NEW YORK (Aug. 15)
An unprecedented Soviet invitation to the relatives of Raoul Wallenberg has left activists hopeful of uncovering the fate of the Swedish diplomat, who disappeared behind the Iron Curtain soon after rescuing some 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II.
In Stockholm on Thursday, Soviet Ambassador to Sweden Boris Pankin invited Nina Lagergren and Dr. Guy von Dardel, Wallenberg’s halfsister and half-brother, to come to Moscow in October for meetings with high level Soviet government officials.
The move represents the first time since Wallenberg’s arrest by Russian secret police in January 1945 that the Soviets have acknowledged Wallenberg family members’ requests for a meeting.
“The main thing that we have is the opportunity to see and talk” with officials, said Lagergren and von Dardel, in a communication with their supporters in the United States. “In our interviews in Sweden, we stressed the importance of the whole world’s interest in, and work for, Raoul.”
“We don’t know what the Soviet government is planning or prepared to do,” said Rachel Oestreicher Haspel, president of the New Yorkbased Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States. “The number one prayer for people all around the world is to find that Raoul Wallenberg is alive and well and in fact can be released.
“We also hope that they open files on Mr. Wallenberg that have not yet been released,” she said.
DISTRIBUTED SWEDISH PASSPORTS
International efforts on behalf of Wallenberg, a Lutheran, have been spurred by the breadth of his rescue activities on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust.
In early 1944, Wallenberg, then 32, joined the Swedish diplomatic corps in Budapest at the request of the United States.
While there, he coordinated an effort to save as many Jews as possible from the occupying German troops. He placed many in housing under Swedish protective custody, distributed Swedish passports and found sanctuary for Jews in Christian homes.
By the time the Russian army entered Budapest in January 1945, at least 120,000 of the city’s 230,000 Jews had eluded the Nazis’s deportations, 100,000 directly as a result of Wallenberg’s actions.
Wallenberg, however, was placed in illegal “protective custody” by the Soviets, ostensibly on spying charges. Little was known of his whereabouts until 1957, when then Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko announced that Wallenberg had died in a Soviet jail of a heart ailment 10 years earlier.
However, former Soviet prisoners have reported seeing Wallenberg alive as recently as 1988.
If alive, Wallenberg would be 77 years old.