MONTREAL (Oct. 3)
An international commission that visited Soviet prisons this summer in an effort to establish the fate of Raoul Wallenberg has reached the preliminary conclusion that the Swedish diplomat missing since 1945 may possibly still be alive somewhere in the vast Gulag that is the Soviet penal system.
In any event, the commission believes it has “incontrovertible evidence” that Wallenberg did not die in 1947 in Lubyanka prison, as the Soviets have insisted until recently.
The commission consists of experts from several countries, including the Soviet Union, in the fields of law, science, polities, academia and other humanities.
It began its “search for the truth” about Wallenberg’s fate on Aug. 27 and concluded the first phase of the search last month.
The commission’s members included Wallenberg’s half-brother, physicist Guy von Dardel of Sweden; biochemistry Professor Marvin Makinen of the University of Chicago, an American who was once a political prisoner in Vladimir prison in the Soviet Union; and Professor Irwin Cotler, a professor of law at Montreal’s McGill University and a human rights advocate.
Cotler, who has been probing for years to get at the truth about Wallenberg, described the commission’s findings and explained the conclusions it has reached so far.
What made the most recent effort unique, he said, is that the Soviets, who for 45 years refused to allow any outside investigation into Wallenberg’s whereabouts, agreed to cooperate fully with the commission in an “open-ended” investigation.
PRISON ARCHIVES OPENED
Soviet officials agreed to open their prisons, prison archives and dossiers for scrutiny by the commission, archives that had not been made available to outsiders at least since 1917.
The investigation, unearthing evidence damaging to the Soviets, found, for example, that the Soviets never conducted their own investigations into Wallenberg’s fate, although they gave many assurances to the contrary over the years.
Prison archives were not scrutinized, nor were officials or relevant witnesses examined off the record or under oath.
Alexander Semyonova, the warden at Butyrka prison, was quoted as saying that “Wallenberg was a non-person for us until 1988, an unmentionable. We couldn’t even talk about him before that, let alone investigate if he had been imprisoned here.”
It was quickly established by the commission that the official Soviet stance on Wallenberg had no empirical foundation.
Certainly there was none to substantiate the Feb. 6, 1957, memorandum of then Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, stating that Wallenberg died of a heart attack at Lubyanka on July 17, 1947.
The commission centered its examination on prisons where Wallenberg was reported to have been seen alive after that date.
It spent a full week at Vladimir prison, the site of much of the witness testimony of the 1950s.
It learned that foreigners incarcerated there at the time were generally registered under a number or a false identity. Subsequent investigation at Butyrka corroborated that finding.
The commission’s study of prisoner files, registration documents and other support materials allowed for the placement of Wallenberg in prisons where he had reportedly been seen over the years.
“Analysis clearly confirms, by way of a clinical on-site investigation (of the prisons), the actual presence of those witnesses who gave testimony that they had seen Wallenberg alive,” Cotler stated.
“We now have proof of the existence of 15 of these individuals, something we did not have before.”
The commission discovered that in addition to personal prison files, there were parallel “investigative” or “operative” files kept by the KGB on foreign prisoners at Vladimir which were transferred to the KGB in Moscow.
Evidence therefore points to the KGB offices as the probable source that will uncover more about the exact fate of Wallenberg if the files there are ever allowed to be viewed.
Two additional findings were deemed “incredulous” and “astounding” by the commission.
The first was the KGB’s assertion that in 1988 it found items belonging to Wallenberg “by accident” when his family visited Moscow.
After claiming for 32 years that they had no knowledge of his whereabouts, the KGB found, supposedly by chance, such items as Wallenberg’s passport, prison registration card and money.
Under the Soviet system, such belongings are classified in separate files. The commission found it difficult to believe that all of the separate files were uncovered simultaneously by accident.
The disclosure by the Soviet procurator general’s office that it opened its first file on Wallenberg only in 1988 and promptly closed it did not rest well with the commission.
The rationale offered by the procurator general was that it lacked authority to investigate in the absence of a “criminal case — where there had been no trial, no judgment, no sentence.”
But it is the responsibility of that office to investigate the “legality of confinement.” The commission believed therefore that the procurator general not only had the authority but the responsibility of investigating a case of imprisonment without trial, judgment or sentence.
Cotler stressed that the commission has obtained “incontrovertible evidence” that Raoul Wallenberg did not die in 1947 as the Soviets had claimed, which raises the question of whether he is alive today.
“While in the Soviet Union, we received a call from the Swedish Embassy,” Cotler recalled.
“They had been contacted by a man who gave his name and other relevant information and said that he had been imprisoned in Kasan in the Tatar Republic in recent years. He claimed that Wallenberg was there and very much alive.”
The worldwide interest in Wallenberg stems from his humanitarian accomplishments during the closing months of World War II.
Wallenberg, posted to the Swedish legation in Budapest, is credited with saving at least 100,000 Hungarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps by providing them with Swedish documents and diplomatic refuge.