December 22, 2000

Russia rehabilitates Swedish war hero


Russia has rehabilitated Raoul Wallenberg, saying the legendary wartime Swedish diplomat who died at the hands of the Soviet secret police was a victim of political repression.

Mr Wallenberg has long been regarded as a hero in the West for helping to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi death camps.

The Soviet Union had long insisted that Mr Wallenberg died of natural causes while being held by the KGB, but a Russian investigation last month concluded that he had been executed in 1947, aged 34.

But when Soviet forces expelled the Germans from Budapest in 1945, they questioned Mr Wallenberg’s links with the Americans, and arrested him on suspicion of spying.

Mr Wallenberg’s half-sister, who has spent the last 55 years trying to discover what happened to her brother, is not satisfied yet.

He was arrested by Soviet troops who entered Budapest in 1945, and disappeared without trace.

The decision to clear Mr Wallenberg’s name was announced by the prosecutor-general’s office in Moscow, which said no evidence had been found of any criminal case against him, or his driver Wilmos Langfelder.

Admission of guilt

It said they had been deprived of their freedom without any grounds and had not been accused of any crime.

While working as a Swedish diplomat in German-occupied Budapest, Mr Wallenberg distributed Swedish identity cards to Jews threatened with deportation to concentration camps, and won diplomatic protection for whole neighbourhoods of the city.

Backed by the Swedish Government and the United States, Mr Wallenberg, a member of one of Sweden’s most prominent families, is thought to have saved tens of thousands of lives in this way.

The Soviet Union initially claimed that he had been killed in the streets of Budapest.

Then, 12 years after his disappearance, it admitted that he had been taken to Moscow’s notorious KGB headquarters, the Lubyanka, where he was said to have died of a heart attack in 1947.

Mystery continues

But exactly where he was put to death has never been disclosed.

And many former prisoners claim that the diplomat was alive as late as the 1970s and 1980s.

”They cannot believe that we would be satisfied with this. They must come up with concrete evidence,” she said.

She wants proof that Wallenberg was executed: until she gets it, she says, nothing can be ruled out, including the possibility that he is still alive.

The Swedish Government has simply acknowledged the Russian statement and commented that Mr Wallenberg’s fate remained unclear.

A joint Swedish-Russian commission set up in 1991 to look into the diplomat’s fate is due to issue its final report in January.

© From BBC News