The Last Word on Wallenberg? New Investigations, New Questions
by William Korey
Sightings and Their Importance
A similar theme was eloquently expounded in the investigative report of the journalist Susanne Berger.123 Initially, she sought to determine what happened to Wallenberg after 1947. She opened with the observation of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov in his Memoirs challenging the thesis that Wallenberg's file was "destroyed" as being "almost assuredly untrue…." Sakharov's remarks at a press conference in September 1989 also impelled her to undertake her inquiry: "The file of a Foreign Diplomat isn't likely to have been destroyed as it might one day prove very important for the reputation of the country and its leadership...."124
As a point of departure, Berger cited a ten-page memorandum from Abakumov, the head of Soviet state security, sent to Stalin on July 17, 1947-the same day Wallenberg was supposed to have perished. That memo, titled "Report about… Conducting Investigations on the Affairs of Spies, Saboteurs, Terrorists and Members of the Anti-Soviet Underground," underscored, Berger noted, "how obsessed" the Soviet leadership was with the need to identify and eradicate foreign intelligence networks, but no reference to Wallenberg appeared in the report.125 More importantly, she recalled that the Wallenberg case was "still at an early stage of processing," as was evidenced by the relatively few occasions on which he had been interrogated up to that point. This ineluctably led to the conjecture that it was unlikely the Soviets would have killed him before extracting whatever valuable intelligence information he might have possessed.
Buttressing this conjecture, Berger pointed to the extraordinary comment made by high Soviet security official Pitovranov on Swedish television in 1992 that "Stalin would not have killed him." She speculated that Stalin might have decided to isolate Wallenberg as a numbered and nameless prisoner to be processed at a later time. In defense of this thesis, Berger stressed a 1956 communication from a high KGB official to a Soviet Foreign Ministry official who was asking how to answer Swedish inquiries about Wallenberg. "It is better to mention, probably," the KGB official suggested, "that the reason for the lack of information about Wallenberg was caused by the fact that he might have been kept in the Soviet Union from the first days after the war until his death under another last name." The pertinence of this bit of advice was considerable, in her view, as it must have been drawn from Wallenberg's file. Moreover, the document "clearly indicates" that "key information" about Wallenberg existed with the KGB Foreign Intelligence Section-the SVR-in the mid-fifties.
If, then, it is quite possible that Wallenberg survived his official "death" in 1947, it is imperative that an inquiry into his fate should begin with identifying and interviewing direct eyewitnesses and those with hearsay evidence of his existence. This was precisely how Berger launched her study and, crucially, she discovered that close examination of eyewitness testimony did not result in a random assortment of incongruent or conflicting accounts; instead, "a large number of witness statements fit a very general pattern."126 While the breakdown must necessarily be rough, it appeared that Wallenberg was reportedly seen in prisons in the Moscow area during 1947-49, in the Far East and Vorkuta in 1952-54, and in Vladimir during 1954-70.127Berger summarized the testimony of the more believable and perceptive eyewitness accounts at some length. While she was careful to avoid making definitive judgments regarding the credibility of the accounts, she implied that a number of them warranted further inquiry. Moreover, the general pattern of the reports suggested the conceptual framework upon which to base further investigation.
Of special interest was a psychological hospital in Moscow, the Psycho-Neurological Dispensary No. 13. A Hungarian who had been arrested in the Soviet Union in 1979 was brought there in 1981. According to his account (which he later shared with Swedish officials in Spain), when he asked a nurse whether there were any other foreigners in the facility, she responded that there was one, that his name was Wallenberg, and that he had been there three years. The nurse later identified a totally "apathetic" wheelchair patient as Wallenberg.
Swedish officials later learned from the CIA that such hospital clinics "have been used to detain and 'assess' Soviet political dissidents on a short term … basis."128 According to Berger, who, together with Susan Mesinai, visited the facility in May 2000, the testimony of the former Hungarian prisoner "is currently under further review," but she provided no further specifics. A correspondent of the Times of London who also investigated the hospital on January 12, 2001, observed that it was a place where Raoul Wallenberg "could have spent his last years."129
The imprisonment of Wallenberg in a mental hospital was at the center of a major controversy previously discussed, the Svartz-Miasnikov encounter in January 1961. According to Svartz, the Russian scientist told her that a very ill Wallenberg was being held in a mental hospital. Among the crucial questions that have been raised about this discussion was whether Miasnikov's knowledge of German permitted him to grasp the full meaning of what was being said and to communicate his meaning accurately. Miasnikov later claimed that his poor German caused him to misunderstand what Svartz said as well as caused him to confuse or mislead her inadvertently.
After examining the evidence and conducting numerous interviews, Berger concluded that "there are countless witnesses who confirm that both spoke fluent German and the communication between the two had never been hampered by language differences."130 Drawing from documentation in the Swedish Foreign Ministry archives, Berger reported that Svartz was very certain of the details of her conversation and that Miasnikov answered "spontaneously" to her question about Wallenberg. Moreover, Svartz recalled, the Russian went pale as soon as he had told her about Wallenberg's dire situation.
The documents also showed that a second Soviet doctor, Speransky, was present when Wallenberg was discussed. Svartz returned to Moscow in March and had a second meeting with Miasnikov and Speransky on March 21, 1961. (The first was in January.) She later reported to the Swedish ambassador in Moscow that she was taken aback by how "pale and nervous" both looked. Miasnikov was quoted as telling her that "in the Soviet Union no one is authorized to speak about other things than art and science." When Miasnikov made this remark, Speransky suffered a major coughing fit. When Svartz asked if she could see Wallenberg, Miasnikov answered that this had to be decided at a higher level, adding, "if he is not dead."
