In Hungary, for many years after 1948, it was not possible to write or speak about Raoul Wallenberg in public. In November 1984, I broke the taboo for the fi rst time with an article entitled “The politics of saving lives”, published in the Hungarian cultural weekly Élet és Irodalom. Naturally, the legendary Swedish diplomat and his activities in 1944 were widely known in Hungary, primarily due to Jenő Lévai’s book.1Thanks to Radio Free Europe and other Western radio stations, Hungarians also knew what happened to Wallenberg after members of the Soviet secret police kidnapped him in Budapest on 17 January 1945, and transported him to Moscow.

In that article written nearly 30 years ago, I did not intend to publish new, as yet unknown facts about Wallenberg – I had no such information. The point of the article was to stress that, at the time, rescuing the persecuted had become the sole meaningful action. In 1944, genocide was carried out under the guise of a war against the “internal enemy”; the Jews of the Hungarian countryside were deported, and the days of the remaining Jews, in Budapest, were also numbered. The Hungarian anti-Nazi resistance movement of 1944 did not succeed; the leaders of the illegal underground political parties were unable to influence the course of events, either at that time or after the war.

Wallenberg’s greatness, his unmatched moral authority, stemmed from the fact that in those cruel months he was able to rise above the tide of fi lth that characterized the politics of his era – a tide that, in the end, swept him away and destroyed him. The mission of the Swedish diplomat had been prepared politically. Political considerations were also at play when the Soviet secret police kidnapped Wallenberg after the Soviet occupation of Budapest, transported him and his chauffeur Vilmos Lagerfeld to Moscow, treated him as a spy, then murdered him. True, these political considerations were basically irrational and unintelligible at the time. However, if we are to form a realistic picture of the legendary saviour of the Jews, we must take these considerations, too, into account.

Until the end of 1943, neither Great Britain nor the United States admitted the importance of the “Jewish question” raised by the Nazis, dismissing it as a phrase of German wartime propaganda. Neither Washington nor London offi cially confi rmed that, as early as the fall of 1941, the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis were becoming increasingly radical and had turned into organized genocide. The political and military leadership of the Western powers, whose primary aim was to defeat Germany and Japan as soon as possible, was not interested in informing worldwide public opinion that, concurrently with the clash of armies, another, more unequal war was being waged by the Nazis against unarmed civilian populations, primarily the Jews of Eastern Europe. Another reason it was difficult to speak of the Holocaust publicly was that nothing in human memory could compare with this genocide; this kind of concentrated, “industrial-scale” mass murder was hitherto unknown. The destruction of the Jews was irrational and inconceivable even in its “ideological” underpinnings; and to this day, historians are hard put to explain its internal and devastating dynamics.

Historian Raul Hilberg, the founder of Holocaust Studies, noted that “in the spring of 1942, about 80 per cent of Eastern European Jews were alive, and 20 per cent had become victims of the mass murders. One year later, these percentages were reversed.” This indicates that the Nazis committed themselves to the “final solution of the Jewish question” after December 1941 – that is, after the Germans lost their battle outside Moscow. To coordinate “the final solution”, they organized a top-secret conference on 20 January 1942, with the participation of political, military and police leaders at Wannsee outside Berlin. Minutes of the conference were taken by “Holocaust conductor” Adolf Eichmann, lieutenant colonel of the Reich’s Main Security Office, who already at that time was considered the most notable specialist on the “Jewish question”.

The Allies (including the Soviet Union) did not know that at Wannsee the Nazis formulated concrete plans for the murder of the approximately 11 million Jews living in the occupied and neutral countries. (The sole remaining copy of the minutes of the Wannsee Conference would come to light among the written materials collected for the Nuremberg Trials.) While Hitler never formally gave the order for the “final solution”, fanatical Nazis began to carry it out at a rapid pace, considering this program even more important than winning the war. Churchill and Roosevelt were discreet about the information trickling out through various channels – much of it supplied by the diplomatic representations of the neutral countries – about the genocide, organized deportations, and “death factories” constructed in German-occupied Poland. There were many reasons for their caution. For one, the nations at war, committed to continuing the fi ght until the unconditional capitulation of Hitler’s Germany, had in fact few means at their disposal to protect the Jews of occupied Europe. Leaders in London and Washington also feared that if the incredible-sounding details of the genocide were made public, this would provoke unpredictable reactions among the Jewish communities, fan the rage of the murderers, and inasmuch as the truth about Auschwitz and the other death camps was publicized via leaflets dropped from airplanes, the Germans would dismiss their contents as “propagandistic lies”.

