Game Changer – FSB’s Surprising New Information About The Fate of Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg

05-05-2010 , by Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein , ed. ETC

Since 2001, Dr. Vadim Birstein  and Susanne Berger have maintained a regular exchange with the archives of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) about still pending questions in the case of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who disappeared in the Soviet Union in 1945. For decades Soviet and later Russian authorities have claimed that Wallenberg died in Lubyanka prison in Moscow on July 17, 1947.  The most recent discussions focused mainly on documentation that remains heavily censored. Among this material are the interrogation registers for Lubyanka prison for 1947. This past November, FSB archivists stated that they now believe that a Prisoner No. 7 who was interrogated on July 23, 1947, « with great likehood » was Raoul Wallenberg. If true, it would mark the first time Russian officials have publicly admitted that all previous statements about Wallenberg’s fate were incorrect.

The new information provided by the FSB Archives in November 2009  is two things for sure: Utterly surprising and at the same time maddeningly incomplete. People have repeatedly asked us: What difference do six days make? What does it matter that, according to FSB archivists, Raoul Wallenberg may have been alive six days after July 17, 1947, the day that Soviet and Russian authorities for five decades have claimed to be  his almost certain death date?

Well, if indeed confirmed, it matters quite a bit. Yes, the  revelations may ultimately turn out to postpone Wallenberg’s presumed death only by six days, but they also potentially cast the case in a whole new light.

For one, it opens up the conversation about Wallenberg’s fate that has been essentially dormant since 2001, when the Swedish-Russian Working Group, that had investigated the Wallenberg question from 1991-2001, presented its final report. While the Swedish side stressed that plenty of unresolved questions remained about what exactly happened to Raoul Wallenberg in Soviet captivity, especially when and how he had actually died, the Russian side took a much stronger position: Circumstantial evidence, it declared in its  conclusions,  left no other possibility than that of Wallenberg’s death  on July 17, 1947. The only concession made by Russian officials at the time was that Wallenberg death was in all likelihood not attributable to natural causes, but to secret execution.

The new information provided by FSB now offers important additional avenues of exploration, in part by elucidating older facts in the case.  As prisoners under official investigation, Prisoner No. 7 (Wallenberg?) and Vilmos Langfelder, Wallenberg’s driver were subjected to 16 long hours of interrogation on July 23, 1944. Langfelder claimed his personal possessions, including his money, the next day. So far we do not know if Prisoner No. 7 (Wallenberg?) did the same. This would be a most important indication that he too survived.

It was previously known that the money Wallenberg had  carried with him at the time of his arrest in Budapest in 1945, was never confiscated by Soviet authorities. As Wallenberg expert  Susan E. Mesinai pointed out in her 2001 report to the Swedish-Russian Working Group, if Wallenberg had died in 1947, the official rules  at the time stipulated that confiscation of such funds should have occurred within six months after death.  Mesinai concluded  that the failure to confiscate the money may have been an indication that Wallenberg could have lived longer than July 1947. (see www.raoul-wallenberg.eu)

According to Russian officials, neither Wallenberg or  Langfelder appear in  Lubyanka or Lefortovo prison registers after July 23, 1947. But this does not mean that the men were dead. They may have simply been transferred to another facility, such as Butyrka, Vladimir or Sukhanovo prisons or even a psychiatric hospital. However, transfer to Vladmir, one of the Soviet Unions most severe isolator prisons, or to the vast Soviet [prison] camp system could  only  occur after a prisoner had been formally sentenced. The Russians have always insisted that Raoul Wallenberg was never formally charged  with a crime or sentenced while in captivity. As of now, we no have way of verifying if this assertion is true.

In theory, Prisoner No.7 (Wallenberg?) could well have been sentenced and designated with a new name or new number. Susan Mesinai  outlined this thesis in some detail in her 2001 report. Mesinai showed that the chronological numbering of prisoners sent to Vladimir prison in the time of  June 1947 to May 1948 included significant gaps.  Numbers 14 and 16-20 remain unaccounted for.  Prisoner Nr. 15 is known to have been a Roman Catholic Priest by the name of Pietro Alajan-Alajani who was sentenced in June 1947. Prisoner No.7 who was still under investigation in July 1947, might therefore have  become either Prisoner No.16, 17, 18, 19 or 20. The Russian side has been repeatedly asked to identify these individuals. So far, to no avail.

Currently, not very much is known about the Soviet system of numbering special prisoners. It appears that after Stalin’s death in 1953, most numbered detainees regained use of their own name. If Raoul Wallenberg indeed survived at the time, he must have been kept in a place where a prisoner could essentially disappear. Vladimir prison was precisely such a place, with special cells where a person could be held for years without anyone knowing he was there. Numerous reports describe such an isolated Swedish prisoner in Vladimir in the 1950’s, yet neither the Russian nor the Swedish side has ever confirmed the identity of this Swede. Two other former consultants to the Swedish-Russian Working Group, Dr. Marvin Makinen and Ari Kaplan conducted a sophisticated data base analysis of the prisoner population in Vladimir which indicates that some prisoner cards are missing and may have been intentionally removed from the central prisoner registration index, especially for the years after 1947. The work has raised many critically  important questions that so far remain unanswered. [Makinen and Kaplan’s report also can be found at www.raoul-wallenberg.eu.]