There was yet a third meeting, this one on March 23, with only Miasnikov and Svartz present. By then it was clear to Svartz that Miasnikov had panicked because he had been made painfully aware of the potential political ramifications of his disclosure. He told her that Khrushchev was "furious" and that Soviet deputy foreign minister V. S. Semenov had visited him for several hours only a few days prior to their meeting and "he knows everything." Miasnikov went on to say: "I do not know where Wallenberg is found. Perhaps he is dead." To which Svartz replied: "Then he must have died quite recently since you told me in January that he was in a psychiatric facility and you asked whether I wanted to see him." Miasnikov responded, "Did I say that?"
This was the first occasion on which he articulated this phrase-it would become his standard rhetorical evasion-as well as offering what would become his classic rationale: "That had to be a misunderstanding based on my bad German. I know nothing about Wallenberg." Svartz reminded him that he had said that he "knew the case well" and that Wallenberg was "mentally ill." It was at this point that Miasnikov indirectly revealed why his disclosure was a dangerous act. He chastised Svartz for presumably informing Swedish officials about what he had considered to be "a private conversation." He added that it was "very inappropriate of you not to consider the matter confidentially." The why was then made clear: "There should not have been a letter to Khrushchev. That makes matters more difficult and he took the matter, as I said, badly."131
According to Berger, Svartz told Miasnikov that "things have been held confidential," though, in fact, she had informed officials in the Swedish embassy, leading Prime Minister Erlander to write to Khrushchev on February 9, 1961, asking him to arrange for Wallenberg to be examined by Swedish physicians and returned home. But Miasnikov's complaint was beside the point in any case; Berger emphasized: "meetings with visiting foreigners were carefully monitored." In addition, every Russian who held a "private" conversation with a foreigner was required to file a report to higher authorities summarizing its content. Nor was Miasnikov the most honorable, inwardly motivated scientific colleague. Eventually, under Communist Party pressure, he denied ever mentioning Wallenberg. Swedish security police archives also revealed that Miasnikov testified in the notorious "Doctors' Plot" against one of the nine indicted doctors, V. N. Vinogradov, who was wildly accused of having murdered Stalin's principal aide, Andrei Zhdanov.
Witness Testimonies and Prisoner Exchange
The eyewitness testimonies offer insight into a key feature of the Wallenberg mystery-why he was not returned to Sweden in a prisoner exchange. Berger provided an in-depth exploration of this subject, beginning with a quotation from a 1986 report from Swedish ambassador Rune Nystroem: "That Raoul Wallenberg could have been exchanged for persons in Sweden was a question that came up, or at least was suggested by the Soviets at a very early stage in the Raoul Wallenberg case. On the Swedish side, however, it appears that the suggestion was either not understood or it was felt that it was not possible to agree to an exchange."132 Berger speculated that Nystroem's acknowledgment was possibly the first of its kind.
She fleshed out the story of the nonexchange, filling in details going back to 1946 when the Soviets were probing the possibility with Swedish ambassador Söderblom or with his chargé d'affaires. They were either brushed off or misunderstood. If the chargé, Ulf Barck-Holst, did understand the Russians' intentions and sought to interest his superiors in Stockholm in the hints emanating from Moscow, he encountered only indifference.
Occasionally the episodes recounted by Berger are shadowy with ill-defined contours, but Berger saw them as missing puzzle pieces that, properly fixed within the framework of the Wallenberg narrative, might help provide the full picture. An example was CIA archival material released in December 1993 that contained a document from January 1953 referring to a possible exchange of Wallenberg for Soviet spy Stig Enblom. The offer was relayed through a German, a Karl Kindermann, who worked for Germany's domestic intelligence service in 1953. Kindermann was reported as being frustrated in getting a Swedish response, but much of the material about the case lacked substantive detail about his motivations.
More weighty, as well as intriguing, is material from the 1991 memoirs of Carl Persson, former director of Swedish security police. A certain Carl-Gustav Svingel, who was active in the Swedish Lutheran Church, was approached in December 1965 by a "Mr. X," who claimed to have excellent connections with Soviet and East German communist officials. Mr. X was Wolfgang Vogel, a lawyer who had been prominent in East-West exchanges. According to Berger's account, in which she drew upon Persson's material, Mr. X wondered whether Sweden would be interested in some form of "compensation" by the Soviets for the release of one of their recently convicted spies, Stig Wennerström, a high-ranking Swedish army officer.
Initially, when Svingel told his East Bloc contacts that Sweden would be very interested in obtaining Wallenberg, their response was that "he does not exist." Swedish officials then pondered whether Svingel ought to be encouraged to continue his conversations with Mr. X, and decided not to pursue the option. The decision offended Persson, whose umbrage is articulated in this passage in his memoirs: "an innocent man is languishing in jail for 21 years."133
Despite the Swedes' negative response, the Svingel-Vogel discussions continued, but what actually transpired between the two cannot be accurately ascertained. According to Svingel, at the end of 1968 Vogel told him to ask the Swedish government if they were willing to negotiate clemency for Wennerström in an exchange "for the man you have interest in to go free." But each questioned the reliability of the other's recollections. Svingel did maintain some contact with Swedish security officials, but it was impossible to determine the credibility of his assertions. Berger concluded that "the issue remains unresolved."134
A principal focus of Berger's inquiry is reflected in her title: "Swedish Aspects." Her report provided the disconcerting and depressing background for Prime Minister Persson's apologia on January 12. After examining the Söderblom fiasco, she called attention to the events of 1956-57 that produced the Gromyko report with its infamous Smoltsov Memorandum. Swedish prime minister Tage Erlander was scheduled to visit Moscow in April 1956, but Wallenberg's family, after meeting Erlander, was not impressed by how forthright he might be. Wallenberg's stepfather, Fredrik von Dardel, recorded in his diary that when he met with the prime minister, he "showed himself to be surprisingly uninformed about Raoul's case, but listened with increased interest." Overall, however, Erlander did not inspire confidence in von Dardel. He left "a rather weak impression … very unlikely to get anywhere with the Russian gangsters…." Wallenberg's mother was described in the diary as "very depressed and disillusioned...."135
Especially disturbing was the confidential evaluation of the Gromyko memo by Swedish foreign minister Östen Undén:
It appears that Wallenberg is dead.... One can of course speculate about other possibilities that, for example, Wallenberg has disappeared or is in such condition that he cannot be shown. Those are theoretical possibilities but very unlikely. To maintain or to build up a relationship with the Soviet Union without sacrificing more important values belongs to our most important tasks.... In my opinion, we have no reason to hold a continuous grudge against the Soviet Union....136 That the Swedes considered this assessment to be particularly sensitive was indicated in a note attached to it by a top Foreign Ministry official to the Swedish ambassador in Moscow: "I would be grateful if you would burn the document after reading."
