The Unfinished Business of Russia and Raoul Wallenberg
In 1990, Russian President Boris Yeltsyn did something quite unusual for the Soviet and post-Soviet ruler: he admitted the guilt of the Soviet regime in the massacre of the Polish officers in Katyn by the Soviets in 1941. Yeltsyn was courageous enough to hand to the Polish side highly classified documents from the Presidential Archive, the body specifically designated to keep the most sensitive documents in Soviet history safely locked up.
If there is something that Russian authorities are still keeping hidden on the Raoul Wallenberg case, the file, most likely, is at that very place. There is no coincidence in the fact that when in 2000 the Russian authorities were trying to prove to their Swedish counterparts the absence of further documentation on Raoul Wallenberg in all Russian archives, they omitted only one, the Presidential Archive, in their official protocol on the matter.
In August 2016, international media widely re-printed basically one story about the diaries of Ivan Serov published in Russia in May 2016. General Serov was the notorious head of the KGB and the GRU in 1950s and early 1960s. The international media choir repeated in unison the Russian official promotion line calling the publication of the volume “the discovery that would end the mystery of Raoul Wallenberg in Russia.” It is a hasty and naive reaction, playing perfectly into the Russian authorities’ hand.
One needs to understand the role and place of general Serov in the Soviet totalitarian machinery to appreciate the recent move of the Russian side to promote his diaries with such vigor. Ivan Serov was the one of the most cruel and most efficient leaders of the NKVD, KGB and GRU. During twenty four years of his active career, from February 1939 until March 1963, he occupied the most crucial positions in the Soviet punitive apparatus, being the highest official in charge, organizing the criminal extermination in 1941 of the thousands of Polish officers who were forcibly moved by the Soviets to Ukraine for the purpose of their brutal extermination, and was the top Soviet specialist on deportations. He eagerly took personal participation in the politically motivated ethnic cleansings in Poland before WWII and inside Soviet territory during the war.
He was the highest NKVD representative in the Soviet sector of Germany after the end of the war, and was in charge of a little-reported massive operation conducted by the USSR in all countries in the Soviet sphere of influence with total arrest of all ethnic German males from 16 to 60-years old, sending them to the Soviet Union as prisoners and forced laborers, and of hundreds of thousands of men who were not German citizens. He also played a very visible, if not central, role in the harsh suppression of the Hungary Uprising in 1956.
Serov was the first chairman of the KGB after Stalin’s death and Beria’s arrest, and then the head of the GRU, very able Soviet military intelligence, under Khrushchev.
If not for the case of Colonel Penkovsky, the Western super-agent in the heart of the Soviet military intelligence, his boss Ivan Serov would have been ruling the Soviet intelligent apparatus for long years to come.
And it is such a figure who is praised highly in Russia today, with a special exhibition devoted to his life and the pompous presentation of his diaries by the state officials, both organized in a series of highly-profiled events in Moscow in May 2016.
The project’s patron is the Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, who is known as a keen amateur military historian and a proud admirer of Stalin.
The book was actually written by Alexander Khinsthein, the Russian MP with close ties to the state security services.
The story aired upon the discovery of General Serov’s diaries is as ridiculous as it gets: the public is told that Serov’s granddaughter absolutely accidentally found the treasure hidden in the wall of her grandpa’s garage when she decided to renovate the place that she inherited in 2012. The supposedly genuine suitcases and type-writers are proudly exhibited as well.
In Russia, those efforts were met with a good pinch of scepticism. “Ridiculous, and so hapless” was the verdict of the intelligence expert community in Russia on the amateurish efforts to get on with the Serov diaries. In the 704-page book, there is hardly anything new stated. But there is one story in it, promoted as “sensational,” that did catch the eye of Western media, the story of Raoul Wallenberg.
The information on Raoul Wallenberg’s murder by poison in the murky Lab Number 12 of the NKVD appeared for the first time in the memoirs by General Sudoplatov in co-authorship with highly reputed American historians Leona and Jerrold Schecter in 1994. In his recollection, the most important Soviet spy-master did not elaborate on the reasoning behind the Wallenberg murder.
That reasoning has been thoroughly analyzed in quite authoritative book by Lev Bezymensky, The Budapest Mission: Raoul Wallenberg, in 2001. Lev Bezymensky knew what he was talking about. He was a well-known expert on German history who was close to the top Soviet military and security authorities during his entire career.
There is one interesting detail with regard to the timing of the book’s publishing now, though. The first presentation of the book, for the members of the Russian Military-Historical Society, was organized a week before, and the exhibition with a public launching of it took a place a week after a serious international event, The Art of Impossible, The International Raoul Wallenberg Conference and Roundtable organized in May 2016 in Budapest. The conference was the result of efforts by the Raoul Wallenberg Initiative ( RW-70) and the Wallenberg family.
The next stage of this international initiative is planned, as was announced, as the visit of the selected Raoul Wallenberg Initiative committee to discuss the progress that can be made with the Russian authorities in Moscow in October 2016.
