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Unknown Swedish prisoner may provide clues to Wallenberg mystery
The Moscow prison where Wallenberg is believed to have spent his last years.

Unknown Swedish prisoner may provide clues to Wallenberg mystery

Published: 15 Mar 2012 17:01 GMT+01:00
Updated: 15 Mar 2012 17:01 GMT+01:00

In 1957 a former German prisoner of war by the name of Ludwig Hunoldt provided intriguing information about a Swedish citizen he had encountered in the Soviet captivity.

According to Hunoldt, this meeting took place under rather grim circumstances in 1950, in Vladimir prison, the Soviet Union's most forbidding isolation facility, located some 150 kilometres northeast of Moscow.

In a formal interview with former Swedish diplomat and foreign ministry cabinet secretary Leif Leifland, conducted in Bonn, Germany on July 15th, 1957, Hunoldt explained that he had been arrested by Soviet troops in January 1945.

After an odyssey through various Soviet prisons, he arrived in December 1948 in Vladimir. Leifland's protocol outlines the story from there:

In January 1950, after suffering an epileptic seizure, Hunoldt had been taken to cell 57 of Vladimir's hospital section. After some time, another prisoner was brought in who had just undergone surgery on his gall bladder.

This prisoner, who remained in cell 57 for five days, told Hunoldt that his name was "Eriksson" and that he was a Swedish citizen, married and that he had earlier resided in Uppsala.

He had been arrested in the autumn of 1944 in Sofia, Bucharest or Budapest - Hunoldt could no longer recall "Eriksson's" precise statement about this - together with two other Swedes who were apparently also being held in Vladimir.

He did recall that "Eriksson" had said that he and the other two Swedes had worked on behalf of a Red Cross organisation to handle the transfer of the German diplomatic representations in the Balkans ("mit der Abwicklund der deutschen Gesandschaften betreut").

In this connection, they had been arrested by Soviet organs and had been taken to Lubyanka and later to Vladimir, after having been sentenced to 25 years for espionage."

Hunoldt reported further:

"’Eriksson’ expressed his amazement and bitterness over the fact that Soviet authorities should keep him - a citizen of a neutral country and a representative of the Red Cross - detained year after year.”

As far as Hunoldt could recall, “Eriksson” had not mentioned the names of the other two Swedes who supposedly had been arrested with him.

According to Leifland, Hunoldt described "Eriksson" as about 52-years-old, with "light blue eyes, an oval face, short shaved hair and broad shoulders."

He spoke German fluently and it appears that his mother was German. It is possible that he was a German citizen who was married to a Swede, but that - in spite of his statement to Hunoldt – he did not possess Swedish citizenship himself.

"Eriksson" is quite clearly not identical with Raoul Wallenberg or any other Swede known to have spent time in Soviet captivity after 1945.

"Eriksson's" case profile, however -- a Swede arrested in Eastern Europe while working in an official capacity for the Red Cross or similar aid organisation -- could have easily led to confusion with Raoul Wallenberg.

Hunoldt told Leifland that "Eriksson's" physical condition was very poor and that he was removed from his cell after a few days. It is not clear if Hunoldt's recalled "Eriksson's" last name correctly.

Another witness described meeting a man some years later in a Russian prison camp whose personal story and physical description appears strikingly similar to the man Hunoldt encountered in "Vladimir".

The witness gave that man's last name as "Johansson", with his wife residing in either Uppsala or Lund.

In his personal comments about the witness statement, Leifland stressed that Ludwig Hunoldt made a very reliable impression.

Swedish officials had not learned of Hunoldt's experience directly, but through a fellow prisoner named Hans Schmidt who had been interviewed by Swedish authorities in connection with his stay in Vladimir prison.

Schmidt told investigators that Ludwig Hunoldt had told him already during their time together in Vladimir prison about his meeting with "Eriksson".

In 2001, two independent experts to the Swedish-Russian Working Group which formally investigated Raoul Wallenberg's fate in Russia, Dr. Makinen and Ari Kaplan, conducted a thorough database analysis of foreign prisoners held in Vladimir for the years 1945-1973.

