The Angel Was a Spy
evidence: Sweden's Raoul
Wallenberg was a U.S.
Fenyvesi and Victoria Pope
For five decades,
mystery has blanketed key parts of the remarkable story of Raoul Wallenberg,
the Swedish diplomat who saved at least 20,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. U.S.
intelligence kept mum lest it confirm the Soviet charge that he had been an
American spy. The silence was purposeful: There were strong hopes that he was
alive in the gulag but stronger fears that any hint of his ties to U.S.
intelligence would stoke Soviet anger.
But a six-month
investigation--involving examination of thousands of recently declassified
files, some of which the Central Intelligence Agency just released to U.S. News
under the Freedom of Information Act, and scores of interviews with American,
Russian and European sources--shows conclusively that Wallenberg was a valued
U.S. intelligence asset. His appointment was approved by President Franklin
Roosevelt, and his mission was not only to save Jews but to provide U.S. spymasters with access to anti-Nazi
resistance forces trying to break up Budapest's
alliance with Berlin.
For the Office of Strategic Services--precursor to the CIA--Wallenberg was
probably the only reliable man in wartime Budapest.
Confirmation. One of the
newly released CIA documents is a 1990 memo in which William Henhoeffer,
curator of the CIA's Historical Intelligence Collection, declares that
revelations of Wallenberg's intelligence connections "are essentially
correct." CIA historian Kevin Ruffner agrees: "On the basis of the
files cited in your article, it is a reasonable conclusion that Raoul
Wallenberg was of benefit to American intelligence." Donald Jameson, a
former senior CIA official, calls this statement "a virtual admission that
Wallenberg was used by us. It is a minimum statement the CIA can make and still
Aware of Wallenberg's
ties to U.S. intelligence,
the Soviets spirited him out of Budapest
in January 1945. Russians today say he was either shot or poisoned in 1947.
However, U.S. News has tracked down several new credible eyewitnesses who say
they saw Wallenberg after the "official" 1947 death date. One of his
close colleagues, retired Swedish Ambassador Per Anger, is convinced that he
was alive as late as 1989 and may be alive today.
THE APPROACH The
Wallenberg saga, as told by biographer Kati Marton, began with a casual
elevator chat between two strangers working in the same downtown Stockholm building: Kalman Lauer, owner of an export-import
firm, and Iver Olsen, an OSS
operative whose overt job at the U.S. Embassy was finances. Once Olsen found
out that Lauer was a Hungarian Jew, he asked for help in finding a Swede
"with good nerves" to go to Budapest
to save Jews. Lauer suggested his employee, Raoul Wallenberg.
The job interview took
place soon after, on a warm night in June 1944 at the resort of Saltsjobaden.
Wallenberg was on furlough from Sweden's
National Guard--arranged by Olsen. By the end of the meal, Olsen knew he had his
man: strong willed, eager to make his mark in the world, an anti-Nazi with
American ties thanks to his architecture degree from the University of Michigan.
It did not matter that he came from a family, dubbed Sweden's
Rockefellers, whose companies supplied Germany's war machine with
materials such as steel and ball bearings.
The files record that
official expressed worry that his "personal history" would render
Wallenberg a "doubtful" ally. But Olsen prevailed. At Washington's behest, Sweden
assigned Wallenberg to its Budapest
legation. Supposedly neutral in the war, the Swedes agreed to the unusual
arrangement to relieve U.S.
pressure to stop trading with Germany.
Influential Hungarians were also apparently involved in Wallenberg's placement.
One 1954 memo from a CIA informant (the name inked out by declassifiers) notes
that a Hungarian in Stockholm, Kalman Geiger, "assisted informant in
inserting Roul [sic] Wallenberg into Hungary during WW II as an agent of
Wallenberg was so eager to get started that he "left in a hell of a hurry
with no instructions and no funds," Olsen cabled Washington. At the Hungarian border, he saw
boxcars crowded with Jews bound for what the Germans called "labor
camps." The U.S.
government had known of the death camps since 1942, and Allied intelligence
knew that the liquidation of Hungarian Jewry, Europe's last large Jewish
community, had begun two months earlier, with freight trains carrying 12,000
people a day to Auschwitz.
Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on July 9 with a
revolver in his knapsack. In a few months, he became a local legend, spending
covertly supplied American funds and using Swedish diplomatic tools to save
Jews. He issued "certificates of protection" with the emblem of the
Swedish crown. He moved his charges into buildings he bought or rented and flew
the Swedish flag over them for protection. In October, he joined other neutral
diplomats such as Switzerland's
to persuade the new, rabidly Nazi Hungarian regime to set up an
"international ghetto" for 33,000 Jews, 7,000 of them with papers
known as "Wallenberg passports." Jokingly, people called him the
city's No. 1 landlord.
At first, he worried
that if he granted too many protective papers, they would become meaningless.
But he soon began issuing them with abandon as Hungarian Nazis combed the city
where more than 300,000 Jews lived, many with false identity papers or hidden
by gentiles. He granted far more passes than the Hungarian government had
agreed to. He ignored their protests about forgeries. Matching the Nazis'
energy in killing Jews, Wallenberg would go daily to the ghetto and to
collection points such as brickyards and train stations. "When he dealt
with the Nazis, Raoul was another person," says Anger. "That soft-spoken
man became aggressive, brutal." He bullied Nazi officers, claiming he had
a list of Swedish-protected Jews who had to be released to his custody. He'd
shout out common Jewish names and quick-witted Jews in the crowd would figure
out his ruse and line up behind him to be led to safety.
Hungarian and German officials warned Wallenberg to stop. On orders from Lt.
Col. Adolf Eichmann, the SS arranged an "accident" that totaled his
Studebaker. Wallenberg was not in it. During a dinner with the Swede, Eichmann
vowed to try again. Wallenberg just smiled and became more emboldened.
According to one report, Wallenberg even "rounded up weapons for the small
band of Jewish resistance fighters in Budapest."
While browbeating some
Nazis, Wallenberg bribed others, using funds from the U.S. War Refugee Board
(WRB), which the newly declassified files show had an intimate connection with U.S. spy
operations. According to a senior CIA official, the choice of Wallenberg
combined OSS Chief William Donovan's two articles of faith about intelligence:
Businessmen make the best operatives, and refugees are the best sources of
information. OSS cabled its Stockholm
station that Hungary
would be the first of many joint ventures by the two agencies.
Olsen himself worked for
both the OSS
and the WRB. "Olsen went to Stockholm to
crunch numbers for OSS," says Meredith
Hindley, an American University graduate student specializing in the WRB
and the OSS.
"In charge of currency operations, he realized that buying currency from
refugees helped him pick up intelligence. He accepted the WRB job and made good
use of it for OSS."
Beyond his efforts to
save Jews, Wallenberg seems to have had a broader OSS mandate to collect field intelligence.
Thomas Veres, the photographer he hired, recalled in an interview with U.S.
News that during Budapest's
siege, with shells flying from all directions, Wallenberg drove to Castle Hill
to observe Russian gun positions on nearby hills, and asked Veres to take
pictures of them.
shows that Wallenberg used flattery as well as intimidation to get German and
Hungarian officials to protect the ghettos and release Jews picked up by Nazi
thugs. In the last days of the city's siege, he had a Hungarian Nazi assigned
to police headquarters tell an SS general to call off a massacre of 70,000 Jews
in the central ghetto. He sought out many influential Hungarians, including
members of the resistance, who were not involved in saving Jews. His objective
seemed to reflect OSS Chief Donovan's directive that spies seek out locals
unsympathetic to Nazis. The goal: to immobilize 18 German divisions in the
Key resource. The need
for OSS officers to penetrate Hungary is a recurrent theme in just-disclosed OSS files; one expert
called it one of the war's toughest intelligence problems. OSS official history notes the failure of
three missions. "OSS did not have an active
penetration team in Hungary
at war's end," recalls James McCargar, an intelligence specialist at the
U.S. Embassy in Budapest
in 1946. Under such circumstances, Wallenberg was a key resource for the OSS. He could exchange
coded messages via Stockholm,
use the diplomatic pouch--sent as often as every second day--and work with
One message was from the
SI--for Secret Intelligence--section of the OSS
in Bari, Italy, to its headquarters on Nov.
