The descendants of a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust are demanding that their government take a more active role in pressing Russia to divulge details regarding his death, 74 years after he disappeared into the Soviet prison system during the final months of World War II.
Raoul Wallenberg, a businessman-turned-diplomat often described as the “Swedish Schindler,” saved around 30,000 Hungarian Jews by placing them in an ad hoc network of safe houses with diplomatic status around the Hungarian capital.
When the Soviets entered Budapest months before the war ended, they summoned Wallenberg to their headquarters over allegations of espionage in January 1945, after which he was never seen again. He was 32.
“I want specific answers to specific questions,” Wallenberg’s niece Marie von Dardel-Dupuy told The Guardian on Monday, describing her family’s effort to push the Swedish government to take a more assertive stance vis-a-vis the Russians, who have long resisted releasing information that could cast light on the diplomat’s fate.
Von Dardel-Dupuy and Wallenberg’s daughters Marie and Louise have long argued that Stockholm has been largely passive regarding the matter out of a desire not to antagonize the Russians. This week the three women plan on visiting the Swedish capital to lobby for action.
“He was a great man who wasn’t afraid to do the impossible. He deserves for us to know what happened to him,” von Dardel-Dupuy said. “His story is unfinished — the mystery must be resolved. There are still so many closed doors, and we must have help in opening them.”
In 1957, the Soviet Union released a document saying Wallenberg had been jailed in the Lubyanka prison, the notorious building where the KGB security services were headquartered, and that he died of heart failure on July 17, 1947. But his family refused to accept that version of events, and for decades has been trying to establish what happened to him. Some historians maintain that Wallenberg was executed.
Many countries have memorials commemorating his work, including Israel, which designated him as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations,” the highest honor granted to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
In 2000, the head of a Russian investigative commission said Wallenberg had been shot and killed by the secret police, but gave no specific details.
In June 2016, the diary of the first KGB chief, Ivan A. Serov, was published in Russia. It claimed that the order to execute the Swedish diplomat apparently came from the leader of the Soviet Union himself, Joseph Stalin, as well as Vyacheslav M. Molotov, then foreign minister. Several months later, Wallenberg was officially pronounced dead by Swedish authorities. He had previously been considered a missing person, long after authorities gave up hope of finding him alive.
In 2017, a Russian court rejected a bid by his descendants to force the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, to release details on his death in a Soviet jail. An FSB representative argued in court that the family’s demands should be rejected in part because it said the archives include details about the “personal lives” of other Lubyanka inmates. The documents from 1947 would only be made available in 2022 after an official 75-year waiting period to declassify the documents has passed, the FSB said. The family appealed the decision but was again turned down in 2018.
“We know for sure that the Russian side has important information it hasn’t released,” historian Susanne Berger, who will accompany Von Dardel-Dupuy on her lobbying mission on Wednesday, told The Guardian. “But Sweden does not push hard enough to obtain that material. We understand the pressures: we know it has to act with circumspection. But it could do far more.”
“Rather than act itself, Sweden places the onus of finding the truth on the shoulders of researchers and Wallenberg’s family — when it is quite clear that without official support this will always be an impossible task,” she said, adding that the family would ask the government to push for the release of a number of documents “crucial to the investigation of Wallenberg’s fate.”