December 18, 2011
Chief of Bureau
AP Associated Press
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
In late September when you asked for my comment on Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov’s statement that reports claiming Raoul Wallenberg was alive in the USSR after 1947 were products of “people’s imagination, ” the simplest response to such a complex issue was to release the Independent Investigation into Raoul Wallenberg’s Fate, Inc.’s website.
In its SIGHTINGS & METHODOLOGIES section, www.raoulsfate.org. features hundreds of reports of Wallenberg or “a Swede,” grouped chronologically and by region. In its SWEDES IN THE GULAG section it includes listings from Russian and Swedish archives of other missing Swedes. This establishes that not only Raoul Wallenberg but hundreds of Swedes disappeared into the Soviet Gulag, fate unknown. By releasing these summary reports, we offered the court of global opinion a chance to judge for itself whether the convictions of one Russian official --- in this case the Chief Archivist of the Russian Federal Security Service Archives --- could still outweigh the impact of these correlated testimonies.
This was, however, only Step One. The independent investigators know full well that the sheer volume of these eyewitness reports is not enough. Even if five or more were to resonate with each other, this could still be the result of rumors, slightly altered or even embellished, shared between prisoners in isolation and passed on. Thus we took on the meticulous task of verifying the reports to the degree necessary to provide legal evidence as to Wallenberg’s fate. (This work includes identifying the actual source and pressing for the release of original testimonies, not the edited versions often distributed by the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the CIA and others.) Thus, even as we demand that the Russians prove Wallenberg’s death “beyond reasonable doubt”, we leave “no stone unturned” in taking the simplest report and pursuing it to meet our scientific standards in reconstructing his paper trail.
Because Wallenberg fell captive to a repressive regime whose “truths” came in the form of propaganda or policy statements that allowed no contradiction – the burden fell on Raoul Wallenberg’s next-of-kin to prove that he still lived. During the Cold War when access was denied, this was a “mission impossible’ by any stretch of the imagination. The Fall of the Iron Curtain changed that reality. Dr. Guy von Dardel, Wallenberg’s maternal brother who died in 2009, and researchers Makinen, Mesinai and Berger have spent decades meticulously evaluating these eyewitness reports through interviews and archival research. In 1998, their efforts were accelerated by state-of-the-art techniques created by computer expert, Ari Kaplan, for this purpose.
Such research is necessary to counteract the Soviet/Russian claim, put forth in the Gromyko Memorandum of 1957, that all documentation in the Wallenberg case had been destroyed. Whether one believes this claim or not, the absence of legal evidence sets up an abnormal situation which extends far beyond the normal intricacies of “crime and punishment.” We cannot be expected to accept the absence of a file as substitute for the truth.
Without Wallenberg’s personal and investigative files, all attempts to solve his fate or understand the reasons for his arrest remain speculative. And yet, in their “conviction,” Soviet and Russian officials alike have issued statements or theories in a language that implies access to the missing file. The contradiction in the Chief Archivist’s statements are obvious. Unable to offer any supporting documents, he is nonetheless “100 percent certain…that Wallenberg was never in any other prison, either under his name or an alias”…He is more than convinced that “if he outlived the official date of his death, it could only have been by a few days…” Either they know the truth, in which case they should release it – however tragic or outrageous the crime against humanity – or, the Russians may well be the victims of their own propaganda.
In any case, they too may be accused of being “imaginative.” Clearly, if one is convinced that Wallenberg died in July 1947 but there is no file – then one can only speculate as to how Wallenberg was killed – or died of myocardial infarct, euphemistically referred to as “natural causes.” Khristoforov addresses this question in his interview with Vladimir Isachenkov when he says that the secret police would never have violated the ban on the death penalty that had been introduced by Stalin in the Spring of 1947, and therefore he could not have been shot. He refuses to speculate on alternative possible causes of death.
