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Behind the Headlines Attempts to Solve Poignant Puzzle

October 25, 1978
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New information may soon become available about attempts to solve one of the most poignant puzzles of the 20th Century. The Swedish government will consider publishing some of its documents about the case of Raoul Wallenberg, the diplomat who disappeared in Soviet captivity 33 years ago after heroically saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from Adolf Eichmann’s death squads.

A report from Stockholm said that the government would decide which of the 7000 documents in its Wallenberg file can be published despite the rule forbidding the disclosure of state papers for 50 years.

The move was greeted as a partial victory by circles in Sweden who have been petitioning for publication of the Foreign Ministry’s entire Wallenberg file, its biggest on a single individual. The Swedish government has never been satisfied with the Soviet Union’s claim that Wallenberg died in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1947 at the hands of Stalin’s secret police.

Its file contains statements by many people that Wallenberg had been seen alive long after he was supposed to have died and that he had been sentenced to a lengthy prison term. The latest “sighting” was reported in the early 1960s and new evidence is still emerging. Were he alive today he would be 66.

Wallenberg’s mother, Mrs. Maj Von Dardel, is now 87 and his step father, Frederik Von Dardel, is 93. Both are well for their age and have not despaired of learning something about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate before they die. Last year, Mrs. Von Dardel wrote to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev about the case. But, as with many previous such letters to the Kremlin, she received no reply.


Public awareness of the case outside Sweden was recently revived by Simon Wiesenthal, head of the Vienna Jewish Documentation Center. Wiesenthal, famous for hunting Nazi criminals, has at least one reliable new witness who testifies that Wallenberg did not die in 1947, as Moscow claims, but was sent to Siberia.

The witness is an Austrian Jewish doctor, Menachem Melzer, who says he treated Wallenberg in a labor camp in Vorkuta a year after the date at which the Kremlin says he died. This supports many similar claims over the years by people who have emigrated from the Soviet Union. Wiesenthal recently suggested that Sweden should threaten to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games unless the Soviet Union offered to clear up the mystery. Although widely reported in Sweden, this plea has apparently little support there.

Earlier this year, the King of Sweden visited the Soviet Union, a sign that the Wallenberg case has ceased to be the important factor in Soviet-Swedish relations that it once was. It is doubtful whether the matter was even mentioned during the King’s visit.

However, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the exiled Soviet writer, has said that Wallenberg could have survived despite official claims of his death. The author of “The Gulag Archipelago” made this statement in Stockholm four years ago when he received his Nobel Prize for Literature.

The son of a gifted, aristocratic family, Wallenberg was only 32 when he arrived in Budapest in July 1944 as a secretary at the Royal Swedish Legation. Armed with neutral diplomatic status and money from American Jewish funds, his assignment was to set up a special section at the legation to save as many Jews as possible from the “final solution.”

Together with diplomats of other neutral countries, he encouraged the Hungarian government to resist Nazi pressure and he put thousands of people, especially children, into what he called “the internationally protected zone” — 32 houses flying the Swedish flag. His army of assistants, at one point numbering 600, followed Eichmann’s notorious death marches with food and clothing and, where possible, snatched deportees back to the relative safety of Budapest.

In January, 1945, Wallenberg made contact with the Red Army on the outskirts of Budapest. Then he disappeared. For 12 years after that, the Russians claimed that Wallenberg had been killed by Gestapo men before the war ended. But in February, 1957, Andrei Gromyko, then the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, made the sensational assertion that Wallenberg had died in the Lubyanka Prison 10 years earlier.

Far from accepting that claim, many Swedes felt more certain than ever that Wallenberg was still alive, especially as other witnesses claimed to have seen him in prison in 1953 and 1954. In 1961, a distinguished Swedish woman doctor was told by a Soviet colleague that Wallenberg was ill in a mental hospital. When the Swedish government took this up, the Kremlin reacted with fury and the Soviet doctor, who has since died, retracted his story.

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