged death in the Soviet Union. It is time to bury the myth that there are no realistic options for determining the full truth about his fate. Sweden has to do a better job of disclosing the persons who vanished while working for its cause. Russia finally needs to provide full access to files which would help clarify the most crucial questions. Raoul Wallenberg and other Swedes or individuals working for Sweden who disappeared deserve nothing less.