And yet the exceptions to the ban against “liquidatsia” are known. According to P.A. Sudhaplatov in his book Special Tasks, Beria had the power to “assassinate” during that time (1947 – early 50s). Nikita Petrov, a senior Memorial researcher, reportedly uncovered a document in a Serov file giving a short list of three people who were liquidated in the Fall of 1947. While this includes the Swedish diplomat’s long term cellmate, Willi Roedl, it does not include Raoul Wallenberg by name. A second on the list, Bishop Romzha had the code name “Ushgorod” while the third was referred to simply by the word “Sluga” (servant). According to a former KGB Lt. Colonel, “sluga” was often used as a pseudonym for a VChK-NKVD –KGB agent.
While some Wallenberg researchers postulated that “sluga” could refer to Langfelder, as loyal assistant to Wallenberg, the Russians have stated that Langfelder was alive at least until March 1948. I believe this is a reference to American citizen and NKVD agent, Esau Oggins, whose biography may be found in Andrew Meier’s The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service. Abakumov, in a memo to Stalin dated July 1947, proposed that Oggins be liquidated lest he testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee upon his repatriation. Oggins has often been cited by Russian archivists and officials as a parallel case to Wallenberg, since both fates were being determined in July 1947. The difference is that Oggins has a death certificate and burial place in Penza, Wallenberg does not.
According to the language of the document uncovered by Petrov, all three were “liquidated.” If Oggins is “Sluga,” then we know for a fact that all three were killed by lethal injection, that the liquidation took place outside of Moscow, and in the last three months of 1947 or the first few days of 1948 (since Oggins death certificate in Penza dates from early January 1948). Unless the Russian archivists can produce an equivalent list of exceptional cases assassinated in the Summer of 1947, and/or can show in their annual and decade death registries that Wallenberg is listed by name, number or pseudonym – there is absolutely no proof that Raoul Wallenberg died in July 1947 or, for that matter, during that year. And yet there should be. Even in cases of the liquidation of a prominent foreign prisoner, the Soviets were perfectly capable of providing the necessary documentation – medical records, autopsy and burial site information – to bring closure to the case and answer the queries of foreign governments. (All of this I have discussed in more depth in my report Liquidatsia: The Question of Raoul Wallenberg’s Death or Disappearance in 1947.)
Last but not least, Khristoforov states categorically that “it would have been impossible to keep that [Wallenberg as a hidden prisoner] secret for long, even under an alias or a number.” In short, he admits that mistakes happen – exactly the kind of happenings which have yielded critical eye witness reports in the past. He acknowledges chinks in the armor, but not the underlying system of Disappearance controlled by Moscow Central, which made the “whiting out” of a foreign prisoner’s existence possible.
Such a denial turns its back on the sufferings of remarkable individuals whose leadership skills and charisma were a threat to the USSR. It conceals a form of illegal captivity which is against international law. For the Soviets, establishing a death date in such a way that the door remains ajar for resurrection and an exchange is far preferable to admitting that they have any number of promenentia, diplomatii and neutral captives scattered across the Soviet Union.
On an archival level, it is noteworthy that what the Soviets often offer as a “death date” corresponds – not to the firing squad, which requires a military court order-- but to decisions on the part of leadership as to the best way to deal with the persistent inquiries by foreign governments regarding their citizen. This was the case with Oggins whose fate was laid out in 1947 and it may have been for Wallenberg – in that a registry indicates that Abakumov answered Molotov on this matter on July 17,1947. Previous FSB archivists pointed to the registry but could not produce the document.
Abakumov’s proposal to stop Oggins from going home by liquidating him and writing that, sadly enough, he died of tuberculosis was carried out. If the same was intended for Raoul, why not also release that information in 1992? Why the suggestion that this is analogous without proof? In any case, it should be noted that Oggins did not die when this measure was proposed but almost seven months later. In a case like Raoul Wallenberg, who was still “under investigation” as Prisoner Number 7 at that time, the Iron Curtain offered a perfect shield. The authorities could keep interrogating him for years after Vishinsky’s denial that Wallenberg was to be found on Soviet territory.
