January 4, 2001

Sweden rejected swap for Wallenberg


STOCKHOLM, Sweden (Reuters) – The Soviet Union was willing to trade captured Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg after World War II for Soviet citizens who had defected to Sweden, but Sweden turned down the offer, a newspaper is claiming.

Wallenberg, credited with saving thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps by issuing false passports or granting them protection under the neutral Swedish flag, was last seen when he was arrested in 1945 by Soviet troops in Budapest.

Moscow maintained for years that Wallenberg died of a heart attack in 1947 in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka jail, aged 34.

But last month Russian authorities, while confirming he had died in a Soviet prison, said Wallenberg had been ”unjustifiably arrested by non-judicial bodies” and was a victim of Stalin’s purges.

A Swedish-Russian investigation into Wallenberg’s fate presents the results of its work since 1991 on January 12.

Svenska Dagbladet, citing informed sources, says it will show evidence that Sweden turned down the chance to negotiate Wallenberg’s return.

”If Wallenberg was captured and Sweden showed no interest in his release, there was no reason from the Soviet side to keep him alive. The easiest solution was to eliminate any signs of this Soviet misjudgement,” the newspaper said.

A spokesman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry declined to comment, saying the government would present its views on January 12.

The then Swedish foreign minister, Osten Unden, was opposed to an exchange because ”this is not something the Swedish government does” and he did not want to carry out ”human trade” or sour relations with the Soviet Union, the newspaper said.

Swiss ‘agreed similar swap’

Soviet authorities might have arrested Wallenberg to use him in an exchange, the newspaper said. A Russian document shows two Swiss diplomats were arrested the day before Wallenberg on the direct orders of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Like Sweden, Swiss authorities received little information about their fates. But the Swiss worked hard to free their nationals and said relations with Moscow would deteriorate if the two diplomats were not released.

Moscow responded by requesting the handover of two Soviet emigres who had received political asylum in Switzerland.

A Russian delegation travelled to Switzerland in December 1945 and after dramatic negotiations, the Swiss agreed.

In January and February 1946 a total of six Russians were exchanged for five Swiss prisoners, Svenska Dagbladet said.

The newspaper said that Soviet Vice Foreign Minister Dekanozov had advised Sweden’s ambassador to Moscow, Staffan Soderblom, on January 16, 1945, that Soviet troops had come across Wallenberg and taken measures to protect him.

Dekanozov also mentioned to Soderblom that six sailors who had defected from the Soviet Union were in Sweden, and Moscow wanted them returned, it said.

But Soderblom did not make any link between Wallenberg and the sailors in his report to Stockholm.

Wallenberg was not seen after January 17. An official Soviet account in 1957 said he was arrested by Red Army counter-intelligence on January 17, 1945, and died two years later.

Stalin’s appointments diary refers to a meeting he had with Soderblom in July 1946, about six months after the Swiss swap.

A copy of the Swedish account of that meeting, found in 1980, recorded that Stalin had said that the Soviet authorities had given orders to protect the Swedes in Hungary.

However, Soderblom responded that he was convinced Wallenberg was already dead, which was interpreted as a sign that Sweden was not interested in making a deal and wanted to close the Wallenberg case, the paper said.

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