In Berger's judgment, Undén's approach displayed "the latent passivity that had marked the actions of the Wallenberg case in the early years and remained present in some form ever since…." Arne Ruth had also employed the term "passivity" in his Washington Post article to characterize Swedish conduct. What Berger denominated the "Undén-mindset" was particularly noticeable in Sweden's ineffectual handling of witness testimonies. She was similarly skeptical of Sweden's management of the Stig Wennerström spy case: Why did it not form the basis for a prisoner exchange that would have freed Wallenberg? Berger concluded by noting that the Wennerström file in Swedish security archives "remains classified."
Berger's report drew two major conclusions.137 First, it was necessary to expose "the biggest myth" that had enveloped the Wallenberg case and that had led many to a self-defeating attitude of "wise passivity" with regard to solving it: "That the truth about his fate can never be known." Persistent research had produced valuable new evidence even as it had raised questions requiring further examination. In Berger's view, a more systematic evaluation of witness testimonies would likely lead to additional breakthroughs. This could happen, of course, only with "direct access to documentation." It is the same plea voiced by the other consultants.
The American Role or Lack Thereof
Conspicuously absent from the press conference and postconference functions were representatives from an all-but-forgotten historical player in the Raoul Wallenberg tragedy: the United States. It was, after all, the American government, through its War Refugee Board, that had approached Wallenberg in the late spring of 1944 and, after intensive interviews by a board official in Stockholm, had hired the thirty-two-year-old Swede to undertake the rescue of Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest.
Through U.S. intervention with the Swedish government, Wallenberg acquired the diplomatic status of secretary in the Swedish legation in Hungary, and the U.S. War Refugee Board funded his humanitarian work. The board was also in overall charge of the rescue program he led so courageously. Despite that relationship, and except for a few mainly indirect initiatives undertaken shortly after Soviet forces detained him, the United States ceased to be openly involved in his case. And, over a half century later, despite Wallenberg's contemporary iconic status, it did not even choose to issue a statement on the occasion of the release of the studies of the two separate sections comprising the Swedish-Russian Working Group. Yet, like Banquo's ghost, the U.S. presence hovered uneasily over the January 12 proceedings.
Paradoxically, nowhere in the world is public interest in Wallenberg greater. His presence is ubiquitous across the United States. His heroism is memorialized in the scores of squares and streets in American cities that bear his name, in the drive that borders the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and at a major site in New York opposite the United Nations. A bronze bust of Wallenberg, sculpted by a celebrated Israeli artist, stands at the symbolic vortex of America's traditions and values: the rotunda of the nation's Capitol. Only a tiny handful of foreigners occupy such a place of honor in the American imagination and in its sacred places.
Five years ago the U.S. Postal Service arranged for the creation of an unprecedented stamp design for the Swedish hero that carefully avoided conveying the impression that he was dead. The absence of definitive proof as well as the existence of eyewitness testimony that he might still be alive led the Postal Service to craft a statement on the occasion of the stamp's release that deliberately eschewed use of the term "commemorative" in describing the stamp. In most cases, those honored on U.S. stamps are no longer living.138
Both the installation of the bust in the rotunda and the decision to produce the unique stamp were the result of the initiative of a congressman from San Mateo, California-Representative Tom Lantos, now the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. A champion of human rights around the world, Lantos is an extraordinarily gifted member of the House and a powerful orator with expertise in many legislative spheres. What also distinguishes him from all his legislative colleagues is that he is the only Holocaust survivor who serves in Congress. Both he and his wife, Annette, consider that they owe their very lives to Raoul Wallenberg. Annette recalls how she considered him the "Moses from the North."
Representative Lantos could not rest content with honoring Wallenberg symbolically. Twenty years ago, on March 26, 1981, he drafted legislation to make Raoul Wallenberg an "honorary citizen" of the United States. Congress adopted the legislation in September of 1981, and President Reagan signed it into law on October 5. With the exception of Sir Winston Churchill, no other foreigner-until then-had ever had this distinction bestowed upon him. The legislation also had a practical purpose; it was intended to stimulate and as well as provide a legal foundation for formal U.S. intervention on behalf of Wallenberg. For too long a time and for reasons that remain obscure-and thus troubling-the United States did not actively intervene. It was Lantos's hope that, even though introduced belatedly, the legislation might prompt a new American diplomatic approach to resolve the matter once and for all.
