Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and holocaust hero, has finally had his mysterious death revealed. A recently discovered diary of a KGB head says that the hero was executed in a Soviet prison in 1947.
On August 6, the New York Times reported that the diary of Ivan A. Serov, the first head of the KGB, the infamous Soviet espionage and security agency had captured, detained, and later executed Raoul Wallenberg.
Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat in Budapest during the second world war. In 1944, German forces occupied Hungary and appointed a pro-German government. The newly appointed government agreed to round up Hungarian Jews to be sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Wallenberg became aware of the situation and distributed certificates of protection issued by the Swedish legation to Jews in Budapest. He used US War Refugee Board and Swedish funds to create hospitals, nurseries, a soup kitchen, and more than 30 safe houses for the persecuted Jews. His establishments became known as the “international ghetto” in Budapest.
Soviet Forces liberated Budapest in February, 1945. By that time, Wallenberg saved 100,000 Jews from the gas chambers.
Wallenberg was last seen with Soviet officials in January 1945. He was suspected to be a spy due to his close ties with senior Nazis and Americans, his heroic story of saving Jews was considered to be an implausible cover story.
Serov’s diaries have recently been found and published, they were found hidden in a wall in a dacha, a seasonal home typically found outside cities in Russia. The diaries revealed that Wallenberg was imprisoned in Moscow. The KGB head wrote “I have no doubts that Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947,” Serov was the head of the KGB from 1954 to 1958.
Alexandra M. Kollontai, Soviet ambassador to Sweden, initially told Wallenberg’s mother that he was in custody but secrets of Wallenberg’s detainment were later leaked. Kollontai later retracted the statement after the Kremlin denied knowledge of the case. In the 1950s Moscow started to release war prisoners, in 1957 the Kremlin reported that Wallenberg died of a heart attack in prison in July 1947.
At the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kremlin entered into a joint investigative effort with Sweden to archive research and interviews of retired state security employees. The definitive report was released in 2000 which failed to conclude the case of Wallenberg’s death. The investigation could only say that documents pertaining to Wallenberg were either altered or destroyed to eliminate all traces of him.
Serov’s diaries include a report about Wallenberg’s cremation, and quotes of Viktor Abakumov, the preceding head of state security. Abakumov revealed during his interrogation that Stalin and Vyacheslav M. Molotov, the foreign minister, ordered to liquidate Wallenberg.
Nikita Petrov, a historian for Memorial, a Russian organization that studies Soviet oppression, specializes on the Stalinist era and KGB head Serov. Petrov explained that the word “killed” was never used in official Soviet documents. “They did not use this word,” he explains. “They said it appears he was killed, but we know nothing about this, we don’t have any documents. In Serov’s diary, you can find this word as a fact.”
In the diaries Serov wrote that Nikita S. Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, asked Serov to investigate what happened to Wallenberg in order to restore ties with Sweden. Serov noted that he was unable to find any evidence that proved Wallenberg was a spy nor could he uncover the full circumstances of Wallenberg’s death.
Petrov noted that memoirs do not have the same weight as official documents. Despite this he read Wallenberg’s file, in the past the security service denied that these files existed. Hans Magnusson, a senior diplomat that directed the Swedish side of the joint investigation said, “There should have been a personal or prisoner file which was created for every prisoner… The Russians said that they did not find one.”
Last year the Raoul Wallenberg Research Initiative was formed by historians with experience in the case. This renewed, international attempt to discover the fate of Wallenberg, has compiled a 33 page list of questions for the Russian government.
Serov’s diaries were discovered by his only grandchild Vera Serov. She inherited the dacha, located in northwestern Moscow, four years ago. Workers were hired to demolish the garage for renovations, there they discovered a few suitcases hidden in the wall.
“They thought it was money or gold, but it was only papers,” she said in an interview. Petrov said the suitcases were most likely put into the wall around 1971, when the Central Committee started to follow Serov.
Read more about Raoul Wallenberg here.