Yet Another Version

Yet Another Version

by William Korey

 With the basic Smoltsov document on Wallenberg’s reported death perceived, by the end of the Bakatin interlude, as a dubious concoction, and with the Kremlin imposing a halt on independent inquiry into archives dealing with Wallenberg, how was the government to resist the demand for information on Wallenberg’s fate? An Izvestiya article in June 1993 showed how.

Entitled "Wallenberg Is Dead: Unfortunately, There Is Sufficient Proof," and written by journalist Ella Maksimova, the article reprinted for public view the text of a confidential letter from Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Vyshinsky to Vyacheslav Molotov dated May 14, 1947.107 In the letter Vyshinsky outlined how, after repeated Swedish diplomatic interventions seeking information about Wallenberg, "we" in the Foreign Ministry had decided to submit to SMERSH and later to the Ministry of State Security "requests" seeking "clarification on the fate and whereabouts of Wallenberg." The letter then reported that "only in February of this year" (1947) did the chief of counterintelligence in the KGB inform "us" that Wallenberg was, in fact, in the hands of the Ministry of State Security and that Molotov would be informed "personally on further undertakings" of the ministry.

A key, if controversial, paragraph followed. While noting that the Wallenberg case "at the present day remains without progress," Vyshinsky asked Molotov "to direct Comrade Abakumov to submit a summary on the essence of the case and proposals about its liquidation." Four days later—May 18, 1947—Molotov sent the letter to Abakumov noting in the left-hand corner that he should "report to me." The word "liquidation" (likvidatsii in the text) was interpreted in the article to mean that Wallenberg personally was to be targeted for death.

In fact, however, the word’s meaning is ambiguous. After all, the memorandum does not specifically mention the liquidation of Wallenberg. The tone of the memo suggests that Vyshinsky may have been irritated and embarrassed by the security service’s two-year delay in dealing with the case and wanted it removed from the agenda. If so, "liquidation" might refer to liquidating—that is, closing—the case. Oddly enough, shortly before the Izvestiya article appeared in Moscow its essence had already been published—in leading Swedish and Danish newspapers on May 30, 1993, and two days later, on June 1, in the London Evening Standard. According to the Swedish and Danish press accounts, the details of the Vyshinsky letter were "expected to be published in Izvestiya within the next few days." The headline in the Evening Standard was pointed: "Wallenberg Died on Stalin’s Orders."108 Obviously, Moscow wanted the story to be carried in leading Scandinavian and British organs. These foreign journals had a veritable scoop. Perhaps the Vyshinsky letter, with its reference to "liquidation," could convince the West that the Wallenberg case was solved.

But the Evening Standard story was quickly challenged by a cousin of Raoul in New York, Jacob Wallenberg, who also served as vice chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States. An adviser to the New York relative, who was reported to have an "intimate knowledge" of the Russian language as used in "documents like" the Vyshinsky letter, believed that the word liquidation "refers to the removal of the problem, not necessarily to the man."109

Jacob Wallenberg also pointed out that the Vyshinsky document was not a "new" document at all. It had been released two years earlier—on October 31, 1991—to the Swedish-Soviet commission.110 Jacob had access to expert members of the Swedish Working Group and probably received it from one of them. That it had not been publicized for two years is puzzling. Presumably the Kremlin made a decision in 1993, long after the Bakatin reform era, to seize upon and exploit a document that had been available for some time but that could only now fulfill some purpose. And it was clearly a purpose that served Moscow’s interest, otherwise why have an Izvestiya exclusive released in advance to other European papers?

Yet, as Jacob Wallenberg noted, the document did not state how Raoul Wallenberg was supposed to have died. Furthermore, while informed researchers knew of Molotov’s query to Abakumov, the head of the State Security Ministry, Abakumov’s response was not known. From other documents, one can ascertain that the unreleased Abakumov response is called Document 3044-A, and is presumed to have been written in July 1947. In Jacob Wallenberg’s view, "this particular document could hold one of the keys to the riddle of Wallenberg’s fate."111

Three years later, Little, Brown, a leading American publisher, released a book purporting to be the memoirs of a former KGB spymaster, Pavel Sudoplatov, and an entire chapter was devoted to the Wallenberg case. The book was entitled Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness—A Soviet Spymaster.112

While Sudoplatov does not specify what degree of involvement he had with the Wallenberg case, he asserts that Soviet military counterintelligence sought to recruit Wallenberg as a Soviet agent, but the failure of this initiative compelled Soviet authorities to eliminate him as an "unwanted witness." This was accomplished by injection with a poison prepared by a secret toxicological laboratory next to the Lubyanka prison. The head of that laboratory—Lab X in official documents, he said—was Grigori M. Maironovsky.