Under these conditions, the United States was culpably slow to recognize that the West could not stand idle while millions were exterminated. It was only in January 1944, two years after Wannsee, that – at President Roosevelt’s initiative – a War Refugee Board (WRB) was established, to coordinate international efforts to save the Jews of Europe from annihilation. Since by this time it was evident that the Geneva-based International Red Cross was not really capable of saving human lives in wartime Europe, and that Switzerland, like Turkey, refused to admit Jews, the role of Sweden became more prominent. In the fall of 1942, when the Jews were being deported from Norway, some of them were able to escape into neighbouring neutral Sweden. The Swedes learned first-hand about Nazi methods, as this information was published in newspapers. When the Jews of Denmark sought refuge in Sweden in October 1943, in an escape action organized by the Danish resistance, the Swedish population was prepared to accept them.

The US government and the WRB thus found a partner in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish government. With their help, the WRB could attempt, amid wartime conditions, to offer protection to the last remaining and relatively unharmed Jewish population in Eastern Europe: the Jews of Hungary.

It should be noted that in preparing and carrying out this operation, the executive director of the WRB, John W. Pehle, and his successor Brigadier General William O’Dwyer, used the instruments and connections of the Office of Strategic Services – the US military intelligence agency. (The OSS, which also engaged in propaganda, espionage, subversion and post-war planning, would become the Central Intelligence Agency after the war.) The WRB worked closely with the JWC (Jewish World Congress), and its life-saving operations were financed in large part by the JOINT (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). In the light of these facts, it is no surprise that Soviet intelligence officers, the Soviet secret police, and Stalin himself, who lived in mortal fear of “imperialist” spies and conspiracies, viewed Wallenberg’s life-saving actions in Budapest with suspicion – considering it not a humanitarian mission, but a “subversive” activity in Hungary, which was going to come under the Soviet sphere of influence following the defeat of Germany.

The WRB rescue action would work only if a signifi cant number of Jews were still living in their original locations, because by spring of 1944 it was clear that the Jews already deported from German-occupied Europe were beyond help: they had been taken straight to death camps. The only Jews who could still be helped lived in Hungary. The rights of Jews became curtailed, but Horthy’s governments refused to allow the deportation of Jews from Hungary until German occupation in 1944.

The German occupation of Hungary on 19 March 1944, followed by the dismissal of the government of Miklós Kállay and the formation of the cabinet of Döme Sztójay, came as a surprise both to Hungarian political leaders and to Western public opinion. The German military leadership justified the occupation with the need to “secure the Southern flank of the Eastern front”. Hitler feared that the Hungarians would, like Italy, try to pull out of the war, and did not trust the Kállay government, which was conducting ineptly disguised secret ceasefire talks with the Western Allies. But was this reason enough to carry out Operation Margarethe? In March 1944, did Hitler really have reason to fear that the Hungarians would pull out of the war effort? Would it not have been more effective for the Wehrmacht to occupy Romania instead, a country more experienced in “two-faced” politicking, and whose representatives were holding extended negotiations with the British and the Americans in Cairo? Most likely, the main reason behind Hitler’s decision to occupy Hungary was to carry out the “final solution of the Jewish question”. In spring and early summer 1944, Hitler had enough power to organize the deportation of the Hungarian Jews, whereas he probably would not have been able to impose the same on Romania, with a smaller Jewish population. At that time, Hungary was double of its present size. (According to the minutes of the Wannsee Conference, the Nazis intended to deport 342,000 Jews from Romania, including Bessarabia, while the target number for Hungary was 742,800.) It should be noted that the execution of Operation Margarethe, which Hitler ordered on 28 February 1944, was disrupted by a major Soviet offensive begun on 4 March, bringing the Soviets to the outskirts of the Carpathians. To halt the Red Army, the Germans had to deploy units from the occupying forces, and these, once their presence had forcibly set up the Nazi-friendly Sztójay regime, could be withdrawn from Hungary and redirected to the Eastern front.