I believe that the death claim should be viewed as instrumental rather than the final word. It functions on a number of levels. 1) It makes use of the Soviets’ Iron Curtain reputation as cruel and terrifying to imply a death carried out by leaders of a former regime rather than admitting to ongoing captivity, which would lead to demands of instant return; 2) It makes use of suggestion of death, a memorandum to file like the “Smoltsov document,” as a “signal” to “ask no questions, look no further.” This may have been effective in their own internal system—but has not elicited the same response from the outside world; and 3) it does not admit to the tremendous value Raoul Wallenberg would have had, both under Stalin and Khruschev, as a “knight” on the chess board of the ‘great political game’.
Which brings us to the question of “who benefits” in perpetuating the ambiguity surrounding Wallenberg’s death or disappearance: By withholding or concealing the real documentation as to Wallenberg’s fate, it became possible to conduct behind-the-scenes negotiations related to the balance of power in yet another arena – the intelligence game.
For this to work, however, someone in the West would have had to be willing to admit that Raoul Wallenberg was engaged in an aspect of intelligence work, in violation of Sweden’s neutrality. Insistence that Wallenberg was innocent and a humanitarian, which he may well have been, put him in a different league—in which case it was up to his prominent industrial-banking family to bargain for him which they apparently were not willing to do.
From your article of September 27, it’s clear that Khristoforov and his fellow archivists have been emphasizing the question of where and when Wallenberg’s file disappeared, possibly in an effort to determine when his fate was sealed. We, using advanced technology, have recently made breakthroughs in establishing traces of the man which have enabled us to “close the gap” on locating him after July 23, 1947. Procedurally it is known that at least one copy of a prisoner’s file accompanies the man to his death or repatriation. The bureaucrat thinks: “Find the file, find the man.” We, tired of waiting for evidence that may have been buried too deep to retrieve, say “Find the man, even glimpses of him – and map this out as sequentially as possible.” Reconstruct his paper trail, prove his whereabouts enough and his file under whatever name or number will miraculously reappear.
A recent magazine article on Putin’s Russia makes reference to a Stalinist maxim which begins: “Truth is on our side, victory is ours.” Our working premise, in contrast, has been: “The Truth will set him free,” in spirit now if not from human captivity. These two are not mutually exclusive. The Soviets were right about “their side” in that they possessed the file and the man, but they lied about it more than once to the outside world to the point that they are now in danger of not being believed.
At the same time, the Swedish government would have little measure of the “truth” if the Russians had not produced key documents in 1991 under the Swedish-Soviet Group, and its successor, the Swedish-Russian Working Group. And the Independent Investigation would have not been able to “narrow the gap” in its recent work if the Russian government had not permitted Makinen, Mesinai and Kaplan access to extensive prison records in an attempt to evaluate whether or not Raoul Wallenberg was ever in Vladimir Prison and if so when, among other questions.
So these truths are in fact one and the same. What is needed is for the Russians to put aside convictions born in the past, to join us in this process of discovery by helping us identify key occupants in various prisons at specific times and places. I have compiled a short list of approximately ten reports of Wallenberg, Vladimir-Moscow related, 1947 until 1970. While the kernels of the original reports may be known, the findings to verify them are all new. We are prepared to complete the process of systematically establishing the truth of Wallenberg’s fate -- which began in the final years of the Swedish-Russian Working Group -- if the archivists and their leaders are “ready” to resume.
I hope they will be open to this invitation. Otherwise, we will be forced to continue in this fashion --- on parallel tracks that never converge, each side accusing the other of “speculation” and “imagination.” I believe that, without predetermining the end, together we can explore the reality where Wallenberg – and others who shared his fate – are to be found, a world that can no longer stay hidden.
Susan Ellen Mesinai
December 18, 2011