Mystery Still Surrounds The Fate Of The Heroic Swedish Diplomat Who Saved Thousands of Lives in WW2

Of all the mysteries arising from the Second World War perhaps none is more perplexing than the fate of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who thwarted the Nazis from sending thousands to extermination camps.

He disappeared after Soviet forces captured Budapest in 1945 and took him into custody. Despite efforts over many decades to determine his fate, no additional evidence has revealed anything new. Recently, the Swedish government declared him deceased.

Swedish law mandates that a person must have been missing for at least a half-decade before its tax agency can declare the person deceased.

Since they believe Raoul Wallenberg went missing mid-summer 1947, the date of death has been set on 31 July 1952, said Pia Gustafsson, a legal expert at the Swedish Tax Agency, in an emailed statement to CNN. But she cautions this does not suggest the agency has made a decision about the actual date of his death.

As a special attaché based in Budapest in 1944, he positioned himself in the city’s Jewish Quarter furnishing papers to approximately 20,000 Hungarian Jews which gave them safe passage to the Scandinavian country.

Wallenberg also gave protection to over 12,000 persecuted people by protecting them in buildings draped with Swedish colors, which made them de facto extensions of the Swedish legation. Wallenberg even rescued Jews from Nazi trains destined for the Auschwitz concentration camp.

After his disappearance, the Swedish government asked Russia for information regarding its diplomat. Deputy foreign minister Andrei Gromyko in 1957 told the Swedish ambassador that Wallenberg had died of heart failure in Lubyanka prison – the headquarters of the KGB – in 1947.

Wallenberg’s family refused to believe the Soviet story of his death and have clamored for years to conduct further research. In 1991, the case was re-examined when Sweden and Russia co-operated. In 2000, Sweden’s former ambassador to Hungary, Jan Lundvik, told the Reuters news agency that Russia no longer believed that Wallenberg died in captivity of natural causes.

German historian Susanne Berger who acted as an adviser to the Swedish-Russian working group between 1991-2001 that investigated the Wallenberg case, continued working on the case with a colleague, Vadim Birstein, requesting Russia to release relevant documentation about the matter. In 2015, she established the Raoul Wallenberg Research Initiative, which brings together organizations and 80 researchers to pool expertise while laboring to obtain access to Russian documentation and archives and which has, so far, remained unfulfilled.

“There are really serious questions and gaps in the official record in all three major phases of the Wallenberg case,” she said.

They are confident these kinds of questions can be answered if access to documentation is permitted. Similarly, they have not had access to records that could be valuable in determining what motivated Stalin to keep the diplomat imprisoned after his arrest, reported.

Wallenberg has been honored internationally for his wartime efforts. The United States in 2012 awarded him the US Congressional Gold Medal.  Berger said the declaration of Wallenberg’s death by Swedish authorities will not affect their research.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE