The President of the Russian Federation
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
23, Ilyinka Street,
January 27, 2014
Dear Mr. President –
On a cold January day in 1945, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg embarked on a trip to contact the victorious Soviet forces that had liberated Hungary from a brutal Nazi occupation.
During the previous ten months, three-quarters of the country’s Jewish population – more than 500,000 people – had been rounded up and viciously murdered. Only in the capital city of Budapest about 100,000 Jews had managed to survive, under the protection of the diplomatic representations from neutral countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the Vatican.
Raoul Wallenberg’s actions during the height of the violence, from October 1944 – January 1945, are proof of his extraordinary spirit. Countless witnesses have testified that they owed their lives in large part to his personal courage and organizational talents, which merged the widespread efforts of the Hungarian resistance into an extraordinarily effective rescue apparatus.
Instead of finding a friendly welcome and the hoped for assistance from Soviet authorities, Wallenberg and his driver, Vilmos Langfelder, were detained and transferred to Moscow, never to be seen again.
This year, the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust and by January 2015, seven decades will have passed since Raoul Wallenberg disappeared in the Soviet Union.
Although the Soviet state ceased to exist more than twenty years ago, we, his family, still have not received answers to our most pressing questions:
Why was Raoul Wallenberg arrested and why was he never released? And what exactly happened to him in the summer of 1947, after his trail breaks off in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison?
As early as 1990/1, an International Commission, led by my husband (Raoul’s brother) Guy von Dardel, working closely with Russian experts and officials, was able to confirm that both Raoul Wallenberg and Vilmos Langfelder had been imprisoned in the Soviet Union during 1945-47.
Later, a bilateral Swedish-Russian Working Group that investigated the Wallenberg case from 1991-2001 managed to expand on these findings, but concluded its investigation without obtaining full clarity about Raoul’s fate.
Since 2001, new documentation has emerged from Russian archives that previously had not been shared with researchers. Among other things, these documents raise the important question if Raoul could have been held as a “Prisoner no. 7”, in the Lubyanka Prison in 1947; and if he possibly remained there some time after July 17, 1947, his alleged date of death (according to Soviet authorities).
Just recently we learned that, contrary to previous claims, the investigation records of Raoul Wallenberg’s longtime cellmate, the German diplomat Willy Rödel, have been largely preserved. This fact and other archival data strongly suggest that similar investigative material was also created in Raoul’s case, and that some of this documentation may continue to exist to this day.
In May 2012, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) released almost all of the previously classified cipher cable traffic between the Soviet Embassy, Stockholm and the Soviet Foreign Ministry from 1944-47. These telegrams have provided added insights into the Soviet government’s early handling of the Wallenberg case.
The emergence of this new information underscores the fact that important material with direct relevance to the question of Raoul Wallenberg’s fate continues to be found in Russian archival collections.
Unfortunately, independent researchers have so far not been allowed uncensored access to many of these and other essential files, most of which have remained classified, some in violation of current Russian law and international agreements.
The withheld material includes papers that could help to properly identify “Prisoner no. 7” who was interrogated in Lubyanka Prison on July 23, 1947 and who, according to archivists of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), may have been Raoul Wallenberg.
Other vital questions persist, especially about the Soviet era system of isolating and numbering prisoners during the years 1947-1953. Russian officials have also yet to provide complete information about all Swedish prisoners who were incarcerated in Vladimir Prison during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. This material is urgently needed to either corroborate or dismiss the statements of witnesses who claim to have met Raoul Wallenberg after 1947.
Just as importantly, researchers have not been permitted to examine Russian intelligence files that could provide valuable insights into the reasons for Raoul’s arrest. These include Soviet foreign and military intelligence reports from Hungary in 1944-45, detailing the activities of the Swedish Legation, Budapest, including those of Raoul Wallenberg.
Some of these documents are known to exist in the Central Archive of the FSB (TsAFSB), in the archives of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and in the Central Archives of the Russian Ministry of Defense (TsAMO). So far, neither agency has allowed an independent review.
Similar severe restrictions have prevented the study of internal correspondence records of the Soviet Security Services and the Soviet leadership. The same is true for specific prisoner investigation files.
While the Russian Foreign Ministry’s declassification of the previously secret cipher cables was a welcome step, even in this collection the most relevant material has remained off limits to researchers. Some of these records are currently held in the archives of the SVR.
And despite repeated requests, important collections in the Archives of the President of the Russian Federation (APRF), especially certain records of the Politburo, have not been made available to independent experts.
It has become increasingly clear that if direct and unhindered access to this documentation would be granted, the Wallenberg case could almost certainly be solved. We respect Russia’s secrecy and privacy laws, but they must be properly applied and should not stand in the way of discovering the fate of a true hero of the Holocaust.
As President of Russia, you possess the necessary authority to remedy this situation.
Your office has repeatedly expressed your admiration for Raoul’s person and his accomplishments. You and other Russian officials have also stated that Russia’s archives remain ready to assist researchers with their inquiries in the Wallenberg case. Unfortunately, this assistance currently exists in name only. Researchers routinely have to wait twelve months or more for a reply to a single research request. This situation does not allow for an effective inquiry and belies any claims of a meaningful cooperation in the continuing efforts to solve the Wallenberg case.
We are very much aware of the fact that Russia knows the pain of war and persecution only too well. Twenty million of your countrymen and women lost their lives during World War II and millions more suffered for decades under Stalinist repression.
Our family has been deeply touched by the dedication of so many Russian officials, archivists and scholars to win full clarity about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate. Over the years, Russian and international Wallenberg experts have established a close working rapport. They should be allowed to join their respective expertise and to redouble their efforts to bring clarity to an almost seventy year old mystery.
Raoul Wallenberg showed the world that every person matters, that ‘human rights’ should never be treated simply as a general concept. The principle of human rights, as well as the principle of their defense, is firmly rooted in the suffering of very real, individual human beings. Raoul understood this and his mission to Budapest was pure humanistic philosophy in action.
Both Europe and Russia are deeply steeped in this tradition.
It is in your hands to end our family’s long ordeal. In doing so, you would send an important signal to the world that justice can and will prevail, no matter how long it may take.
We will never give up until we know what happened to Raoul.
Matilda von Dardel