Additionally, the Wallenberg family, tired and exhausted after years of fruitless inquiry, has decided to ask the Swedish authorities to declare Raoul dead, and this act of closure from their side is expected to happen in the autumn of this year.
Despite all the fanfares of “Operation Suitcase,” it did not raise any interest by the Western media – initially. After two and a half months, in early August 2016 the article on the topic finally appeared in The New York Times. The article had been written by Neil MacFarquhar, the New York Times‘ bureau chief in Moscow from 2014. MacFarquhar, who has spent the most of his life in the Middle East, is known as a versatile expert on the Middle East, but he had been unknown for his works on the history of the Second World War, Raoul Wallenberg or Russia, for that matter, until just a two years ago. Two Russian journalists contributed to the NYT story, very helpfully.
In a classic scenario, the publication in the NYT mushroomed in no time: the Daily Telegraph, Le Point, Focus, Politiken, Svenska Dagbladet, Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish, Argentine and Israeli newspapers all practically re-printed the initial story in the first couple of days.
After years of looking into the matter and talking with many key people and experts, I do believe that Raoul Wallenberg who, deservedly, was called the Conscience of Sweden, and was posthumously made an honorary citizen of the US, Canada, Israel, Hungary and Australia, had been unlawfully kidnapped, arrested and detained as an anonymous prisoner in the USSR on the direct and personal order of Stalin.
I also am of the opinion that Stalin had a very clear plan to keep Wallenberg until the Nuremberg Trials, as a possible counter-witness for the Soviets, in case they were not successful at convincing the American administration not to include in the trial’s agenda items such as their secret protocols with Hitler and the Katyn Massacre, which would put them in an impossible position.
As they succeeded in that, poor Wallenberg became easily expendable “collateral damage” in their eyes. The position of the Swedish authorities on the matter has been unimaginably weak and servile, helping the Soviets succeed. The Soviets had a very well-grounded impression that nobody cared and would make a scandal over Raoul. There was no problem for Stalin to order his “liquidation,” their casual term for murdering people, most likely, at some stage in 1947.
Official Russia’s intention is clear: it is hopeful that with the useful international pick-up of Serov’s statements in his diaries, all those tiring inquires on Raoul Wallenberg’s destiny will be closed now. It is quite obvious that Medinsky and MP Khinshtein are not the main players there. Willingly and loyally, they are serving their master who, being a pragmatic enough person, realized that the Russian Federation just cannot sit on the still open question of Raoul Wallenberg’s destiny indefinitely.
In a further unfolding of this easily readable scenario, some weird appeals to the current Russian leader started to appear in public from sources, who for some reason, ignore the wishes of Raoul Wallenberg’s family. Those people have decided to beg the Russian president, literally, to “let them to bury Raoul” – when everyone knows perfectly well that the murdered Wallenberg was cremated instantly and that even his ashes do not exist.
The people who issued it are either being utterly naive, or because of the other reasons, wrote the following: “We are certainly not seeking an investigation into the circumstances of Wallenberg and Langfelder’s detention and disappearance. These events occurred long ago amidst a particular historical context, in the wake of humanity´s bloodiest war. Our sole aim is to bring closure to a human tragedy.” (Open Letter to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, August 9, 2016.)
This is exactly the tone and the message that the Kremlin today would like to hear on the Wallenberg case, and this is exactly the aim of all their elaborate recent activities.
But the Russian authorities are wrong in their intention to close the matter in this currently promoted indirect and convenient — for them — way. The crime committed against Raoul Wallenberg was so hideous, and the handling of the matter by all consequent Soviet and Russian regimes so unpardonable that the Russian state does have an obligation before the Wallenberg family and the Kingdom of Sweden.
The Russian Federation has to admit officially the crime committed by the Soviet authorities against the Swedish diplomat and hero who saved tens of thousands of people from the Holocaust.
They also have to apologize for unlawful detention, kidnapping, imprisonment and premeditated murder of Raoul Wallenberg, an innocent Swedish citizen.
They have to compensate for this hideous crime in full measure. Wallenberg’s immediate family members have spent a fortune over the past seven decades in a desperate and fruitless search. They are entitled to full compensation.
It would be logical to expect from the Russian state their official apology for 72 years of consistent, cruel, inhuman lies with regard to Raoul Wallenberg and his destiny. But I am not as naive, as some of my colleagues in the Western media who swallow “Operation Suitcase’’ hook, line and sinker without a second thought.
We are getting the message from Moscow, naturally. It is too clear not to. We know that Raoul Wallenberg, most likely, is dead for 69 years by now. But it will be yet another betrayal of that outstanding man, that champion of humanity whose shining soul still warms millions, to give his memory up, and to do it in the way prescribed for us by the Kremlin.
According to the UN convention on Human Rights, crimes against humanity have no statute of limitations. The murder of Raoul Wallenberg by the Soviet state is certainly such a crime. In this case, justice can and should be applied. It is applicable via a triple action to be conducted by the Russian authorities: admission, apology and compensation. Until all these three elements are implemented, the connection between Russia and Raoul Wallenberg will still be the same as it was during past seventy two years — unfinished business.