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Somebody’s Swede

  • Susan Ellen Mesinai

In May 1992, the ARK Project discovered Victor Hamilton, an American-Palestinian and former NSA cipher, in a psychiatric prison hospital 60 kilometers south of Moscow where he had been held for 20 years under a pseudonym.  A doctor had telephoned ARK anonymously, in answer to a radio appeal, to state that she had treated the patient in a closed ward in Moscow in 1962, although he ‘wasn’t really sick”.   The man we tracked had become very paranoid as a result of years of confinement, isolation and KGB interrogation.  Hamilton still considered himself well informed, as he once had been.  A successful escape to Moscow at the time of a Nixon’s State visit had cost him his radio and international news privileges.  Now he lived in a vacuum, with no idea that the Iron Curtain had fallen or that, theoretically, he was free to “just walk away.”  Any suggestion of his rights he considered a trick on my part – although the KGB had shown little interest in him for years.  The pension he received for services rendered, generous under previous regimes, was barely enough to keep him supplied with pencils and notebooks for the journals, which provided his daily activity.  It was by studying these, at the doctors’ request, that I was able to establish who he really was.

Tracking down Hamilton took only a few months.  Identifying him took only three days.  An important issue for me was his future. After my first session with him, I talked with a woman doctor who had been one of his regular caretakers.  “Thirty years is a long time,” I said. “Perhaps it would destroy him to go back into the world now.” As if the question had long been on her mind, the doctor answered without hesitation. “He should go home.  He has a family somewhere in America.  Find them!”  And I did.

Hamilton’s detention immediately became world news, the next of kin’s only recourse to assuring that the proper steps might be taken by his government to bring him home.  To offset ARK’s humble achievement – a former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow publicly declared to POW/MIA families in Washington that the Embassy had known Hamilton was there all the time.  He was considered a defector, however, so nothing had been done to inform the family or check up on him.  The POW/MIA family members, many of whom had lost air men in Cold War shootdowns, answered: “How many other American “defectors” do you know about in the former Soviet Union — and how soon can we see them?”  Russian journalists with access to SVR, the Soviet Foreign Intelligence directorate, spiced the media with mention of the espionage favors Hamilton had done for his hosts.  Human rights activists who had fought for years against psychiatric abuse, some now holding seats in the newly formed Yeltsin government, threw up their hands.  “If there’s one foreign prisoner being held in hospitals under a number, a letter or a pseudonym, then there’s thousands!” they exclaimed.

A week after the discovery of Hamilton, Valentina, another health care professional crossed Russia by train to discuss her meetings with a man she had treated in a closed village in the Magadan Region of the Far East in the early Seventies.  She described this man as a well-educated Swede, probably an official, who had been arrested toward the end of World War II for supporting “Fascist Germany.”  After the Wallenberg case became known in the USSR, she wrote several times to Radio Liberty to report her experience.  The letter that fell into my hands in 1990, written in the mid-Eighties, was neither her first nor last. “I will keep writing until I get an answer”, she protested valiantly.  It wasn’t until the miraculous changes in the Soviet Union, seven years later, that Valentina’s account could safely be heard.

Valentina told her story – simply, with no embellishment.  The man, she said, had “a commanding presence, like an aparatchik.”  She looked up to him. He was very cultured, had books and listened to good classical music, and so was very popular among the young.  He came to her clinic both to get medical slips that would let him off from work and for more stimulating conversation.  Eventually he disappeared and, when she asked about him, was told that he had tried to escape and was dead (a familiar phrase used to insure that those who care inquire no further).  My assessment that this wasn’t Wallenberg was confirmed when I showed her Raoul’s photograph.  She said immediately: “No –that’s not him.  This man was blond….Still we must do something!  He must be somebody’s Swede!!”

