Wallenberg’s death remains a mystery

MOSCOW, Jan. 15 (JTA) — Despite 10 years of study by a joint Russian-Swedish commission, the mystery surrounding Raoul Wallenberg remains unsolved.

The commission studying the case of the Swedish diplomat, who saved tens of thousands of Jews during World War II only to be arrested by Soviet agents in Budapest in 1945, issued two conflicting reports last Friday.

In the Russian version, Wallenberg, arrested at the age of 32, died in 1947 at the Lubyanka prison as a result of violence.

Soviet officials had long held that Wallenberg died of a heart attack. He was “rehabilitated” late last year after reports surfaced about the committee’s findings.

Sources in Moscow said the official rehabilitation — an acknowledgment that Wallenberg was the victim of Soviet-era injustice — was initiated by President Vladimir Putin, who wanted to heal a wound in Russia’s relations with the West and international Jewish groups.

The Swedish report, however, cites evidence that Wallenberg may have died as late as 1989 in a psychiatric clinic near Moscow.

A strong argument in favor of this version, says the Swedish report, is the fact that in 1989 Soviet officials gave Wallenberg’s relatives his personal belongings. Soviet prison regulations specify that this should be done within six months of a prisoner’s death.

The Swedes also say they have documents and witness testimony from CIA archives that indicate Wallenberg was held at the psychiatric clinic in 1983.

Russian experts argue that these witnesses could have been KGB-controlled. The Soviet spy agency often used such agents to spread misleading information, Igor Sinitsin, a former Soviet intelligence officer who has become a Wallenberg expert, told JTA.

Wallenberg risked his diplomatic status to issue “protective letters” that saved Jews in Budapest during the war.

The Russian version is the one many Jews for years have believed to be true, but one U.S. Jewish group long involved in the Wallenberg effort does not find the Russian report conclusive.

“It is disappointing that after such exhaustive examination by the two panels that the mystery of Raoul Wallenberg has yet to be solved. We still don’t have the answers to two fundamental questions: Why was he arrested in the first place; and second, what precisely happened to him after he was sent into the Soviet Gulag,” said Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee.

The AJCommittee, which a year ago relaunched a campaign asking the U.S. government to press Russia for full disclosure on Wallenberg, plans to continue its efforts, particularly because Wallenberg worked for the U.S. War Refugee Board, according to Bandler.

The study did yield evidence that the Soviet government believed Wallenberg was a U.S. spy.

The intrigue surrounding the Wallenberg case is intensified by the fact that the KGB archives have once again been closed — even though Gennady Kuzovkin, a Moscow historian, says there are more documents there that might offer clues to Wallenberg’s fate.

Meanwhile, Swedish newspapers have reported in the past few weeks that Sweden turned down opportunities to exchange Wallenberg for Soviet defectors or spies.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, who says he is not even sure if Wallenberg is dead — if he is alive, he would be 87 years old — apologized at a news conference for Sweden’s inability to solve the case.

“I promise that our efforts to obtain an answer on what really happened to Raoul Wallenberg will be continued,” he said.

Both reports are available on a Web site operated by the Swedish Foreign Ministry — www.ud.se.

(JTA staff writer Peter Ephross contributed to this report.)

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