On 22 March 1944, Döme Sztójay formed his cabinet, whose primary goals were to continue the war on the side of Germany, and to “solve the Jewish question”. The latter goal represented a new and tragic development. Fanatical anti-Semites were put into key positions: Andor Jaross became Interior Minister, with László Baky and László Endre as his deputies. These far-right politicians, who were later executed as war criminals, cooperated in full measure with Adolf Eichmann and his special forces, already well experienced in organizing genocide, who had arrived in Budapest with the express purpose of deporting the Hungarian Jews. Based on a prepared plan of action, the events unfolded at a rapid pace: a Jewish Council was set up, which was forced to cooperate with the Nazis; every Jew was compelled to wear the yellow star; a series of discriminatory decrees were issued; the territory of Hungary was divided into districts, and based on lists provided by the Jewish consistories, the process of “concentrating” the Jews began. Almost the entire Hungarian state apparatus now subservient to a Nazi government, participated in these coordinated actions against the Jews. The rounding up, guarding and torturing of the Jews was carried out by the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie, whose “Rapporteur for Jewish Affairs”, Colonel László Ferenczy, was in direct contact with Eichmann’s staff. For the Jews from the Hungarian countryside, the journey led first to the ghettos set up in larger towns, then straight to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The first to be deported – ostensibly due to “military considerations” – were the large Jewish communities from Carpatho-Ukraine. As of 6 July 1944, a total of approximately 430,000 Jews, deprived of their citizenship by state decree, were deported from Hungary, including the settlements in Pest County in central Hungary. The Nazis deported an enormous human population at an unprecedented pace, in the space of barely three months. This can be explained by several circumstances. First and foremost, Eichmann’s staff had, by this time, considerable experience in genocide. The Nazis, unlike their victims, knew precisely what they were doing and why. They eliminated the possibility for opposition by deporting the moderate politicians from the Right and the Left who might have been capable of organizing resistance, and replaced them with Hungarian officials loyal to the Nazis. An explanation is needed, nevertheless for the failure of Hungarian society to protect the Jews. The reason, in addition to the lack of information and long-standing anti-Jewish prejudices in many, was the turmoil among the opinion-forming middle class. The Red Army offensive into the Carpathian region had made it clear that the war was lost, and that Hungary’s fate was in Stalin’s hands. Much of Hungary’s middle class was paralyzed by a (well-founded) horror of a Soviet regime to be established in Hungary and the collapse of the Hungarian state. Some in fear were thrown into Hitler’s arms where they remained almost until the last minute. In the tragic spring of 1944, they believed that, if the Germans wanted the Hungarian Jews, they should have them, if that were the price of defending Hungary from the Soviets. It would take months until the more clear-sighted among the political elite realized that the machinery of the Hungarian state had been complicit in carrying out a horrendous crime.

The deportations from Hungary and the accompanying brutality became publicly known, not least due to the Budapest-based diplomatic legations of the neutral countries. For example, the Swedish legation in Budapest helped smuggle to the West the so-called “Auschwitz Memorandum” compiled by two escaped Jewish captives.2

The American Jewish organizations went into action and urged the US government to finally do something to prevent the horrifying developments. A coordinated campaign began: domestic and international pressure was brought to bear on Hungary’s Regent, Miklós Horthy, whose power was all but annulled by the Nazis, to dissolve the Sztójay government or at least remove Eichmann’s Hungarian stooges from office, and to put a stop to the deportation of Jews from Budapest. Relieved by the regrouping of German forces to the theatres of war, and bowing to internal and external pressure, Horthy sacked László Baky and László Endre on 6 July and threatening with military force, put a halt to the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. Yet it was also clear that the danger had not passed. The death factory at Auschwitz was running at full “capacity”, and the Nazis had no intention of letting their victims go.

Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on 9 July as the newly named Secretary of the Swedish Embassy, with the support of the Swedish and American governments. Wallenberg came with the express purpose of protecting the Jews from extermination, a mission for which he had volunteered. In Budapest, he was welcomed by the Swedish Ambassador and by Per Johan Valentin Anger, the Embassy’s Deputy Secretary, who was the same age as Wallenberg and had lived in Hungary since November 1942. Anger had been active in rescuing Jews since the German occupation on 19 March 1944. The idea then arose that Sweden should issue passports, valid for the duration of the war, enabling entry into Sweden for persecuted Jews. Though the validity of these documents was technically questionable, Hungarian authorities were willing to treat their holders as Swedish citizens. Sweden enjoyed great prestige in Hungary; the good relations with Stockholm were vital for the Hungarian government, because neutral Sweden represented Hungary’s interests in all the countries which were its wartime enemies.

As early as 10 July, he met with Dr Géza Soós, a Foreign Ministry counsellor, who headed a civilian resistance group with pro-US sympathies. The list of contacts that Vilmos Böhm, a Social Democrat politician in exile, had provided in Sweden included 44 Social Democrat politicians as well as Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, a Hungarian politician who had been active in the anti-Nazi movement. But since these leaders either were arrested by the Gestapo immediately after the German occupation or went into hiding, Wallenberg could not meet with them right away. By August and September, however, he was able to make contact with Social Democrats, members of the Smallholders Party, anti-German army officers, and members of the resistance movement.

When Wallenberg undertook to have colourful Swedish “protection passes” (Schutzpass) printed and distributed in large numbers, he was essentially continuing and expanding the efforts of his predecessors, the protection pass being a newer variant of the temporary “Swedish passport”. The protection pass requested the Hungarian authorities to “take into favourable consideration the circumstance that the Holder of the Pass is authorized to enter Sweden as soon as travel is possible”. The establishment of the institution of “protected houses” in Budapest was Wallenberg’s own initiative, made possible by enormous sums provided by American Jews, presumably after conferring with leaders of the WRB. Relying on his diplomatic protection, Wallenberg organized and conducted large-scale rescue activities from the time he arrived in Hungary, and after the 15 October coup of the Arrow-Cross, which sent Horthy and his family into prison in Germany, he continued his mission under the harsher conditions until the liberation of Budapest by the Soviet Army.

Earlier, when Romania pulled out of the war and Regent Horthy dismissed the Sztójay government and appointed loyal Géza Lakatos as Prime Minister on 29 August, the situation of the Jews of Budapest eased temporarily – it appeared that they were no longer under immediate life-threatening danger. At this time, Wallenberg established an office for the distribution of protection passes, organized humanitarian and social assistance centres, established children’s homes, purchased and stocked food, medicine and bandages. In addition, he established an emergency hospital, kitchens and a transportation service, all staffed by a large number of mostly Jewish workers who enjoyed a special level of protection. In early September, after the Lakatos government was formed, Wallenberg travelled to Sweden, and on 12 September reported to officials of the WBR and the Swedish Foreign Ministry. According to the minutes of this meeting, Wallenberg stated: “They have definitely halted the deportations, and our work with respect to the passports is almost finished.” But in early October, news of the impending anti-Horthy coup arrived from Hungary, and though Wallenberg had the option to remain in Sweden, in safety, he returned to Budapest. On 10 January 1945, when he met Per Anger for the last time, he said to him: “I have no other choice. I accepted this assignment, and I could never return to Stockholm if I had not done everything in my power to rescue as many Jews as possible.”3

Wallenberg cooperated with other embassies and international organizations, such as the International Red Cross, whose Budapest representative Friedrich Born had been intervening on behalf of the Jews since May 1944. After 15 October 1944, when the war front reached Hungarian territory and the machinery of genocide again went into high gear, Wallenberg joined forces with Swiss Vice Consul Carl Lutz and the Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio Angelo Rotta to exert political pressure on the Arrow Cross leaders.

“Leader of the Nation” Ferenc Szálasi, who took over power in Hungary with German support after Horthy’s failed attempt to pull out of the war on 14 October, issued a proclamation in response to the Jewish rescue activities of the neutral countries. His first concern was to declare that the protection passes issued to the Jews by the Swedes and other neutral countries were invalid. “I do not recognize any kind of protection pass or foreign passport that a Jew of Hungarian citizenship has received from anyone or anywhere. The Jews who at this moment are living in Hungary are under the control and direction of the Hungarian state, and on this issue, no domestic or foreign authority has the right to interfere. No person of Jewish race should believe that he will be able to rely on the help of foreigners to evade the legal regulations of the Hungarian state!” In the following days, the Arrow-Cross leaders decreed additional, meticulously detailed anti-Jewish regulations. They ordered the Jews to report to the KISOK football stadium for the purpose of “work detail in Germany”, and the deportations began anew from Budapest’s Józsefváros railway station. To organize the deportations, Adolf Eichmann, whom Himmler had sent to Romania at the end of August to oversee the forced resettlement of the local German Saxon communities, arrived in Budapest on 17 October and demanded that Szálasi have 50,000 Jewish men in working condition rounded up for “fortifi cation work”. The “Leader of the Nation” acquiesced, and the first death marches toward the West began on 6 November. Budapest’s ghetto was established on the Pest side of the city, in which approximately 70,000 persons, mainly women, children, and the elderly, were crammed together under horrifying conditions.

In the last months of 1944, Wallenberg found a way to rise to the challenge under these circumstances: with astonishing courage, he stood up to members of the Szálasi government, including Foreign Minister Gábor Kemény and Interior Minister Gábor Vajna (both of whom were later executed). He personally went after those Jews who had been seized by the Arrow-Cross despite holding Swedish protection passes. At the Józsefváros station, he pulled several hundred people from the wagons, and provided them with protection passes. In his own car, he took off after the death march on its way toward Vienna, bringing food and medicine to the weakened Jewish captives, and tried to have them returned to Budapest. Regarding this action, Wallenberg wrote the following in his 8 December report to Stockholm: “Thanks to various interventions during the roundup and deportations, we were able to bring about 2,000 people back – among these, 500 from Hegyeshalom [at the Hungarian-Austrian border]. But we have had to put a stop to this kind of rescue action, because the members of the Eichmann commando threatened to use violence against us.”4Apparently, Eichmann himself declared: “I’m going to shoot Wallenberg – that dog of the Jews.”

Wallenberg’s activities served as an example for other diplomats involved in rescuing the Jews. But these actions were, in scale, not comparable to those of Wallenberg, whose efforts were backed by significant resources, as well as by intelligence and logistics support. He and his co-workers rented a number of apartment buildings and placed them under the protection of the Swedish and the International Red Cross. These apartments, rented by Wallenberg and the Swedish Embassy in the Újlipótváros district of Budapest, were designated the “international ghetto” in November 1944. When the Soviet army surrounded the city, the streets became the scene of unfettered Arrow-Cross violence, which did not spare even the residents of the Swedish houses and Jews holding protection papers. Yet Wallenberg’s documents, which were also falsifi ed in large numbers, did provide a level of protection against the Arrow-Cross up to the very end. The thugs captured Jews in hiding, took them off to nearby Arrow-Cross Party buildings, and then tortured and executed them.

For the Jews lodged in the “protected” houses, Wallenberg’s team ensured food supply and health care. Wallenberg used his contacts in the military resistance to try to protect these residents against the Arrow-Cross reign of terror.5

Wallenberg most certainly played a role in rescuing the inhabitants of the Budapest ghetto. The Arrow-Cross and some remaining members of the “Jewish Commando” were preparing to massacre all of the inmates – approximately 70,000 people – crowded into the ghetto. (Eichmann himself had returned to Germany in mid-December, before the Soviet troops had surrounded the city.) The planned massacre was foiled by General Gerhard Schmidhuber, the commander of German troops in Budapest. Pál Szalai, a high-ranking Arrow Cross leader who had “defected” from the party in order to aid the Jews, paid a visit to Schmidhuber at Christmas 1944. Szalai convinced Schmidhuber, citing Wallenberg (who had probably sent Szalai), that the Wehrmacht could not besmirch its reputation by carrying out such a massacre. Thus, the ghetto of Budapest was the only one in Europe to remain intact until liberating Soviet troops arrived on 17 January 1945.

According to his diary, Wallenberg was in contact with two important members of the military resistance. One was László Ocskay, a re-commissioned reserve captain, who at the request of his Jewish friends took command of the Auxiliary Work Militia No. 101/359, charged with collection of clothing. Their headquarters was the building of the former Jewish High School on Abonyi Street, where Ocskay was able to save the lives of approximately 2,500 persons. The other key person in the military resistance was Staff Captain Zoltán Mikó, who sent Hungarian gendarmes to Wallenberg to help secure transports of food and medical supplies. Beginning in November, at Mikó’s request, Gendarmerie Captain Dr István Parádi assisted Wallenberg’s efforts with a small gendarmerie unit, whose members repeatedly and successfully fended off violent attacks by the Arrow-Cross. They were also in charge of providing security for the international ghetto, designated in mid-November, where the Jews who held protection passes issued by neutral countries were living. In this neighbourhood of Pozsonyi Street, the gendarmes stepped up against the bloodthirsty Arrow-Cross people and were able to save many lives. Among the armed protectors (who were usually paid) in this humanitarian action, we know the names of Gendarmerie Sergeants Bognár and Dömötör. Captain Parádi was also in contact with the resistance group headed by Lieutenant Lajos Gidófalvy. Under the auspices of the Auxiliary Special Forces, they provided protection to Jewish orphanages and asylums, among other institutions. They also provided personal security to Wallenberg as he undertook his ever-riskier automobile trips, at a time when the Arrow-Cross were openly trying to hunt him down. (In fact, the Arrow-Cross attacked the Swedish Embassy building on Gyopár Street.)

Zoltán Mikó, whom the Soviet authorities arrested after the occupation of Budapest and then executed in Odessa in August 1945, was in contact with one or more Polish diplomats hiding in Budapest. One of these contacts was Adam Meissner, the representative of the Finance Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and the leader of the Polish Red Cross in Hungary. At his request, Wallenberg had certain documents placed in the vault of the Hungarian National Bank, including documents originating from underground Polish organizations. Vilmos Bondor, a member of the Hungarian military resistance who was arrested by the Russians together with Mikó, says in his memoirs6(written after his release from prison in 1955, and not published until after 1989) that the documents Wallenberg placed in the vault included offi cial autopsy

reports related to the massacres at Katyn in May 1940. The Soviet authorities who committed these murders on Stalin’s direct orders consistently denied these acts, just as they consistently denied having kidnapped and murdered Wallenberg. According to Bondor, the Soviet secret police had Wallenberg and Mikó “disappear” because they had knowledge of the Katyn events, proof of which had passed through their hands.

We must keep in mind that Wallenberg maintained extensive contacts with the aristocracy and large landowners of Hungary – this aspect must be considered if we wish to understand why the Soviets kidnapped and murdered him. It should be noted that on 17 August 1943, when Italy pulled out of the war, the following political leaders held discussions with Miklós Horthy about the possibility for Hungary to switch to the Allied side: Count István Bethlen, Count Móric Esterházy (who would have been the Prime Minister of the anti-German government), Count Gyula Károlyi and others. In 1944, a good number of Hungarian aristocrats played an active role in the resistance movement and maintained contact with the political parties that had gone underground, primarily the legitimists and the Smallholders. To the extent that we can conclude from his intermittent – and no doubt intentionally cautious – notes, the Swedish diplomat sought to contact the political leaders of Hungary’s resistance.

At the end of December 1944, when the Arrow-Cross were trying to arrest him, Wallenberg hid for some time in the house of Gyula Dessewffy (publisher of the Kis Újság newspaper from 1945–1947, active Smallholder politician, who later emigrated to Brazil). Wallenberg’s contacts with the aristocracy were also helpful for his efforts in rescuing the Jews: these highly respected gentlemen had excellent political connections, provided housing and vehicles, and secured provisions from their lands when needed. During this time, Jonny Moser, a young Austrian Jew, was settled in Budapest and provided courier services for Wallenberg’s team.7Very recently, in January 2012, a discharged Russian archivist named Anatoly Prokopenko gave an interview to the AP news agency,8saying that in 1991 he saw a thick file of Count Mikhail Tolstoy-Kutuzov’s reports. This aristocrat left Russia after the 1917 Revolution and became a Soviet agent. During the Second World War, he worked together with Wallenberg in Budapest. Tolstoy-Kutuzov referred to Wallenberg in several instances. Prokopenko conjectures that Stalin’s secret police assumed that Raoul Wallenberg was involved in the secret contacts between the Western Allies and the Nazis, and was eager to learn more about them. According to the former archivist, KGB officers told him in private conversation that Wallenberg had been murdered because he had refused to cooperate with the Soviet secret police, and he thus became a burden to them. “They couldn’t let him go free, so they had to liquidate him”, declared Anatoly Prokopenko.

