November 29, 2000

The Truth About a Hero’s Death


Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis, vanished mysteriously in January 1945 on his way to the Soviet Army’s headquarters outside Budapest. Now, after decades of official Soviet denials and lies about Wallenberg’s death, a Russian official investigating the case has acknowledged that the heroic Swede was probably shot in 1947 while being held by the K.G.B. Aleksandr Yakovlev, chairman of the Kremlin commission investigating the case, reported this week that ”We do not doubt that he was shot in the Lubyanka prison.” This important pronouncement should prompt President Vladimir Putin to issue a decree at long last acknowledging that Wallenberg was a victim of Stalin’s repression.

Since Stalin’s death in 1953, Russians have been trying to reckon with the horrors of his era. In Raoul Wallenberg’s case, Moscow spent a decade denying that he had ever made it to Soviet territory. Then it concocted a story that defied belief, saying that Wallenberg, at age 34, had died of a heart attack in Lubyanka, the dreaded K.G.B. prison in downtown Moscow.

In recent months the Russians, in conjunction with Sweden, have been trying in earnest to find out what really happened. In Budapest during World War II Wallenberg took great personal risks, issuing Swedish passports to at least 20,000 Jews who were being threatened by the Nazis with death marches and deportation to concentration camps. Once captured by the Soviets, Wallenberg was accused of being a spy for the United States and of being a Nazi agent. The details of his case have been secret for too long. It is time for Mr. Putin to set the record straight about Raoul Wallenberg’s last years.