AP exclusive: Russian official questions date and cause of Holocaust hero Wallenberg’s death

26-09-2011 , ed. Associated Press

Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews before vanishing into Soviet captivity, may have been alive after the official 1947 date of his death _ but only for a few days, says the chief archivist of Russia’s counterintelligence service.The disappearance of the 32-year-old Swedish diplomat is an abiding mystery of World War II. His defiance of the Nazis is commemorated worldwide in statues, in streets named for him and in postage stamps bearing his likeness, and to this day inspires scholarly articles, popular books and Hollywood movies.

It also has been a perpetual embarrassment for Moscow, which has failed to dislodge a stubborn belief, supported by credible if unsubstantiated evidence, that Wallenberg lived like a ghost in the Soviet gulag for up to four decades after his alleged death.

In a rare hourlong interview with The Associated Press, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov acknowledged that the Soviet version of Wallenberg’s death of a heart attack could have been fabricated and that his captors may have « helped him die. » He sought to counter accusations that his agency was hiding the truth, but his account and comments from independent researchers only underscored the possibility that the Wallenberg riddle will never be fully laid to rest.

Although he stopped short of discarding the official Soviet version of Wallenberg’s death, his remarks _ coming from a custodian of the country’s most closely guarded intelligence secrets _ represent a crack in the wall of official Russian reticence about Wallenberg. And while he didn’t cite any new evidence, the general said that his statements were based on his knowledge of materials related to the fate of numerous other victims of repression.

Khristoforov denied that the Russian Federal Security Service _ the successor to the KGB _ is withholding any information on Wallenberg, and said that all documentary evidence on the Swede likely was methodically destroyed in the 1950s to cover up his fate. Still, he said, his department was continuing to search the archives for clues.

He discounted numerous accounts by former prisoners who claimed to have seen Wallenberg, or someone who might have been him, in prison or in labor camps after his purported death. Independent researchers cite compelling reports of « sightings » of Wallenberg, identified by another name or only a number, as late as the 1980s.

« I consider all that to be a product of these people’s imagination, » the general said, insisting he was « 100 percent certain … that Wallenberg never was in any other prison, either under his name or an alias. »

Khristoforov spoke in response to allegations by two researchers last month that the Russian archives still conceal information on Wallenberg or people who came into contact with him. The accusations came after Moscow released new material about a German officer, Willy Roedel, who shared a prison cell with Wallenberg, although it was unrelated to the Swede himself.

« It’s naive to accuse us of concealing the existence of the interrogation protocols. There is a mix-up of things here, » he said. « There is no mention, not even a hint at Wallenberg in Roedel’s materials. »

He said the archives had kept some pages from Roedel’s newly released file classified for other reasons which he did not reveal.

Khristoforov confirmed a report published last year by Wallenberg researchers Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein, who cited his agency as saying that the mysterious Prisoner No. 7, who was interrogated in Lubyanka, the prison of the Soviet secret police in Moscow, on July 23, 1947 could have been Wallenberg. The official version of Wallenberg’s death, given 10 years later, was that he died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947.

Khristoforov said he was « more than convinced that if he outlived the official date of his death, it could only have been by a few days. »
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