Sudoplatov referred to no new documents or oral sources. Instead, he relied on "the pattern of military counterintelligence reports" on Wallenberg and his family’s connections, which "made him a candidate for recruitment." This "pattern" was compounded with another "pattern": "His arrest, interrogation, and death in Lubyanka all fit the pattern of a recruitment effort gone bad."

Why were the Soviets interested in recruiting Wallenberg? Sudoplatov, in surrealistic fashion, argued that in 1945 the Kremlin leadership was manipulating the Soviet Jewish question by spreading rumors that an autonomous Jewish republic would be established in the Crimea, not Palestine, "in order to mollify our British ally." "My speculations," he said—without a shred of evidence—"are that Stalin wanted Wallenberg recruited to assist in raising the international capital that Stalin hoped to attract for postwar economic reconstruction using the bait of a Jewish homeland."

As for Wallenberg’s fate, Sudoplatov contended that "probably" Wallenberg was taken to a "super secret cell" in the Soviet secret police headquarters that was supposedly monitored by the head of the toxicological laboratory, Maironovsky. There, "my best estimate," Sudoplatov went on, was that "Wallenberg was killed by Maironovsky who was ordered to inject him with poison under the guise of medical treatment." Sudoplatov cited the evidence produced by Ella Maksimova in her Izvestiya article, carrying the text of Vyshinsky’s confidential memo to Molotov on May 14, 1947, in which the term "liquidation" appeared. Sudoplatov commented: "To me it is clear that this was not a suggestion to close the case but one to eliminate Wallenberg."

While not focusing specifically on the book’s discussion of the Wallenberg case, a number of scholars—Thomas Powers, George Kennan, and Walter Laqueur—have cast extremely grave doubt on Sudaplatov’s version of events, with Powers suggesting that the work might have been written by others.113 Even the noted historian Robert Conquest, who wrote a foreword to the memoir, observed that Sudoplatov displayed "imperfect knowledge and imperfect deduction in the period of his own experience."114 The book’s discussion of Wallenberg, in the absence of supporting sources, cannot be relied upon.

The most recent scholarly study of the Wallenberg case, partially funded by the Canadian government, was produced in 1998 by David Matas. Matas sought information from the Swedish-Russian commission on the case, which was a continuation of the Soviet-International Commission launched in 1990. Matas quickly found that whereas the Swedish members were "open and accesible," the Russian representatives were uncooperative.115 While Matas was in Moscow in 1997-98, the Russian Working Group was comprised of four persons, two of whom were archivists from two national security agencies. When he sought meetings with those officials through the assistance of the Canadian embassy in Moscow, he was told by his host in the Foreign Ministry, who was head of its Swedish-Finnish section, that meetings would be "inappropriate" as "they were in possession of confidential information" that could not be disclosed to someone outside of the bilateral discussions between Sweden and Russia.

The Foreign Ministry host further informed Matas that the head of the Russian Working Group had been reassigned as ambassador to Sweden and, therefore, was removed from his chairmanship. There was no indication who would replace him. The head of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights was equally uncooperative. Matas was convinced that their conversation was being taped—the office in which they met had "a definite electronic echo"—as the human rights official argued that current research efforts concerning Wallenberg constituted "a wild goose chase." It was the Canadian’s impression that the human rights official was anxious "to get his own remarks on tape…."116

From all the nongovernmental Russian researchers with whom Matas spoke came the same kind of message: "They had got no cooperation from Russian archival officials, and I could expect none."117 The former KGB (now FSB) archives were kept in closed stacks, he learned. A particularly interesting suggestion was made by one Russian researcher: if the Canadian government were to make a "formal request" for cooperation by the Russian security service in archival research regarding Wallenberg, it might be granted.

From the beginning of his research project, Matas would hear virtually every month that the Swedish Working Group, jointly with the Russian Group, would be releasing a report within, at most, two months. The rumors became a "mirage." His explanation was devastating:

The Swedish working group was never quite ready to release its report, because the Russian side was so lethargic in answering requests for information. The Russian lethargy was met with Swedish politeness. Swedish officials have done little to press Russian officials who did not provide information that was requested of them. Who denied access to archives or who provided information only after lengthy delays.

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