It is not clear when the U.S. government first learned that the Soviets had detained Wallenberg in mid-January of 1945 and had imprisoned him three weeks later. Swedish officials knew as early as January 16, 1945; the source was a memorandum from Soviet deputy foreign minister Dekanosov informing them that Wallenberg was being held under the protection of the Soviet armed forces. It seems highly probable that the Swedes would have passed this information along to Wallenberg's American employers promptly, yet there is no documentation attesting to the Swedes' alerting U.S. officials. If the Swedes did inform the Americans, the United States still might have been hesitant to act as a result of the advice of the Soviet ambassador to Sweden, Aleksandra Kollontai. The ambassador, who told Wallenberg's mother about Wallenberg's arrest in February, reportedly said: "He will be back, but don't make too much noise about it."
By April, the U.S. minister in Stockholm had informed the State Department about Wallenberg's situation, and he urged the department to instruct the American ambassador in Moscow, Averell Harriman, to assist the Swedish legation in obtaining Wallenberg's release. The basis for this appeal was that the United States "had a special interest in Wallenberg's mission to Hungary."139 U.S. secretary of state Edward Stettinius promptly acted upon the recommendation, cabling Harriman to extend "all possible support to the Swedes." But the Swedish envoy in Moscow was the blundering fool Söderblom who had rebuffed Harriman's offer and advised his Foreign Ministry in Stockholm: "What good would the American's interference do?"
The answer to that question-denigrated into merely a rhetorical one by Söderblom-is obvious: American intervention at this point could have been crucial, even decisive. America remained an ally of the Soviet Union, and cooperation was fairly close as the war against Nazi Germany approached its end. Only two months earlier, the Yalta Conference of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin had been held to plan a common program with reference to Germany and East Europe. Despite an ineptitude that borders on the criminal, the Swedish report provides no evidence that Söderblom received any form of official reprimand for disastrous incompetence.
Of greater moral and historical importance to Americans is the question of why the State Department, given its close relationship to Moscow at that time, did not independently take up Wallenberg's cause. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. asked the then executive director of the War Refugee Board, which came under the jurisdiction of Treasury, to "let Stettinius know that [he was] personally interested in this man [Wallenberg]." If that message was conveyed, the State Department's hesitancy is puzzling, to say the least.
Not everyone involved in the diplomatic process was so reticent. Susanne Berger related that a key U.S. military official with the Allied Control Commission in Debrecen (the ACC was comprised of high military officials of the United States, Britain, and the USSR) asked his Russian opposite number in May 1945 directly about Wallenberg as well as about Feller and Meier. And, acting on a State Department request, Gen. William S. Key formally raised the issue of the disappearance of the three diplomats on May 7, 1945, explaining "that our government was most anxious to learn of their status."140 Again on May 11 and May 21, the United States queried the Russians on the ACC, stressing the importance of the issue. On May 22, an aide to General Key reported that the Soviet military officer took down the three names. The Russian thought "they were very likely in a large camp with many other prisoners…." The same Soviet officer reported that he believed they were "being held by Russians" and that "we would be informed" as soon as he had more information.
With discussions taking place among fairly high-level military personnel of the ACC, Susan Mesinai believed that May 1945 represented a tantalizing lost opportunity; it was "a more fluid … period for exchange negotiations" and could have proved productive.141 But the military discussions in Hungary were not matched by direct diplomatic negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Once the Swedish ambassador had rejected U.S. diplomatic assistance on behalf of Wallenberg, apparently no further direct initiatives by Washington were undertaken. Perhaps the death of President Roosevelt, who had created the War Refugee Board, caused a dramatic lessening of interest in Washington. (He died on April 12-only three days after Secretary of State Stettinius had instructed Harriman to offer U.S. assistance to the Swedes.) In the major biography of Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman, by David McCullough, there is not a single reference to Wallenberg.
American Passivity and the Physical Threat to Wallenberg
By September 1945 the State Department had reason to be deeply concerned about Wallenberg's condition, even about his very survival. According to Susanne Berger, it had received a communication from its Stockholm legation to the effect that while Wallenberg might still be in Moscow hands, the legation's Swedish Foreign Office source believed "the Soviets will never produce Wallenberg alive." The citation appears in the initial draft of a message that Dean Acheson, then acting secretary of state, planned to send to his embassy in Moscow.142 The citation in that message has a line through it meaning that it was apparently omitted when the draft was sent. Why this signally important action was taken is unknown. A notation in the document's margin indicates that the person in charge of the State Department's Special War Problems Office "agreed to the omission."
There is no indication that the legation's warning prompted any vigorous U.S. initiative. When Wallenberg's worried mother and halfbrother wrote to President Truman they received a response from a State Department official with responsibility for refugees and displaced persons acknowledging the letter to the White House and recognizing Wallenberg's "heroic efforts" in his "collaboration with the War Refugee Board." These efforts, said the letter, "are well known to this government and are appreciated." But aside from inquiries made by the United States to determine Wallenberg's "whereabouts" through diplomatic channels, he made no commitments of any kind except of "continuing our interest in the matter...."143
Most significant was an exchange in 1947 between the prominent Republican senator from Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson. (In 1949, Acheson became secretary of state.) A letter from Wallenberg's halfbrother, Guy von Dardel, to the senator seeking his assistance prompted the exchange. Vandenberg wrote to von Dardel noting that his brother "has richly earned any helpful interest which this government can express to him." He promised to bring the letter to the personal attention of the secretary of state in order to ascertain whether "it is possible to make a special effort in your brother's behalf … since his record obviously deserved it."144
Vandenberg fulfilled his promise, but the very thought of a "special" effort by the United States was simply brushed off by Acheson:
In view of the fact that Mr. Wallenberg acted as a member of the Swedish diplomatic mission in Budapest, the initiative in inquiries directed toward the Soviet Government rests with the Swedish authorities.145 Acheson then explained what U.S. diplomatic policy had been and would be: "to support the initiative" of the Swedish government whenever U.S. assistance "is desired and will prove helpful." That was precisely the position guiding Secretary of State Stettinius and rebuffed by the Swedish ambassador in Moscow. Though American military representatives in the Allied Control Commission had shown initiative in pursuing the truth about Wallenberg, the same cannot be said of the State Department. Even in the face of warnings that Wallenberg might not survive Soviet detention, the State Department declined to act.