In this interpretation, the Swedish diplomat was under surveillance by Soviet intelligence from the moment he arrived in Budapest, because his large-scale Jewish rescue actions – which had no parallel elsewhere in occupied Europe – were suspicious. Soviet agents may have also learned that Wallenberg’s Hungarian mission was backed by the US WRB and the OSS. They probably assumed that a separate agreement had been concluded behind the scenes between the Western Allies and Hitler or other influential Nazi leaders. This is why the Soviets had Wallenberg brought to Moscow. In this, Wallenberg’s fate was not unique. The Swiss Embassy secretary Harald Feller, who helped rescue the Jews of Budapest, was seized by Soviet authorities on 12 February 1945, and “interned” in Moscow together with Max Meier, the office director of the Swiss Embassy. At the demands of the Swiss government, the two captives were transported to Berlin in January 1946 and turned over to the Swiss mission. In exchange for the two diplomats, Switzerland handed over deserters, who had escaped to Switzerland, to Soviet authorities.

One might claim that if, between 1945 and 1947, the Swedish government had negotiated more adeptly with Moscow over Wallenberg’s situation, and had agreed to a similar “prisoner exchange”, it might have saved Wallenberg’s life. But this is unlikely, given the fact that the legendary Swedish rescuer of the Jews was far better known than the two Swiss diplomats. Thanks to American support, Wallenberg carried out his activities on a much larger scale. By setting him free, the Soviets would have acknowledged that they had arrested the rescuer of tens of thousands of Jews. Admitting this would have amounted to almost as great a loss in prestige as admitting the mass murders of Katyn. Wallenberg’s case was not the first in which the Soviets sought to hide one crime by committing another. Wallenberg waged a heroic, superhuman fight to save the victims of a totalitarian regime, and he himself became the victim of another, similar kind of regime. During his six-month stay in Budapest, he saved the lives of several tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews, giving strong momentum to the rescue efforts as a whole. He became a legend, and decades after his disappearance, the international public continued to wonder about his fate. For as long as it remained in power, the Soviet regime could not wash away the crime of his kidnapping and murder.

Translation by Katica Avvakumovits


1 Lévai, Jenő: Raoul Wallenberg regényes élete, hôsi küzdelmei, rejtélyes eltûnésének titka (Raoul Wallenberg’s adventurous life, heroic struggles and the secret of his mysterious disappearance). Budapest, Magyar Téka, 1948.

2 The history of the journey of this unique document is detailed in: Haraszti, György: Auschwitzi Jegyzôkönyv (The Auschwitz Memorandum). Budapest, Múlt és Jövô, 2005.

3 This famous remark by Wallenberg was the motto for the Swedish Memorial Exhibition at the Hungarian National Museum. The exhibition was organized by historians Stina Hansfelt and Bengt Janfeldt.

4 Ember, Mária: Wallenberg Budapesten (Wallenberg in Budapest), in A város arcai (Faces of the City). Budapest, Városháza, 2000. p. 105.

5 See the manuscript (awaiting publication) of Szabolcs Szita, describing Wallenberg’s rescue actions
after 15 October 1944, which the author was kind enough to provide.

6 Bondor, Vilmos. A Mikó-rejtély: Mikó Zoltán és Raoul Wallenberg kapcsolata a magyar ellenállásban (The Mikó Mystery:The connection between Zoltán Mikó and Raoul Wallenberg in the Hungarian Resistance, 1944–1945). Budapest, Püski Kiadó, 1995.

7 Moser, Jonny. Wallenbergs Laufbursche. Jugenderinnerungen 1938–1945 (Wallenberg’s Messenger Boys. Memories of Youth, 1938–1945). Vienna, Picus Verlag, 2006.

8 “Megfigyeltethette Wallenberget a KGB” (KGB May Have Put Wallenberg Under Surveillance), Index/MTI (Report of the MTI, the Hungarian Telegraph Agency, on the internet news portal Index). 27 January 2012, Friday, 15:07.

Most recent

Newsletter signup

Like it ? Share it !

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pocket
Share on email