They confirmed Hunoldt’s stay in Vladimir prison in 1950 and they further confirmed that on several occasion he had been held alone in a cell.

No prisoner card with the name "Eriksson" was found in the central prison registry.

If Hunoldt's account is true, this would suggest that the card for "Eriksson" is missing or that it was intentionally removed.

Such removal of cards has been confirmed for several other prisoners known to have been imprisoned in "Vladimir".

Requests to Russian authorities to provide information about "Eriksson" and his colleagues have yielded no results. The Swedish foreign ministry has also been unable to identify the men.

It has been confirmed that in the autumn of 1944, Swedish diplomatic representatives in Bulgaria and Romania oversaw the planned departure of German diplomatic personnel from these two countries to destinations such as Turkey.

The International Red Cross and other aid organizations monitored and assisted the transfer.

Most of the German and Italian diplomats under Swedish protection at the time were nevertheless arrested by Soviet forces before reaching Turkish territory and they were taken to Moscow where they spent years in imprisonment.

Therefore, "Eriksson's" claim that he was detained in connection with such transfers appears credible.

If he lived as an expatriate German or Swedish resident in Eastern Europe, his disappearance would possibly not have attracted much attention in his home country (Sweden or Germany).

Inquiries to the Red Cross have also not provided any conclusive information. However, it is not clear from Hunoldt's statement if "Eriksson" indeed was employed by a "Red Cross organisation".

Proper identification of "Eriksson" and his colleagues would be of great help to researchers studying the fate of Swedish citizens in Soviet captivity after 1945.

Susanne Berger

Susanne Berger is a US-based German historian heavily involved in research into the life of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who helped prevent the arrests of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War.

Your comments about this article

18:01 March 15, 2012 by RobinHood
As "Eriksson" didn't look like Wallenberg, didn't call himself Wallenberg, and didn't claim to have any information about Wallenberg, I'm struggling to see how any part of this story relates to Wallenberg.
19:46 March 15, 2012 by OUIJA
Me too, me too.
09:22 March 16, 2012 by karex
Perhaps it could relate in the sense that this "Eriksson" may have seen or otherwise had some knowledge about the whereabouts of Wallenberg.
11:43 March 16, 2012 by sberger
Thanks for your interest -- we are trying to identify this prisoner, as you can see from the last sentence of the article. If we knew who he was, we could follow up his case in some detail. This would provide researchers with a lof of helpful information in the search for both Raoul Wallenberg and other still unidentified Swedish prisoners in Soviet captivity.
11:48 March 16, 2012 by gabeltoon
I'm eager to know more about this story.I do hope the LOCAL will follow up on this report.
13:32 March 16, 2012 by guliver
I think the governments must do better efforts to clear what happened to Raul Wallenberg,

I think that it is time the both government of Israel and Sweden will put pressure on Russia to bring this tragic affair to end.
18:22 March 17, 2012 by motti
I agree with gulliver. Israel, has attem[pted to apply pressure on the former USSR during the time of Sharansky, whenthe Jews were being ransomed in allowing them to leave mother Russia.

Unfortunately Israel is and was far too small a nation and notvery important. The Swedish elite, that is the authorities should hang their heads in shame. That this wonderful person was allowed to "disappear" within the Soviet Union is a disgrace to the Russians, the Red Cross and Sweden.

It is known that Wallenberg was taken to Russia and imprisoned. The Russians admit to this but state that he died. Swedish authorities were just too cowardly in following this through. No doubt aided and abetted by their own dislike for such a magnanimous and selfless person of the highest ethics.

Sweden, you should be ashamed to treat this hero with such contempt. At least in Israel and by the jewish people worldwide, he is reverred. Long may his name be rememberd with awe and respect.
10:00 March 20, 2012 by RobinHood
@Motti

Mr Wallenberg disappeared from Budapest soon after the city fell to the Russians who rounded up every able bodied man and shipped them off to Russia. Wallenberg was popped in the bag with everybody else, and sent for processing. Those too sick to travel were mostly executed; an entire underground German field hospital was "cleansed" with a flame thrower.