Other possibilities are that

a. Prisoner No. 7 (Wallenberg?) remained under investigation in Lubyanka or Lefortovo prison for some time and was then killed
b. Prisoner No. 7 (Wallenberg?) was given a different identity and was therefore hidden from investigators, possibly for months or years, in severe isolator prisons such as Vladimir, Alexandrovsk or Verkhne Uralsk, or – less likely – in secret special camps of the Soviet penal system.

In either scenario, Wallenberg and Langfelder would have been heavily isolated after July 23, 1947. So were all of their former associates and cellmates. Some of them were held in severe conditions, inside a box-like cell, for months at a time. This strict isolation was clearly imposed to reduce all talk and knowledge about Wallenberg’s presence in Soviet captivity.

Russian officials should now be able to determine Prisoner No. 7’s (Wallenberg’s?) fate, even in the absence of his complete file. The new information provided by FSB  once again underscores the lingering doubts among researchers about so-called « missing » documentation: Is it really missing or has it been withheld, because the information did not match the official Soviet scenario of Wallenberg’s alleged death in July 1947? There have been hints for a long time that at least part of Wallenberg’s file continues to exist, possibly in some consolidated form.

But even without full documentation, Russian leaders today should be able to determine the truth about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate. Institutional memory was preserved well into the 1970 and 1980’s. It is easy to forget that former Soviet Foreign Minister and  a key figure in the Wallenberg case, Vyacheslav Molotov, only died in 1986. The lead investigator of Wallenberg’s case, S. Kartashov, who conducted the 16 hour interrogation on July 23, 1947, died only in 1991, and  two important interrogators working with Kartashov survived until 2000 and 2002 respectively.

Historians have surmised that Stalin intended to use Wallenberg as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Sweden and the Western Allies, but when they showed no interest in such discussions, Wallenberg supposedly became a burden and was eliminated. The independent consultants to the Working Group have argued that 1947 would have been very early for Stalin to reach such a final decision. While Wallenberg was in many ways a liability – he would have undoubtedly reported on the content and harsh methods of Soviet interrogations – , he nevertheless could have served as  a valuable exchange asset down the road.  A highranking Soviet intelligence official, Y.P. Pitovranov,  expressed a similar view  in a Swedish TV interview in 1992, when he said  that he doubted Stalin had ordered Wallenberg’s death. « Stalin would not have killed Wallenberg, » Pitovranov argued.  « He needed him for the political game ».

Another very important  question remains: Why would the Russians open up a new discussion of the Wallenberg case for just six days?  Obviously, the information contained in the Lubyanka interrogation register about Prisoner No. 7 (Wallenberg?) was not hidden in a drawer or dropped accidentally off a shelf. Instead, the details about Prisoner No. 7 had been available to Russian officials for decades, even at the time of the drafting of the so-called Gromyko memorandum in 1957, through which the Soviet leadeship had announced Raoul Wallenberg’s presumed death a decade earlier. [Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko’s statement cited  a note A. Smoltsov, member of Lubyanka’s medical services, who supposedly informed his superiors  that Wallenberg had died on July 17, 1947 in his cell, presumably of a heart attack.] If it is confirmed that Prisoner No. 7 is in fact Raoul Wallenberg, then Smoltsov’s statement was conceived as an outright deception.

Since the information about Prisoner No. 7 (Wallenberg?) was already available in 1957, it was certainly also available when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev invited Raoul Wallenberg’s family to Moscow in 1989. Why did he not make a full disclosure at the time? Was it easier to insist on the accuracy of the Smoltsov note? Did Russian officials think that the note reflected the truth in spirit, if not in actual fact and that that was enough? Or did they decide against revealing the identity of Prisoner No. 7 because it would open up the spectre of Raoul Wallenberg’s survival in Soviet captivity  after 1947, for a longer period of time? Why not then set the record straight in the 1990’s,  under the auspices of the Swedish-Russian Working Group, where  complex details could have been discussed and evaluated? This Working Group included, after all, Raoul Wallenberg’s brother,  Dr. Guy von Dardel. And finally, is the Russian government now truly prepared to provide a complete account of all it knows about Wallenberg’s fate? Some hints of a changed attitude to unresolved historical issues have come in recent months, beginning with Russia’s more open approach to the problem of Katyn, that has weighed on bilateral relations with Poland for more than 60  years.

All these questions are now on the table again and await their proper answer. So do the questions surrounding the many other documents investigators so far have seen only in copied or sharply censored form. Also in  urgent need of clarification are the many unexplained witness testimonies who refer to a Swedish diplomat in Soviet captivity after 1947. Whether they apply to Raoul Wallenberg or another Swede — the Swedish government must now request full disclosure from its Russian counterparts. It is not only the right thing to do, but we now know that it is  possible to receive a complete answer.

(The original Swedish version of this article appeared in ETC on May 5, 2010)

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