Without American diplomatic initiatives that could have been leaked to the media to raise public awareness, there was no means of galvanizing public opinion against Soviet policy. This turned out to be a great pity as well as a tremendous tactical misadventure considering that the Kremlin was highly sensitive to public opinion; it was nothing less than obsessed about its image abroad, both during and after World War II. With no diplomacy to report that might have served as a peg on which to hang the Wallenberg story, there was, in effect, a news blackout. As noted, not a single piece on Wallenberg appeared in the New York Times until 1952. The media vacuum resulting from complete diplomatic inactivity gave the USSR carte blanche; it could do whatever it wished with impunity.
Of course the Swedes must accept their fair share of blame. During the early postwar years, Swedish diplomacy regarding Wallenberg was a disgrace; it was characterized by a series of blundering mistakes, as was acknowledged by Sweden's prime minister on January 12 and by the Swedish group in its formal report. But Swedish diplomatic and political power vis-à-vis the Soviet totalitarian regime was distinctly less formidable than that of the United States. American involvement would have been far more difficult to rebuff. It remains utterly baffling as well as deeply dismaying that not a jot of American diplomatic power was utilized, especially since Wallenberg was an employee of the American government through the U.S. War Refugee Board.
Wallenberg's family did not quit. In July 1949 Guy von Dardel went to see Acheson, now secretary of state, and wondered aloud whether the United States might not weigh a prisoner exchange "even if he [Wallenberg] is not an American citizen himself." After all, his brother "set out on his dangerous mission chiefly on the initiative of the American War Refugee Board" and shouldn't this entitle him "to all possible help from the American side." Acheson did not respond to this proposal but did promise "any assistance that the U.S. can give."146 It may be that once again the United States offered the Swedes diplomatic assistance but-as in the case of the Harriman-Söderblom discussions in April 1945-the Swedes rebuffed the United States. A later Swedish ambassador in Moscow declared: "We cannot drive in tandem with the Americans."
It was not until 1951 that Sweden sought U.S. help in resolving the Wallenberg case, according to Susanne Berger. At that time the CIA reported that it was not too familiar with the subject. A CIA official complained that "there is great lack of information" at CIA headquarters "concerning the subject." Given a background of official U.S. indifference, the answer was hardly surprising. Still, the CIA communication made a special point of noting the Swedes' previous reluctance to involve the United States.: "It seems rather strange that the … initial request for aid and information should come more than six years after the disappearance of the subject."147
Whether the Swedish request for CIA assistance with Wallenberg had any impact on U.S. policy is impossible to ascertain, except in one instance. When in 1957 Foreign Minister Undén informed the United States that his government was prepared to accept the official Kremlin line that Wallenberg had died of a heart attack in Lubyanka Prison in July 1947, the CIA responded sharply. A highly placed CIA official dispatched what Berger called "a strongly worded telegram" chastising the Swedes for complicity in allowing the Russians to "get away with an obviously false claim…."148
Almost unbelievable in retrospect, yet another sixteen years would pass before some in the U.S. State Department attempted a more activist and independent, if extremely modest, initiative regarding Wallenberg. It was promoted by a letter from Wallenberg's aged and ailing mother to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 seeking his assistance in ascertaining what had happened to her son.149 Her request was discussed at length in the department's European Bureau, then headed by Assistant Secretary of State Walter J. Stoessel (later under secretary for political affairs). The bureau worked with the director of Kissinger's office, Thomas Pickering, to prepare a memorandum to Kissinger signed by Pickering proposing that the United States formally ask the Soviet authorities to provide an account of Wallenberg's fate. In addition, a draft letter was prepared that would be sent to the mother informing her of the department's plans. The draft letter was particularly warm and sensitive. It was also stillborn.
"Disapproved" was Kissinger's reaction, noted on the draft memorandum on October 15, 1973. Later Pickering told an interviewer that the likely motivation of the then secretary of state was that he had "more important fish to fry." Kissinger's overall strategic goal at the time was achieving détente with the USSR, and he may have thought that U.S. intervention in the form of a formal inquiry about Wallenberg might harm it. In the interview Pickering said he had been "disappointed" with Kissinger's disapproval. In early July 2000, Pickering expressed continued "interest" in the Wallenberg case, but at the beginning of the following year he retired from the State Department. 150
Only in the eighties in the context of Helsinki forums (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, CSCE) did Washington alter its quarter-century policy of silence about Wallenberg and take the initiative in raising the issue to the public embarrassment of the USSR.151 At the Madrid forum in November 1980, U.S. ambassador Max Kampelman pressed the Swedish ambassador to launch a discussion about the fate of Wallenberg. Immediately thereafter, by prearrangement, Kampelman spoke in support of the Swedish initiative and demanded disclosure by the Kremlin of "the facts about [Wallenberg's] disappearance."