Over the years, there have been several such reports of Swedes, believed to be Raoul Wallenberg.  One, describing a Swede held in a psychiatric facility in the Barnaul Region, also during the Seventies, came only in January 2001.  Thrown onto the great stockpile of unused evidence, no action has been taken to identify the prisoners, track them down and – if alive – bring them home. Nor had these sightings been systematically inter-related with those similar in time and place in an effort to group them as a way of building up a body of evidence.  This process I began, with Susanne Berger’s collaboration, only several months ago.  That such groupings were not consistently pursued is tragic. In 1957, when the Swedish Government submitted to the Soviets a group of notarized testimonies of Wallenberg witnesses at the height of the Cold War, they were able to elicit an admission that the Swedish diplomat had been held captive in Moscow prisons.  Precisely on this basis, they should have kept up the campaign – in spite of the Soviet claim of 1957 that Wallenberg had died ten years. The widespread publication of Wallenberg’s alleged death in the Gromyko Memorandum immediately elicited contradictory evidence from other returning prisoners who knew this not to be true and who trusted the Swedish government to respond to their direct experience of the facts.  Other than a one time submission related to the sightings at Vladimir in 1959, the Government’s treatment of the witness reports for the next thirty years became the discrediting of such witnesses, one by one, rather than building up the entire body of evidence as a whole and researching it to see if confirmation could be found from other sources.

As a result, until the Working Group was established in the Nineties, this evidence went nowhere.  Even then, the independent investigators efforts were handicapped by the lack of the sightings of the past thirty years, which were classified under the day after the Group disbanded.    However, in my current systematic analysis, it can be shown not only that such confirmation from other sources existed – but to a disturbing degree: 38 sightings of Wallenberg in Moscow prisons from 1947 to 1953; 24 sightings in the Komi Region (Spring 1947 to 1954); 18 sightings in the Far East (1947-1954); nine sightings of Wallenberg in Vladimir Prison (1952-55) and thirteen between 1960 and 1970; plus four sightings of Wallenberg in Moscow 1960-62 of particular interest in connection with the testimony of Dr. Nana Svartz.  That these groupings clash with each other, particularly during the 1947 – 1954 period, can be explained by Susanne Berger’s pursuit of the question of other Swedes missing in the Gulag whose identities could be confused with that of Wallenberg, but who were or are unknown to us.

For example, in Vladimir Prison there were reports of three Swedes.  Witness Hunoldt met one named Ericksson in Corpus II, Cell 57 in 1950.  Ericksson was then suffering from a gall bladder operation and was not expected to live long.  According to Hunoldt, Ericksson had been sentenced in 1948 or 1949 with the two other Swedes and sent to Vladimir.  In fact, the three Swedes seem to have been processed together all along as a “same case.” At least four different witnesses encountered what would appear to be the same three – traveling as a group — in quarantine in Camp 27 Krasnogorsk, before they were sent to Moscow for investigation.  Still others, besides Hunoldt, confirmed their presence in Vladimir’s Corpus III.   So these Swedes are not “ghosts” nor an invention of a witness’ imagination.  So far, the Swedish Government has not been able to identify these men.  Therefore, the burden of proof rests on the independent investigators to establish that Ericksson (who had a wife in Uppsala and was very indignant that a neutral citizen could be held in captivity for so long) is really a Swede.

It should be noted that Vladimir Prison has no record of the presence of Ericksson or the other two Swedes in their kartoteka – but this is not surprising. If Raoul Wallenberg or his colleague Vilmos Langfelder were to be brought to Vladimir, their cards would also be missing because they are “exceptional prisoners” whose presence is being concealed.  My work has established that the prisoners are numbered sequentially, so if a card is removed – or never filed in the routine way – this number will flag such an anonymous or unacknowledged prisoner, leaving still tools for search.   Furthermore, documentation in the anonymous prisoner files confirm that the various registration cards of a convicted numbered prisoner would not be filed in the usual kartoteka but kept in a Special Department of the Prison Directorate in Moscow, yet another resource for search.   Finally, use of my colleague, Dr. Makinen’s computer study of Corpus II has shown that cell II-57 was “unoccupied” (translate: holding an anonymous prisoner) for more than a year, ranging from before until over a year after Hunoldt sat with Ericksson.

