MONTREAL (Aug. 27)
After four decades of maintaining that Raoul Wallenberg died in a Soviet prison in 1947, the Soviet government has agreed to cooperate with an international panel inquiring into the fate of the legendary Swedish humanitarian, who is credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
The breakthrough was reported by the chairman of the international commission, McGill University Law School Professor Irwin Cotler, who spoke by telephone from Jerusalem before departing Sunday for Moscow.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev “authorized for the first time in Soviet history the creation of a special commission, including five Soviet ministers and five foreigners, to investigate the case of Wallenberg,” Cotler told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
He said the panel was the fruition of a request he had personally made of Gorbachev when the Soviet leader visited Canada in March.
The Soviet government invited the panel to Moscow and is paying all of its expenses, Cotler said.
The commission, he said, would be akin to that set up to investigate the killings of Polish army officers in the Katyn forest in 1940. That panel found the Soviet Union guilty of the mass killings, discarding Soviet claims since the war that the Nazis had perpetrated the atrocities.
Other members of the Wallenberg commission include Guy von Dardel, Wallenberg’s half-brother; Conrad Lubarsky, a former Soviet political prisoner now living in West Germany; and a representative of the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
They will now be joined by the Soviet ministers or deputy ministers of interior, justice, foreign affairs and the KGB.
ACCESS TO KGB ARCHIVES
While in Moscow, members of the commission plan to begin their foray into personal accounts and whatever material is available to trace the days of Wallenberg since he was last seen in Budapest on Jan. 17. 1945.
They will be permitted to interview witnesses, including former prisoners, and examine official documents relating to the case, Cotler said.
He said the Soviets told him they would open archives and files, including those of the KGB, and would allow the commission to visit Lubyanka and Chistopol prisons, where Wallenberg was reported to have been held.
Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, is credited with having saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews by providing them with Swedish passports. He also personally took people off trains bound for Auschwitz, saying they were citizens of Sweden.
Wallenberg reportedly requested a personal meeting with the commander of Soviet troops who had captured Budapest from the Nazis. He was never publicly seen again, but there have been over the years repeated sightings of a “tall Swede” in various prisons.
Cotler claims there is “incontrovertible evidence” that Wallenberg was alive after 1947 and through the 1960s and 1970s.
Shortly before Soviet dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov died in December 1989, he and his wife, Yelena Bonner, traveled to a prison in the Ukraine to check into reports from trusted friends that Wallenberg had been sighted there.
Sakharov and Bonner were not permitted to enter the prison that day. When they gained entry the next day, all traces of Wallenberg had disappeared, they told Cotler.
Soviet authorities claimed Wallenberg died of a heart attack in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison in 1947, when he was 35 years old. Swedish authorities and others have never accepted that explanation and have repeatedly pressed the Soviets for more information.
If alive, Wallenberg would have been 78 years old on Aug. 4.
Last year, the Soviets invited members of Wallenberg’s family to the Soviet Union to conduct some rudimentary inquiries. The family was given some of Wallenberg’s personal effects.
But the Soviet Foreign Ministry maintained that Wallenberg had died in prison, in 1947.
A Wallenberg symposium held in June at Moscow University drew scant attention and fewer than 50 participants, despite attempts to publicize it.