Those sent to Russia faced a brutal future. Russian "processing" was synonymous to torture. Many died or acquired life-changing injuries. Whatever stories they had to tell, for example, were generally disbelieved. Sentences were long and conditions harsh. Hundreds of thousands died, by way of "judicial" execution, random execution, illness, disease, overwork, beatings, or whatever. Records of prisoner deaths were sporadic. Those responsible for causing a death were also responsible for recording it. A death might be not recorded at all, recorded inaccurately to protect the perpetrator from accusations of negligence or crime, recorded and the records lost or later altered or deliberately destroyed. Guards involved developed poor memories and never saw anything inappropriate.

Mr Wallenberg was certainly put into some kind of "special" prisoner category and almost certainly tortured and mistreated. His aristocratic demeanour would have attracted the guards' special attention. His guards would have been men used to beating prisoners to death for no more than giving them a funny look, and experts at covering it up after. They would also have been uncaring of the difference between a Swedish diplomat and an SS officer. Their superiors would have begun to recognise the embarrassment of their situation. Someone would have to pay for Mr Wallenberg's mistreatment, and post-war Soviet Union was an unforgiving place. Quietly disposing of this awkward man, and covering it up, probably seemed an attractive option.

Mr Wallenberg met his end in about 1948. Murdered deliberately, or accidently; violently or by preventable sickness. His guards and their superiors, covered their tracks in the usual way, and took their secrets to their graves. They might have been interviewed during later Soviet and Russian investigations, but these were brutal men who knew the value of silence, and the danger of truth. "Swedish diplomat! What Swedish diplomat?"

The trail was covered up by experts, and is ice cold. Even contempory Soviet investigations, conducted with gusto, would probably have failed. Well done Ms Berger for giving it a go, but personally, I think the obsession with Mr Wallenberg's death has begun to distract people from the circumstances of Mr Wallenberg's life, and that of his contempraries.

Motti, you were so obssessed, you neglected to learn anything about Folke Bernadotte and his 30 000 Jews. Shame on you for that.
10:31 March 20, 2012 by sberger
If you follow what I have written about Mr. Wallenberg, you will see that I have covered many aspects of his life, not just his disappearance in the Soviet Union. Actually, this article does not deal with Mr. Wallenberg, but with another prisoner, apparently a Swedish citizen, who remains unindentified. My hope is that public support will spread the word and help us identify this man and his two colleagues.
11:18 March 20, 2012 by RobinHood
No offence intended Ms Berger. My comments about "obsession" and "distraction" were aimed at Motti, not you. I think the mention of Wallenberg in the title above has pulled posters here (including me) away from the correct intention of your essay. I apologise.

Good luck with your research into the elusive Mr Eriksson.
20:47 March 20, 2012 by guliver
Robin Hod

Bernadotte Folke did saved Jews in the 2WW.

he was murded by Lehi organisation a small right exterme Jewish underground who opposed Britain and also the planes of Bernadotte for Palestine,most of the Jewish community was linked with Hagana and Palmach who opposed the acts of Lehi and Etzel who were in the minority,the tensions betwen the Hagana and Irgun reached its high level during the "season" in which the Hagana gave the names of the Etzel and Lehi members to Britain.

But when we talk on the 2WW we do not confuse it with the Palestinian Israeli conflict,so Bernadote has his well done by saving Jews but paid with his life by getting involved in the arab Jewish coflict
17:18 March 21, 2012 by motti
@RobinHood

I made one comment about Wallenberg and you call that obsession and being sidetracked? Are you suffering from paranoia? Various forms of research have suggested that Wallenberg was alive well into the 50's and perhaps beyond. Even historical reasrchers claim that Wallenberg was a sore thumb.

Bernadotte saved 30,000 people but not as many Jews as you state as per Wikipeadia Gulliver has answeed you very well and I suggest that you read it.

For some reason or reasons, your posts regarding Israel or the Jewsa re always highly accusitive. and show discrimination, usually without any fact, just hearsay. A little like your accusation that I suffer from obsession without any reason given.

You can be as dismissive as you like, it's all water off a duck's arse inso far as I am concerned. You need to staret reading a little more factual evidence it might help you to understand more about the facts of life.

What is your problem with the Jews?
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