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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 10:00 GMT
Wallenberg riddle lives on
Wallenberg graphic
Wallenberg's disappearance is still a mystery
A Swedish diplomat who helped thousands of Jews escape Nazi-occupied Hungary may not have been killed by the KGB in 1947 as Moscow has claimed.

A joint Swedish-Russian commission has concluded that Raoul Wallenberg may have been kept alive in Soviet jails as a bargaining chip.

However the commission's report, which follows a 10-year investigation, failed to draw any definite conclusion.

The original motive may have been to use Raoul Wallenberg in an exchange

Commission report
Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet troops who entered Budapest in 1945, and disappeared without trace.

Russia said last year that he had been executed during Stalin's purges in 1947. But his relatives believe he survived until at least the 1970s with a hidden identity in a Soviet gulag.

The commission said the Russian version could not be confirmed "beyond any reasonable doubt".

It said there was no credible death certificate, and it could not dismiss testimony which said Wallenberg had been seen alive after 1947.

Many former prisoners claim the diplomat was alive as late as the 1970s and 1980s.

Two outcomes

The commission's report said there were two main theories as to his fate:

  • that he died in July 1947 probably "of unnatural causes", or
  • that he was kept in isolation, with the intention of handing him over "in an exchange"

The working group called for governments with relevant information to open their archives.

On Friday, Sweden released most of its classified material on the subject.

In recent days there has been much speculation in the Swedish press that Sweden rejected opportunities to exchange Wallenberg for Soviet defectors or spies.

Some media reports suggest that as late as the 1960s Sweden refused to exchange him for Stig Wennerstrom, a Swede who spied for the Soviet Union.

Different versions

Wallenberg - a member of one of Sweden's most prominent families - worked as a Swedish diplomat in German-occupied Budapest.

Swedish ID issued by Wallenberg
Swedish papers are thought to have saved thousands of Jews
He distributed Swedish identity cards to Jews threatened with deportation to concentration camps, and won diplomatic protection for whole neighbourhoods of the city.

Backed by the Swedish Government and the United States, he is thought to have saved tens of thousands of lives in this way.

But when Soviet forces expelled the Germans from Budapest in 1945, they arrested him on suspicion of spying.

The Soviet Union initially claimed that he had been killed in the streets of Budapest.

Political victim

Then, 12 years after his disappearance, it admitted that he had been taken to Moscow's notorious KGB headquarters, the Lubyanka, where he was said to have died of a heart attack in 1947.

Wallenberg, undated photo
Russia says Wallenberg was killed in 1947
When Russia rehabilitated Wallenberg last December, it admitted he was a victim of political repression.

On that occasion, the prosecutor-general's office said no evidence had been found of any criminal case against him, or his driver Wilmos Langfelder, and they had been deprived of their freedom without any grounds.

His rehabilitation came in the aftermath of a Russian investigation which last year concluded that he had been executed in 1947, aged 34.

Details of where or exactly when he had died were not provided.

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See also:

12 Jan 01 | Europe
Profile: Sweden's Holocaust hero
28 Nov 00 | Europe
Sweden's WWII hero 'executed'
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