Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg in all likelihood is dead, but recent developments have again raised his ghost to haunt the Kremlin.
A new book and queries from Swedish journalists prompted Soviet officials last month to make an effort once again to end the persistent stories that Wallenberg is alive, wasting away in some remote Soviet prison. His family also believes strongly that he is alive.
Wallenberg, who saved an estimated 100,000 Jews from death at Nazi hands in Hungary during World War II, disappeared after being arrested by Soviet forces near Budapest in 1945. Since then, “sightings” have been reported from dozens of Soviet slave labor camps.
The Budapest-based diplomat and humanitarian, who was made an honorary American citizen in 1981, handed out protective Swedish citizenship to Jews, allowing them to flee the Holocaust to safe countries.
He was arrested as a Western spy by order of the late Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, then a political commissar in a Red Army unit in Budapest. Wallenberg has not been seen since.
The Soviets say he died two years later in the notorious Lubyanka Prison, the KGB facility in downtown Moscow.
“In 1957, during work on the archives of the medical service of the Lubyanka Prison, a handwritten report signed by medical service chief Smoltsov to the then-State Security Minister (Viktor) Abakumov, was found,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov said recently.
That July 17, 1947, report said “Wallenberg died in his cell last night, presumably of myocardial infarction"--a heart attack. Smoltsov’s report asked for instructions on an autopsy.
Gerasimov said the report carried a note in Smoltsov’s handwriting: “Reported personally to the minister. The body ordered to be cremated without a post-mortem.”
Smoltsov died six years later, Gerasimov said.
“Former state security minister Abakumov, who had violated Soviet law, was convicted and executed under a sentence of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R.,” he said.
That is the Soviet version, first put forth in 1957 by Andrei A. Gromyko, then foreign minister and now president. Although Sweden never has accepted the explanation, it remains unchanged except for this addition of the names of the officials involved.
Without witnesses or a body, and because it denied any knowledge of Wallenberg for 12 years, the Soviet Union has been plagued by a seemingly unstoppable rumor mill.
“We have had indications as recently as a few months ago,” Wallenberg’s sister, Nina Lagergren, told United Press International in Stockholm. “We cannot check the indications, but they make us convinced that Raoul still is alive.”
She said the Soviets appear ready to do something to end the matter once and for all.
“They want to clear up what has become an irritation in relations” between Sweden and the Soviet Union, she said.
A book published in August said second-hand witnesses reported that “an older Scandinavian diplomat, who saved Jews in Budapest at the end of the war, was treated for frostbite in 1986 at the prison camp Blagoveshchensk.”
Kenne Fant, author of the book, entitled “R,” said Viktor Davidov, a prisoner at the camp’s psychiatric ward, had heard of a Swede who had been at the prison and deduced that it was Wallenberg.