In the Vienna forum in September 1988, U.S. ambassador Warren Zimmermann broke with precedent and discarded the traditional secondary role of the United States with regard to diplomacy on Wallenberg. He publicly called for "a full and open accounting of that part of Soviet history affecting a man who stood for so much of the [Helsinki or CSCE] ideals to which we are dedicated." U.S. leadership prompted the British, Canadian, and Hungarian ambassadors to speak out. It was very effective public diplomacy, with the challenge to the Kremlin carried into the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe by Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, and other media. Moscow's ambassador felt compelled to issue a profuse apology about the fate of Wallenberg and extol his "noble activities." America's new-fledged public diplomacy may have triggered the Kremlin's invitation to the Wallenberg family to visit Moscow the following year, in October 1989. But it was "public diplomacy" alone that was practiced at CSCE, not the tough kind of private give-and-take that, through direct negotiations, might have produced results. In that sphere, where it really counted, the old U.S. policy remained in place.
The American Jewish Committee Initiative
Fifty-five years after Wallenberg entered the Gulag the American Jewish Committee (AJC) launched a campaign urging the U.S. government to take a more activist role. Some twenty years earlier, AJC had also assisted Representative Tom Lantos in promoting "honorary" citizenship for Wallenberg. Now, in January 2000, with the publication of a critical study titled The Wallenberg Mystery, it called on the United States to seek the cooperation of Russian president Putin to "fully open the Soviet-era archives and reveal the truth" about why the Swedish diplomat had been detained and what happened to him.152
The day after the fifty-fifth anniversary, AJC's executive director, David Harris, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, "Open the Files on Raoul Wallenberg," which emphasized that "Washington has yet to adequately press Moscow at the highest level."153 Harris noted that since 1945 no U.S. secretary of state had raised the matter of Wallenberg's disappearance with the Russian leadership. The same op-ed was carried the following day in the International Herald Tribune under the heading "The Hour of Truth for Wallenberg," and the piece was reprinted in a number of U.S. papers.
At the same time AJC's president, Bruce Ramer, joined Harris in writing to President Clinton, emphasizing that the mystery of Wallenberg's "fate remains with us." The letter urged the president to intervene with the Kremlin openly and to press the Russians to "allow the full story of Raoul Wallenberg to be told."154 Noting that Wallenberg was made an honorary American citizen by the United States in recognition of his extraordinary rescue efforts, the letter called attention to efforts made by the administration to "bring closure" to "unresolved issues of the Holocaust." The closing words of the letter carried a powerful reminder: "The case of Raoul Wallenberg deserves no less."
Two months later the State Department's response arrived in the shape of a letter to AJC's leaders from its top specialist on Russia and the former Soviet Union, Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Sestanovich. Sestanovich wrote, "We share your deep concern about Mr. Wallenberg's case [and] that we concur that the Russians are the most important potential source of information about his fate."155 This expression of solidarity offered some hope. Was a reversal of the views of Acheson and Kissinger imminent at long last? Then came the comment that drearily echoed Stettinius and later Acheson. Sestanovich referred to a Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, held in mid-January 2000, adding that the U.S. delegation to the forum, led by a deputy secretary of the Treasury, "offered to assist the Swedes by pressing the Russians to open their archives."
It was the old theme replayed yet again: consult first with the Swedes, let them take the lead, become dependent on their response (or lack thereof), and thus pass the buck. Indeed, the reaction of the Swedes was exactly the same as that of Ambassador Söderblom and his successor in Moscow:
The Swedes assured our delegation that they had an open channel of communication with the Russians; they expressed concern that pressure from the U.S. might, in fact, be counterproductive. Even the language of the State Department specialist echoed that employed more than a half century before.
Sestanovich then referred to the forthcoming reports of the Swedish-Russian Working Group expected by the end of 2000, noting that the Swedes had told the U.S. delegation that they planned "to issue a report on their findings…." The comment was encouraging. "We plan to wait for that report before again reviewing whether to raise the Wallenberg case directly with Russia at high levels." This was precisely what the committee leaders had been urging. In light of the findings, would the United States be prepared-finally-to assume diplomatic leadership in the quest for the truth about Wallenberg?
But the hollow official rhetoric of Sestanovich's concluding paragraph was a disappointment. "Let me assure you," it read, "that Mr. Wallenberg's case will remain a U.S. foreign policy priority until the facts are finally unearthed." The tired, hackneyed, euphemistic language and the transparently inaccurate and self-serving characterization of America's disgraceful record drained away credibility. Surely, gaining Wallenberg's release-or simply ascertaining the truth about his fate-had hardly been a priority of U.S. foreign policy since April 1945.
Still, a commitment had been made by the United States to review its policy once the Swedish-Russian Working Group reports were published. That commitment placed enormous emphasis on the reports, and instantly raised the issue of their persuasive power, comprehensiveness, and hence final credibility. How conclusive-and therefore how determinative-could they be in guiding and, especially, changing U.S. policy? The Swedish report emphasized that the Russians had doggedly denied them many of the documents they sought to examine. Important files concerning Wallenberg's fellow prisoners also remained inaccessible, under lock and key.
The Swedish report stressed that there was "more to be done to obtain further papers from various archives," notably from Russia's foreign intelligence service. It specifically decried the "refusal of SVR," the Russian foreign intelligence source, to allow the study of the file of one Tolstoy-Kutuzov, who had played a most uncertain and dubious role in the Wallenberg case.
A relation of descendants of Russia's greatest novelist, Count Michael Tolstoy-Kutuzov had fled Russia long before the war and settled in Belgium. Somehow, through an arrangement between neutral Sweden and the USSR during World War II, he, together with his Belgian wife, came to manage a medical facility in Budapest that serviced wounded Soviet prisoners of war. Technically, the facility was under the supervision of the Swedish legation, but little is known about what Tolstoy-Kutuzov actually did in his managerial capacity.