What is surprising is that the UD does not have any record of these missing men, who are described as having an affiliation with the Red Cross and to have been arrested in the Balkans. The UD may claim that the witness is confusing another Scandinavian, a Balt, or a Swiss for a Swede – which is possible, but less likely when the prisoner personally identifies himself to a witness as a Swede.   The fact that the existence of at least seventeen of these missing Swedes had gone unacknowledged has had an adverse effect on the Wallenberg case and vice versa.   By not knowing that there were other Swedes with a similar profile lost in the Gulag, reports of Wallenberg could be discredited as ‘not being Wallenberg’ – i.e., a blond – without further action being taken on behalf of  “Somebody’s Swede.” On the other hand, the fact that reports about a Swede, or a diplomat, show him in all four corners of the USSR at approximately the same time, had the effect of canceling each other out.  Had there been an accurate list of missing Swedes from the beginning – to which the various sightings could be related – there would have been grounds for a more forceful initiative to the Russians and a more effective investigation under the Working Group, one which would have potentially resulted in the return of yet more Swedes.

That the significance of such testimonies has been overlooked and that the UD in its efforts may not have been operating from a complete list of missing Swedes raises doubt as to the nature and extent of their goals, from the beginning.  This in turn brings us to the issue of whether or not there existed wartime networks of intelligence-gathering Swedes, captured by the Soviets, whose activities would have threatened the sanctity of Swedish neutrality.  If records pertaining to such networks were either never in the normal Swedish files or removed to a more classified zone in the name of national security, new generations of government officials wouldn’t have a clue where to look or who to ask for.  In short, damage control of information at home would seriously impair the Swedes’ chances of ever being returned.  Their only other hope remains for  someone finally to pay attention to the eyewitness reports and act upon them – as we are trying to do now.

Like Valentina, I feel duty-bound to help “Somebody’s Swede,” however many there may be.  If official record keeping leaves something to be desired, then I am turning to the public in hopes that families will come forth to provide a profile of these missing Swedes.  Nor should not having an actual name on a list prevent a Swedish official from making a concentrated effort to check out a sighting of a “Swede,” such as Valentina’s story or the report from Barnaul just last year.   I had never heard of Victor Hamilton when I arrived at Special Hospital Number 5; I knew only that there was supposed to be an American.  As long as the prisoner’s presence in a facility can be established, the tools exist to build a trail—and if they don’t, we will create them!  As Hamilton’s case will show, prisoners in psychiatric facilities or asylums do not move frequently.  Those who have no next of kin to claim them may sit for decades in psychiatric facilities or asylums, under their Russian pseudonym – too intimidated to say who they really are — with no hope of seeing their homeland again.

More eyewitnesses have come forth in the case of Wallenberg, than any other disappeared hero.  Some, we will assume, speak of other missing Swedes. The opportunity exists then to resolve not only one case but many.  This is not only the most effective, but the only moral way to proceed. It’s time for Sweden to connect the dots in order to bring real closure to its wartime missing – including its Cold War heroes.   As always this is a matter of making proper and maximum use of the evidence at hand and of taking a strong stand.  Not to act now, without further delay — when the evidence is finally being compiled and analyzed in its entirely to be presented to the Russians in a coherent form — would be reprehensible.  And if the UD does not have the time, and/or understand the value of the evidence which has been in its possession for 57 years, let it be turned over to a judicial government agency that does – leaving the diplomats free to negotiate with resolve.

SUSAN ELLEN MESINAI is the Director of the ARK Project of Freedom Channel, a human rights organization, which has been instrumental in the return or resolution of the fates of three civilian foreign prisoners since 1992. She has received awards for her help to the media in the case of the American Cold War flyers.  Ms. Mesinai worked for the Foreign Ministry of Sweden full time from 1997 until 2000, and is currently preparing to complete a transport study under the same auspices in Russia.  In March 2002, she submitted a voluntary report entitled “Preliminary Report: Follow-Up Wallenberg Investigation, A study of Eyewitness Testimonies in Progress” to the UD and to other archivists and officials in the Swedish government.  This report grew out of her preparation for the on site transport study. She awaits word from the Swedish government as to how to best to proceed with the new body of accumulated evidence because to ignore the results – and the fact that there are other missing Swedes — would be quite counterproductive.

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