Head of Raoul Wallenberg Center: Official Declaration of Disappeared Swedish Diplomat’s Death Must Not Obscure Real Fate of Holocaust Hero
The announcement that Sweden’s tax authority has formally pronounced Raoul Wallenberg dead “should not obscure the main issue that his family has been pursuing for the last 70 years — mainly the fate of this disappeared hero of the Holocaust,” former Canadian Justice Minister and recently retired Liberal MP Irwin Cotler told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
Cotler, who founded and now heads the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights — a Canada-based international consortium of parliamentarians, scholars, jurists, NGOs and students “united in the pursuit of justice and inspired by, and anchored in, Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy: One person with the compassion to care, and the courage to act, can confront evil, prevail and transform history” — warned against considering the case closed.
Though the Swedish declaration — deeming that Wallenberg died on July 31, 1952, ostensibly five years after he went missing — may help the family achieve some kind of closure, said Cotler, “It does not solve the real mystery behind his disappearance, which can only be achieved through unhindered access to Russian archives.”
Cotler went on to bemoan a New York Times story in August on the newly published diaries of former KGB head Ivan Serov, in which the Soviet security chief claimed he had “no doubt that Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947” in a Moscow prison.
“The piece made it sound as though a new revelation was being heralded and that the episode could now be put to rest,” Cotler said. “But the article actually obscured much more than it revealed, because Serov’s position has been maintained by Soviet and Russian authorities for over 25 years, itself contradicting an earlier Soviet version that Wallenberg had died of a heart attack.”
Simply put, Cotler said, “The mystery — and compellability — of Wallenberg’s fate remains unresolved and, indeed, unaddressed by Russian authorities.”
Cotler recounted that in 1989, Soviet dissident and human-right activist Andre Sackharov told him that not only was there cause to believe that Wallenberg did not die in 1947, as the Soviets were claiming, but that Wallenberg might even still be alive [in 1989].
That same year, Cotler said that he and a group of other truth-seekers formed an international commission to determine the whereabouts of Wallenberg. Members of the commission were Wallenberg’s half-brother, Guy von Dardel, and representatives of the countries of Wallenberg’s honorary citizenships: Cotler from Canada; renowned Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel from the US; Adolf Eichmann prosecutor Gideon Hausner from Israel; and Soviet researcher Mikhail Chlenov from Russia.
“The commission report determined that the evidence was ‘incontrovertible’ that Raoul Wallenberg did not die in 1947; ‘compelling’ that he was alive in the 1950s and ‘60s; and even ‘credible’ that he was alive beyond that,” Cotler said. “Our report also referenced a US court decision in 1985, in the case of ‘von Dardel vs. the USSR,’ which reached the same conclusion.”
“Regrettably, truth and justice have yet to be served,” Cotler said. “And, tragically, the person who saved so many was not saved by so many who could have done so, but did not.”
Raoul Wallenberg, 35 at the time of his disappearance while serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944, rescued tens of thousands of Jews by issuing them protective passports and providing refuge in buildings designated as Swedish territory.
During the Red Army’s siege of Budapest in January 1945, near the end of WWII, Wallenberg was detained by Russian intelligence on suspicion of espionage. His whereabouts since then have been the mystery that his family and human-rights champions have been trying to solve.
In his absence, Wallenberg has been honored around the world for his humanitarianism. Aside from receiving honorary citizenship from a number of countries, including Israel, the Jewish state also awarded him the status of Righteous Among the Nations.