Possible reasons for the arrest

In his ”The Book that Disappeared; What Happened in Budapest” , Lars Berg, a colleague of Wallenberg during the time in Budapest, describes how after some time, Soviet military personnel started to interrogate those locally employed under Wallenberg. Some of whom never were released. They were questioned in selection to the accusation of espionage and issuing false protective documents for non-Hungarian fascists. Caught up in the emotional situation and as a close friend of Wallenberg, Lars Berg could have exaggerated the Soviet action. However, he continues by stating that it was impossible for the Soviet bureaucracy to understand how a rich Swedish capitalist, like Wallenberg, would risk his life to save Hungarian Jews. Therefore Wallenberg was presumed to be a German spy commander. There were also suspicions against him working on the behalf of the Americans and British military intelligence. Stalin’s suspicion against his Second World War allies was already deeply rooted during this period of time.

Except from Wallenberg and Langfelder, the only man working at the Swedish Legation who was arrested and imprisoned in Moscow was a Russian-speaking man with Norwegian origins claiming his name was Thomsen. Later it has become clear that this man actually was born in Russia and that his real name was Grossheim-Krisko. The Russian part of a Swedish-Russian Joint Group working on the Wallenberg case has published interrogations of Grossheim-Krisko (or Thomsen). During one of these interrogations dated in March 1945 he claims that the Swedish Legation had issued protective passports to persons fleeing the Soviet Regime. He also says that fascist capitalists were under Swedish protection. When the interrogator asked whether Grossheim-Krisko saw the Swedish activities in Hungary as proposing a possible threat towards the Soviet Sate, he had answered affirmatively, though not directly accusing Wallenberg. Even if the interrogation-reports are authentic, one has to carefully evaluate them, regarding the nature of the Soviet State during this time. But the information given may indicate what the Soviet authorities thought of Wallenberg. In the report from the Swedish-Russian Working Group, various possible reasons for Wallenberg’s arrest are given. However, it must be emphasised that this question still remains highly uncertain.

The explanation of the Soviet suspicion of espionage is in the report based around the various organisations helping Wallenberg. As mentioned, the War Refugee Board set up Wallenberg’s task in Budapest and the operation was mainly financed by the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. From the Soviet perspective, the WRB and the JOINT were seen as underground networks, regarded almost as espionage organisations. The mistrust to the WRB can be partially understood, since this establishment was in close co-operation with the American Military Intelligence, the Office of Strategic Services. Another fact adding to this is that the OSS representative in Stockholm, Ivar Olsen, carried every message from Washington to Wallenberg. Olsen was known for having made contacts with Soviet agents in the Baltic States. The Soviets knew about the connection between Olsen and Wallenberg, which means that they might have thought that Wallenberg was actually working for the OSS. During the arrest, the Russians took Wallenberg’s belongings. Among these was his pocket-agenda, containing information about future plans for assistance and re-building projects, concerning the Jewish population in Budapest. These plans must have seemed suspicious and not according to the Soviet blueprint for Budapest’s future. It seems quite likely that the Russians thought that Wallenberg was preparing the establishment of an American espionage centre contra the Soviet Union, acting under the disguise of a humanitarian organisation. Wallenberg’s fellow-prisoners, Richer and Huber, have both said that Wallenberg told them how the interrogator had accused him for espionage. In Bernt Schiller’s book ”Why the Russians took Raoul Wallenberg” , the main theses presented suggests that the Soviet Regime suspected a political conspiracy between the Western Powers and Nazi Germany, directed towards bringing down the Soviet Union. Wallenberg, with his close contacts with German Nazis, such as Adolf Eichmann, was, according to Schiller, suspected of taking a part in this conspiracy. The Russians might very well have had such ideas, but no clear evidence indicating that the arrest of Wallenberg was due to this mistrust, is presented.

Another potential reason could be obtained with regard to Wallenberg as a person. He was representing one of the richest and most prominent industrial families of Europe. A main objective of the communist ideology is to create a society based equal distribution of income, but the Wallenberg family was, and still is, a symbol of western capitalism. In the 1951 version of the Soviet Encyclopaedia it is pointed out that the Wallenberg family was an active supporter of German fascism and therefore were evil-minded enemies of the proletarian society-group. That Wallenberg was arrested because of ideological purposes, might just be a partial reason. Yet it has to be considered. Though this could be contradicted by the fact that the Wallenberg-owned company SKF were providing ball bearings to the Soviet aeroplane industry. Not only Wallenberg as a surname could have attracted Russians interest. USSR was badly hit by the war, and in desperate need for any financial resources. Also, the corruption in Soviet bureaucracies is infamous. Undoubtedly Raoul Wallenberg must have known about Nazi plundering of Jewish property and other potentially valuable and important information, interesting for the Russians to get hold of.

The above suggestion leads on to what Hans Magnusson finds as the most probable reason for the arrest, being that the Russians wanted something in return for Wallenberg. He explains how a prioritised task in the Soviet foreign policy was to get back the numerous Soviet citizens that had been left abroad as a consequence of the war. Magnusson continues by, again, referring to the two Swiss diplomats, Feller and Meier, who were arrested at the same point as Wallenberg. They were released in 1946 as a result of diplomatic negotiations between Switzerland and the Soviet Union, where it was agreed that Feller and Meier were to be exchanged with a group of Soviet citizens in Switzerland. The similarities surrounding the circumstances around the two Swiss diplomats and Wallenberg, makes Magnusson believe that Wallenberg was to be used as an object of possible exchange as well. Sweden was hosting a group of five Soviet sailors and 40 sick military personnel, which could have interested the Russians. Though this raises the question why the Russians never proposed an exchange; Magnusson points out that it was not according to Soviet practice to propose direct exchanges. They preferred to leave this to the other side. Yet, Magnusson claims that the Russians did indicate willingness to perform an exchange. But obviously the indication was not clear enough, or the Swedish diplomats not alert enough. The only Swedish diplomat understanding the Soviet actions as indicating a will to perform an exchange, was Barck-Holst, after a talk with a Soviet State official. An explanation for Swedish inaction would be the general belief in Sweden after the war, which was that Wallenberg had been tragically executed in Budapest, shortly after his disappearance.

In the report from the Swedish-Russian Working Group, some reasons, more speculative in nature, are brought up. One of these is that Wallenberg was arrested to recruit him into the Russian secret service. Attempts to recruit war-prisoners were common, and this hypothesis concerning Wallenberg’s arrest, is popular amongst Russian historians, with insight to the methods of the Russian secret agencies. In his memoirs, a former chief for the Scandinavian section at SMERSH, Sinitsyn, has written that he had asked both Abakumov and Molotov to hand Wallenberg over to PGU (foreign espionage) for recruitment. Another possibility is that Wallenberg knew about Russian contacts with Nazi Germany and that his arrest was a way of getting rid of Wallenberg and his knowledge. These prospects may just be speculative with no valuable evidence supporting them, yet they have to be considered.