WASHINGTON — Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who helped save thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II then was captured by the Red Army, lived at least six days longer than the Russian government had previously claimed, an international research team said Thursday.
Wallenberg’s disappearance at the end of the war has never been explained, and his last days have become one of the war’s great mysteries. The Soviet and Russian governments have given different versions of Wallenberg’s death over the past 65 years.
From 1945 until 1956, the Soviet government maintained that Wallenberg was never on its territory. Later, it said the Swedish diplomat died of heart attack while in Soviet custody. In 2001, the Russian government said Wallenberg was most probably executed – but it didn’t provide any documentation.
Researchers from the Swedish-Russian Working Group on Wallenberg said documents provided by the Russian FSB, the successor to the Soviet KGB, reveal that “Prisoner No. 7” underwent a lengthy interrogation six days after what the Soviets long claimed was the date of Wallenberg’s death.
Former Soviet interrogators had previously told the research team that Wallenberg was known as Prisoner No. 7, and the new information marked a shift from earlier claims of Wallenberg’s death on July 17, 1947, said Susanne Berger, an American researcher who worked as an independent consultant to the group.
“If Wallenberg lived beyond that date, all questions about his further fate in Soviet captivity remain open,” Berger said, “because the official Soviet era claim of his death . . . would be rendered obsolete.”
Wallenberg is thought to have become Prisoner No. 7 after he arrived from Budapest at the Lubyanka prison in Moscow on Feb. 6, 1945, the researchers said.
The FSB statement left open several questions about Wallenberg’s fate. “Was the Prisoner No. 7 sentenced and transferred to another prison as a numbered prisoner?” Berger asked. “Did he remain in Lubyanka, a numbered prisoner under investigation? Or was he killed?”
According to the FSB statement, Prisoner No. 7 was interrogated for 16 hours by the head of Soviet counterintelligence, on July 23, 1947.
Also questioned along with Prisoner 7: Wallenberg’s driver in Budapest and his presumed cellmate, the FSB told the researchers. A few hours earlier, the officials interrogated a Wallenberg’s cellmate.
Sweden’s ambassador to Moscow, Tomas Bertelman, wrote Yuri Trambitsky, head of FSB’s Central Archive, asking for a clarification of the information, the researchers said.
The U.S. War Refugee Board recruited Wallenberg in 1944 to travel to Hungary and use his status as a diplomat of Sweden, which was neutral in the war, to help save Hungarian Jews. He is credited with saving at least 20,000 Jews by giving them Swedish identification papers and with preventing another 50,000 from being taken to concentration camps.
Marvin Makinen, a former prisoner in Moscow during the Cold War and a consultant to the research team, was encouraged by the new information.
“We have been asking for this one document for 19 years,” said Makinen, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at the University of Chicago.
“It is perhaps the most sensational piece of information of Wallenberg from Russia in 56 years,” he said. “We wait to see how the Russians are going to respond to this.”