7, 1944. The communication indicated that Wallenberg was working with Hungarian
resistance leaders right before a planned uprising against the Hungarian Nazi
regime. The leader of a second resistance group, Geza Soos, was trying to
broker a separate peace with Allied officials. The spy cable notes that Soos,
who slept in a different bedroom almost every night, "may be contacted
only" via the Swedish legation and that Wallenberg "will know if he
is not in Budapest."
Soos sent messages to Stockholm, which shared
them with Olsen, who apparently forwarded them to Washington. A traitor betrayed the group
planning the uprising, and Soos's effort also fell apart once the Germans
head of state, Miklos Horthy.
Over the years, U.S. officials have maintained that Wallenberg
worked for the WRB, not the OSS--and
thus was not a spy. Nevertheless, the name Wallenberg appears on the roster of
those who "worked for OSS
in one capacity or another," as one archivist explains. It is a two-volume
computer printout of some 2,000 names, kept in the National Archives. Another
archivist cautions that being listed "does not absolutely mean that the
person worked for the OSS," though
"the great majority" were OSS
officers, agents and assets. "The printout is the closest thing we have to
Asserts one former OSS officer: "Wallenberg was not on the OSS payroll." He
spent WRB money but did not take a U.S.
salary, "thus technically, he was not an OSS agent." But OSS clearly was instrumental in placing him
where he was and received assistance from him in a variety of intelligence
areas in his quest to both save Jews and fight Nazis. Whether he was an
espionage "agent" by today's definition--contractually engaged and
remunerated--mattered little at the time. "OSS people and others who fought that war on
the intelligence front would have laughed at our efforts now to distinguish
between an agent who got paid and someone who helped us out, inspired by his
beliefs," says ex-CIA official Jameson. After reviewing the declassified
files, Jameson says he has no doubt that the Swede was "an important
American intelligence asset, rare in that part of the world at that time."
THE CAPTURE "The
Soviets doubtless knew Olsen's OSS
affiliation," says McCargar, a Russia specialist. "They must
have known of his meetings with Wallenberg." That made Wallenberg a marked
As the Red Army marched
Wallenberg insisted that he be taken to headquarters. After spending the night
there, he went to collect papers to take to a meeting with the Soviet high
command. The following day he drove to the international ghetto, escorted by
three Soviet soldiers on a motorcycle equipped with a sidecar. He saw a few of
his proteges, still wearing yellow stars, venturing outside. He ran into Laszlo
Peto--a childhood friend from a Swiss summer camp--and told him he planned to
go to Debrecen,
the regional Soviet headquarters, to ask for food and medicine for the ghetto,
and would return in a week.
"He was supremely
confident," remembers Peto, reached at his home in Brazil.
"He quipped about not being sure if he was the Russians' guest or
prisoner. But that was a joke. He could have escaped easily." Nothing is
known about what happened in Debrecen--or
if he ever got there. By late January, he was in Moscow's Lubyanka prison.
Testimony by Nazi
prisoners offers what little certainty exists in the next chapter of the
Wallenberg saga. Wallenberg's cellmate Gustav Richter told Swedish officials
the Swede had traveled for five days by train from Hungary
writing notes the Soviets later confiscated and may have used for the espionage
case against him. The seizure of the papers upset Wallenberg. In a 1993
interview with University
of Chicago Prof. Marvin Makinen,
Richter said that Wallenberg told him the notes were for a novel about
espionage. Why would he act so recklessly, creating evidence against himself?
Makinen, a consultant to the official Swedish-Russian commission focusing on
Wallenberg, believes the purpose was to record information, perhaps by using
code in the text.
GULAG WITNESSES After
July 1947--the date the Russians claim he died--the official documentary trail
goes cold. Eyewitness and secondhand reports, however, have placed Wallenberg
in the Soviet Union decades after that date.
The location repeatedly cited: Vladimir prison,
120 miles northeast of Moscow.
From German POWs jailed
there and repatriated in the early 1950s came word of prisoner Wallenberg.
