Was Russian prisoner No. 7 actually the ‘dead’ diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust?
By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 12:03 PM on 02nd April 2010
WHO WAS RAOUL WALLENBRG?
The son of a naval officer, Wallenberg trained as an architect but later joined a Stockholm import-export business and became the company’s representative in Budapest where he learned Hungarian.
In 1944, as the persecution of Jews in Hungary became known abroad, Wallenberg was picked as Sweden’s envoy to return to Budapest and organize a rescue programme.
Together with fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger, he issued ‘protective passports’ which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thus preventing their deportation. It is estimated he saved 20,000 Jews destined for Nazi extermination camps.
He was arrested by the Russians in January 1945 and was reported to have died two months later, although the circumstances of his death have long been in dispute.
Wallenberg has been honoured numerous times. He is an honorary citizen of the United States, Israel, Canada, and Hungary, while monuments and streets have been named after him throughout the world.
A Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States was created in 1981 to perpetuate his ‘humanitarian ideals and the non-violent courage’, giving out the Raoul Wallenberg Award to that end.
The heroic story of Raoul Wallenberg is one of the most extraordinary to emerge from the horrors of the Holocaust.
And yet, the eventual fate of the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews has remained one of the conflict’s greatest mysteries.
Working as an envoy in Budapest, Hungary, from July 1944, he prevented the deportation of 20,000 Jews destined for Nazi concentration camps or death factories.
As a result of his actions he has been made an honorary citizen of several nations with parks, schools and philanthropic organisations named in his honour.
Precisely what happened to him as the war reached its conclusion is not known.
But now from the depths of Russian security service archives new evidence has emerged which suggests that rather that he was alive years after he was said to have died.
Wallenberg, born in 1912 into one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, was arrested in Budapest in January 1945 by the Soviet army.
The Soviets claimed he was executed two years later on July 17 but never produced a reliable death certificate or his remains.
Witnesses claim he was seen in Soviet prisons or labour camps many years later, although those accounts were never verified.
Now, the archives of the Russian security services say a man identified only as ‘Prisoner No.7’, who was interrogated six days after the diplomat’s reported death, was ‘with great likelihood’ Wallenberg.
The security services reported the find last November to Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein, two members of a research team that conducted a ten-year investigation into Wallenberg’s disappearance in the 1990s.
The researchers informed Wallenberg’s relatives in a letter this week and the findings were also reported in the Swedish magazine Fokus.
The information still has to undergo in-depth verification, but Berger wrote in the letter, ‘if indeed confirmed, the news is the most interesting to come out of Russian archives in over 50 years’.
She said strong circumstantial evidence supported the archivists’ conclusion of the identity of Prisoner No. 7.
Berger quoted the Swedish ambassador in Moscow, Tomas Bertelman, as saying in a note to the head of the Russian archives last December that if true, the report would be ‘almost sensational’.
A group of Hungarian Jews pictured in 1944. It is believed Raoul Wallenberg prevented the deporation of up to 20,000 Jews destined for concentration camps
Wallenberg’s stand against the Nazis have made him a folk hero and the subject of dozens of books and documentaries
As Sweden’s envoy in Budapest from July 1944, Wallenberg prevented the deportation of thousands of Jews but also dissuaded German officers occupying the Hungarian capital from a plan to obliterate the city’s Jewish ghetto, averting a massacre of its 70,000 residents.
He was arrested the day after the Soviet Red Army seized the city, along with his Hungarian driver Vilmos Langfelder. The Russians never explained why they detained him.
Ove Bring, professor in international law at the National Defense College in Stockholm, said the report by the Russian security services warranted reopening Wallenberg’s case.
‘Everything we believed earlier (about Wallenberg’s death) is turned upside down by this,’ he said.
‘This has to be investigated again. If he was still alive six days later, then maybe he was alive for a longer period of time.
‘Did he live another week, or a year or ten years? Suddenly that’s an open question.’
Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Teo Zetterman said the ministry has to ‘look at the information to see what it contains in order to make a decision on what we can do’.
Wallenberg’s stand against the Nazi occupation forces, his disappearance and the purported ‘sightings’ in the Soviet gulag have made him a folk hero and the subject of dozens of books and documentaries.
The mystery only deepened after the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged in the 1990s that he had been recruited for his rescue mission by an agent of the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, which later became the CIA.
It also has been an on-and-off irritant in relations between Moscow and Stockholm. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reportedly discussed the case during a visit to the Swedish capital last November.