Once the Red Army occupied Budapest, Tolstoy-Kutuzov was quickly recruited by the Soviets to become the chief of a Bureau for Foreigners functioning under the direction of the Soviet military command. All legations and consulates in Budapest, including Sweden's, came under the bureau's jurisdiction. The precise nature of the relationship between this shadowy figure and the Soviets remains an unsolved mystery. Tolstoy-Kutuzov was of course quite familiar with all members of the Swedish legation, including Wallenberg. Not surprisingly, the members of the Swedish working group sought to examine Tolstoy-Kutuzov's file. Their request was rebuffed by the Russian foreign intelligence service-an action that could not but generate deep suspicion about his role in Wallenberg's apprehension and incarceration.
In its conclusion, the Swedish report posed seventeen critical questions for which "complete answers" must be provided to explain Wallenberg's detention and fate.156 With one or two exceptions, all of them were addressed to the Kremlin, which alone had the answers.
Since the Swedes have been unable to get the Russians to respond to them and have been equally unsuccessful in gaining access to pertinent Russian archives, it behooves the United States to use its leverage to press Moscow on these matters. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the historic act conferring honorary American citizenship on Raoul Wallenberg, it is, at long last, time for Washington to demand the truth.
Post-Stockholm Press Conferences: Unanswered Questions
In the wake of the January 2001 Stockholm press conference, the Russians launched a media counteroffensive that demonstrated why it is imperative that all Kremlin files related to Wallenberg be more fully mined and closely examined, including those already accessible and those still off limits. A series of press releases and press conferences in Moscow vigorously rebutted the report of the Swedish group. This followed the pattern set by the releases of the Rehabilitation Commission during November-December 2000. The Russians sought to raise doubts about the thoroughness of the research and therefore challenge the report's conclusions by seeking to hoist the Swedes on their own petard. The Russians faulted the Swedes for the incompleteness of their investigation-an admission openly confessed by the Swedes themselves in their report, but owing entirely to Russian obstructionism rather than Swedish carelessness-a shrewd if thoroughly cynical maneuver by the Russians.
The Russian strategy also involved the sudden release of supposedly new, unsettling information, and Yakovlev himself was not only the mainstay of the attack on Swedish credibility but also the source of the neatly timed leaks. On the very day the Stockholm conference was held, the former Gorbachev ally and ideologue declared in Moscow that Wallenberg was killed in 1947 as a result of a vicious turf war between rival branches of the Soviet secret services.157 He explained that "there was no definite order to do it" (i.e., to kill Wallenberg); instead, "there was an interdepartmental rivalry between military intelligence and (the future) KGB and the man [Wallenberg] was a victim of this." Yakovlev then restated his standard thesis, namely, that agents of the future KGB-it was then called MGB-shot Wallenberg and then tried to hide the crime from their political masters. The MGB handled this by systematically destroying Wallenberg's files.
How could Yakovlev proffer this account unless he had access to information and documentation whose very existence had never been previously acknowledged? What was his source? Why had it been kept secret from others? His theory about a conflict between military intelligence and foreign intelligence of the dominant Kremlin security agency is intriguing and, at least, superficially plausible. He hinted at the basis of the conflict between the intelligence agencies: "Wallenberg knew an awful lot. It's no joke saving 30,000 from death camps you had to have very good contacts with German intelligence." The Soviets also believed Wallenberg had close contacts with Swedish and American intelligence. The Soviet security agencies, Yakovlev thought, "hoped for more" information from him "but they got nothing."
On the same day, in an interview published in Britain's Financial Times Yakovlev provided additional information that raised the troubling specter of slovenliness in Russian investigative methods. Queried about his earlier finding that the date of Wallenberg's execution cited in the Smoltsov Memorandum (July 17, 1947) could not have been correct, Yakovlev responded that "He was executed around this time."158 Was Yakovlev really implying that the precise date of the execution was of such little consequence? Is such imprecision the hallmark of a serious investigation? If it established nothing else, Yakovlev's comment served to undermine the Russian group's thesis that rested on Wallenberg's execution having occurred on July 17, 1947, as well as to suggest the low standard of Russian research.
But the Russians evidently perceived themselves to be on a roll, and they continued issuing headline-grabbing "revelations"-despite the skepticism their remarkably convenient timing could not help but arouse. On the next day, January 13, 2001, the military prosecutor Mikhail Kislitsyn announced that a document had only just turned up in the archives of Stalin's secret police that definitively proved Wallenberg died on July 17, 1947. Kislitsyn formally announced: "We have a note that says he died on July 17, 1947 in the detention center" of the secret police.159
Suddenly, the international community was confronted by a critically important archival document apparently overlooked by the Swedish-Russian Working Group. What, the Russians implied, does the new revelation say about the thoroughness of the investigation of the working group? Compounding the mystery, when a high official of the Rehabilitation Commission, Valery Kondratov, was asked by a reporter to confirm the existence of the fresh archival evidence, he declined to provide any details beyond verifying its existence. The fog had descended once more as the postconference "revelations" multiplied.
Yakovlev indulged in still more speculation on January 12 when he trotted out yet another explanation for the alleged murder of Wallenberg. He told an interviewer from the Financial Times of London that the KGB had probably tried to turn the Swedish diplomat into a spy and that "probably he refused. So he was destroyed. They had nothing to accuse him of."160 Once again, skeptics might ask to know the source of these surmises. Was there any concrete evidence to support the theories being floated by Yakovlev's commission?
The following week, on January 19, the Russians offered additional information that could not help but raise questions about the quality of the research upon which the reports were predicated. At a formal ceremony in Moscow, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov handed over documents to the Swedish and Hungarian ambassadors that formally declared that Wallenberg and his driver, Langfelder, had died. "There is no doubt," said Ustinov in his remarks to the ambassadors, "that Wallenberg and his driver were deprived of their liberty and for totally political reasons."161
It is not clear which documents Ustinov turned over. But it is not improbable that they offered evidence at variance with the Russian report. How else is one to understand the phrase "totally political reasons"? That phrase cannot be found in the Russian report, and it would be helpful were Ustinov to clarify these rather vague if intriguing terms. The prosecutor general could not have coined the phrase de novo or extracted it from nonexistent materials. What, then, are his sources and how did he reach the judgment to use this phrase, particularly the term "political"?