Neither prison records nor personnel files confirm his presence. Recently,
however, U.S. News tracked down a new and highly credible witness who has
identified one prisoner as Wallenberg. She is a cleaning woman named Varvara
Larina, who has worked at the prison since 1945.
The now 72-year-old
woman was shown photographs of five men the same age as Wallenberg at the time
of his internment, and when asked to point out anyone she recalled, she placed
her finger firmly on the face of the Swede. She remembers him not by name but
by cell number--49--where he was held in isolation. He is locked in her memory
as a chronic complainer. "He was tall, had dark hair, was growing bald,
" she said in a two-hour interview with U.S. News that was striking for
the consistency of her story, though she was unclear about dates. "He was
always scolding. Always unhappy." Larina recalls leaving his soup on the
cell-door ledge. The prisoner with the brooding eyes would declare the soup too
cold and demand to see the guard, or a high prison official.
Kicking up a storm and
asking to see supervisors is an effective gambit for prisoners, notes Makinen,
himself in Vladimir
from 1961 to 1963. While there, Makinen heard of a Swedish inmate called
"Vandenberg." Makinen interviewed Larina two years ago and found her
so convincing that he urged Russian officials to contact her. To date, her
testimony has not been officially recorded.
sighting confirmed by U.S. News was in the Siberian camp of Bratsk. After his repatriation to Poland, one
inmate, Boguslaw Baj, read a newspaper report about Russian declarations of
Wallenberg's death in 1947 and recognized the name and face. Baj died recently,
but his testimony is preserved in a documentary film by Lechoslaw Czolnowski.
Baj recalls befriending a Swede who said his name was Wallenberg and that he
had been arrested in Budapest.
"We talked pretty often," Baj says. "We even wanted to take him
into our Polish brigade, where he would have felt better than among the Russians,
who laughed at him because he spoke no Russian." But the camp commander
Baj's friend Jozef
Kowalski recalls first meeting Wallenberg at a Polish Wigilya--Christmas Eve
service--held clandestinely at the camp. A Polish priest said a prayer, and the
assembled sang carols. During a 1950 rail transfer of prisoners, Kowalski says,
Wallenberg sat near him, but was taken off the transport before its final
destination. Kowalski, Baj and a third Home Army veteran, Jerzy Cichocki, have
all separately picked out Wallenberg from an array of photographs.
SOVIET RESPONSE The
Soviets never commented on specific sightings, nor did they ever openly discuss
the premise that Wallenberg lived on. Col. Vladimir Vinogradov, chief archivist
for the Russian Security Service--the renamed KGB--asserts that the sightings
have been analyzed "very thoroughly. If one were to take them seriously,
Wallenberg was kept in practically every camp in the Soviet
Union. It is absurd."
A joint Russian-Swedish
commission on Wallenberg, created in 1991, received some 500 pages of
documents, mostly chaff. Such basic records as his interrogation protocols are
missing. Crucially, there is no death certificate and no report attesting to
his cremation. A prison registry logging deaths, suicides and discipline
violations does not mention Wallenberg on the alleged date of his death, though
it lists a suicide attempt by a female prisoner. Another official log says no
one by the name of Wallenberg was cremated at that time.
Vinogradov told U.S. News
that the lack of primary source material is probably due to a desperate attempt
to destroy documents and escape blame after Stalin ordered the 1951 arrest of
Viktor Abakumov, his minister for state security and the official most closely
linked to Wallenberg's imprisonment.
Experts familiar with
Soviet archives dispute this claim. "All the statements of the security
service that they don't possess any information are certainly untrue,"
asserts Anatoly Prokopenko, the former head of Russia's central archives. Noting
the Soviet mania for producing documents and sending copies to other
institutions, Anger dismisses with a thunderous "Never!" the
possibility that the Wallenberg file was destroyed.
After the failed August
1991 coup that precipitated the Soviet Union's end, President Boris Yeltsin
created a special Russian commission to study the Wallenberg case and
dispatched its members to secret KGB archives outside Moscow. "Everything was in perfect
order," recalls a team member. But the probe was short-lived, and soon
even government researchers had to abandon leads. One commission member says he
saw the file on Mikhail Tolstoy-Kutuzov, the Russian in Budapest suspected of being the Soviet agent
who first fingered Wallenberg. That file should explain the arrest, he says,
but he never had a chance to read it. Guy von Dardel, Wallenberg's half
brother, asked to see the file, but the KGB has told U.S. News it no longer
One Swedish diplomat
familiar with the case says that out of the hundred some witnesses interviewed
by his government, up to 15 remain "believable." Particularly
striking is the testimony of the late Nana Svartz, a prominent Swedish
psychiatrist, who was given information about Wallenberg--alive but mentally
ill--in the 1960s. During a Moscow conference,
Alexander Myasnikov, a Soviet cardiologist, told Svartz the Swedish diplomat
was in a mental hospital outside Moscow
and in poor health. But when Sweden
sent the Soviets a query, Myasnikov denied his statement, contending
misunderstanding. Susan Mesinai, whose Danbury, Connecticut-based organization Ark searches for foreign
prisoners in the gulag, says the report on Wallenberg's mental breakdown is
credible. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had just announced the 1947 death
date in a 1957 memo to Sweden,
and Wallenberg may have thought his country and family had stopped looking for
him. "If Raoul was told he'd been declared dead, he would have b
In 1989, on the eve of a
visit by Wallenberg's kin, the Soviets surprised them by handing over his personal
effects, including passport, money, a daybook and a permit to carry a
pistol--but not the notes for his novel or his personal papers. The belongings
had suddenly been discovered, the Soviets claimed, when a worker happened upon
a plain envelope in a storage room. The chain of events was so unconvincing
that von Dardel demanded a probe of his half brother's fate.
Ambassador Anger told
U.S. News that he urged Chancellor Helmut Kohl to intervene in 1989. Holding an
extension phone, Anger listened as Kohl called Mikhail Gorbachev and pleaded
"let that old man go." The Russian had no answer, says Anger, who
then went to Moscow
to appeal personally to the Soviet leader: "He showed no interest"
and "implied that he had no control over the KGB."
Wallenberg's tragedy was
that the governments that should have rescued him had reasons not to come
clean. Worried about undermining its claim of neutrality, Sweden would not concede that it let U.S.
intelligence use one of its diplomats. A senior CIA official recalls "some
talk" in the late 1950s and early 1960s that the United States
should initiate a swap. But the idea was dropped because of fear that an offer
would vindicate Moscow in its charge that he was
agent. The Soviets scoffed at the U.S. denial.
document is a 1981 article in a CIA publication in which a CIA officer
criticized agency silence in the Wallenberg affair. The author, whose name is
inked out, mentions that in 1979 the State Department accepted "partial
responsibility for Wallenberg's fate by admitting in a so-called 'non-paper'
presented to the Soviet charge in Washington
that the U.S.
had provided funds for the program to save Hungarian Jews." But State
failed to reveal, the CIA officer noted, that Wallenberg's contact in Stockholm, Olsen, worked for the OSS.
In 1990, senior CIA
official Henhoeffer warned the director that in the years to come, the CIA
would be taken to task because the OSS
connection gave the Soviets a pretext for imprisoning Wallenberg. Nevertheless,
he concluded, "It should be deeply satisfying to every American
intelligence officer that not only American funds but, at least indirectly,
American intelligence expertise helped to save some Jews from the
EPILOGUE: TRADING TRUTHS
Washington may one day declassify files that
will reveal whether Wallenberg volunteered for assignments in addition to the
rescue mission or whether the OSS
pressed him into service on other fronts. Similarly, the Russians may
eventually divulge the reasons for keeping him hidden in prison: Did they hope
to ransom him to the West? Or was their delay bureaucratic bungling?
Whatever the reasons for
both sides' intransigence, they have vanished now, and a deal could be struck
to get at the truth: America
could acknowledge all that he did on behalf of U.S. intelligence and the Russians
could make known his fate. Such a trade-off would not be justice, but it would
end the mystery surrounding a rare, soul-soothing Holocaust legend.