In the same presentation, Ustinov stated that Wallenberg had been determined to be "socially dangerous." It is a profoundly troubling characterization; the terminology is freighted with singularly peculiar, oddly charged connotations. Ustinov had employed the same phrase earlier, in December. Being "socially dangerous" was deemed to be the reason for Wallenberg's detention in 1945, his later incarceration, and his presumed execution. In his remarks to the Swedish and Hungarian ambassadors, Ustinov said: "It is a bitter irony of fate that the symbol of the fight for the lives of people threatened with death was declared socially dangerous." As earlier noted, the phrase had a strangely "Alice in Wonderland" character.
But where did this language originate? In what documents is it found? And, if it came from no specific document but was, instead, a generic tagline of Ustinov's invention drawing perhaps on references in Kremlin memoranda, perhaps he can enlighten the world about the meaning of this puzzling, disturbing phrase. It seems evident that Ustinov, or, more importantly, the one who charged him to rehabilitate Wallenberg, namely Yakovlev, had been utilizing sources quite different from those examined by the two working groups and cited in their reports. It is essential that researchers know either the historical source of this scurrilous characterization or how it took on a life of its own.
Meanwhile, a colleague of Ustinov's, Valery Kondratov, the head of the division of the Prosecutor General's Office that investigates political repression, was making additional headlines by offering yet more "new" information about the fate of Wallenberg and Langfelder. According to Kondratov, the bodies of Wallenberg and his driver were cremated and their ashes buried on the grounds of a Moscow monastery. No gravestone or marker was placed at the alleged burial spot at the vast site. What makes this "new" report so utterly unbelievable is the fact that in 1991 the original Swedish-Soviet Working Group investigated the alleged cremation of Wallenberg reported in the Smoltsov Memorandum. That investigation, conducted by the KGB, found that there was only one crematorium in all of Moscow during that period and that it kept a record of all the cremations performed there.162 Examination of the records of the crematorium revealed that the name Wallenberg did not appear in the register for the year 1947.
How did Kondratov know that Wallenberg (and his driver, who was supposedly executed in March 1948) were cremated together? Had they been given different names? The subject was not touched upon by the working group reports. Did Kondratov have access to other documents or sources that enabled him to pronounce with such unhesitating definitiveness on this neglected, though very interesting, matter? If he did, that information needs to be shared with the international community.
While Ustinov's office was trying hard to bring an end to the increasingly embarrassing Wallenberg case, the Swedish ambassador, Sven Hirdman, was not playing along. He told the press conference in Moscow: "We think that a full stop cannot be put on his fate. I do not think that from the legal point of view the Swedish government is ready legally to declare him [Wallenberg] dead."
Moscow was desperately trying to bring about some form of closure, not only through the convenient "new" disclosures floated at its press conference on January 19 but also with a goodwill gesture that day that they hoped would attract worldwide attention. Officials unveiled a bust of Wallenberg in the courtyard of a Moscow library.163 Sculpted in white stone on a gray column, it was intended to remind visitors of the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem. A relative of the Swedish hero, Jan Wallenberg, a second cousin, invited to participate in the ceremony, would not accept closure: "I really do not think he was killed in Moscow." He expressed the hope, as reported by Reuters, that someday "the truth could finally be known about what happened to his second cousin, Raoul."
Vladimir Vinogradov, the archivist colonel of the security services and a key member of the Russian group, hammered what the Russians fervently desire will be the final nail into the coffin. Two days before the unveiling ceremony, he announced at a Moscow press conference that the investigative group would be disbanded, its job now completed. He acknowledged lingering Swedish doubts about Wallenberg's supposed execution in July 1947, stating that he expected that Stockholm would continue "with attempts to clarify some issues that remain unresolved." But the rules and the players had now changed. Further investigation "will no longer be done by the Commission [the Swedish-Russian Working Group] but in response to requests to the [Russian] Ministry of Foreign Affairs."164 The ten-year-old investigation was at an end. Except for requests for clarifications regarding relatively minor matters, the Wallenberg case was now closed. Or so the Russians hoped.
The installation of the bust was intended to symbolize Moscow's recognition of the horrors of the Soviet past, including the crimes against Wallenberg for which the current authorities are seeking atonement. But if the Russians expect these symbolic gestures to result in closure, they couldn't be more mistaken. At the unveiling of the bust, Yakovlev shouted, "Lies, lies, lies!" to describe how the case had been handled by the Kremlin in those bad old Soviet times.
Yakovlev was fulminating about the monstrous duplicities of a barbarous past, but "lies, lies, lies" continue to be uttered about the Wallenberg case today by Russia's new keepers of secrets. His own commission had exposed the hoax of the Smoltsov Memorandum. Surely, someone in authority knew it for the fraud it was when an ugly attempt was made to perpetrate it in October 1989, and not for the first time, on the visiting relatives and former colleagues of Raoul Wallenberg. It is only one of a multitude of surviving deceptions.
A host of recent official comments and revelations have mortally wounded the credibility of Moscow's favored narratives about Wallenberg, which have also been forcefully rebutted by the report of the Swedish group and those of the three independent consultants, but not yet slain them. There has yet to be a final reckoning with the truth. Closure per force remains an unrealized goal. One trusts that achieving it will not prove a forlorn hope.
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