“It is a reasonable interpretation that the Russians thought it was Nazi gold that Wallenberg was trying to keep from the Red Army. The reason why Wallenberg was arrested could therefore turn out to be rather banal,” said Jangfeldt to daily Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).
Despite his heroic efforts on behalf of Hungary’s Jews, the fate of diplomat Wallenberg, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in August, remains shrouded in mystery.
He was detained by Soviet forces in 1945 and later disappeared. In 1957, the Soviet’s issued a statement saying that Wallenberg died of a heart attack in 1947, but the exact circumstances of his death remain a mystery.
But according to Russia-expert Jangfeldt’s new book “Raoul Wallenberg – en biografi” (“Raoul Wallenberg- a biography”) there is enough evidence to suggest that when Wallenberg arrived in the Soviet controlled area, between 15 and 20 kilogrammes weight of gold, jewellery and cash was hidden in the car’s petrol tank.
According to the book, the Russians only found the fortune after a high ranking officer had taken his sweetheart – a female officer – out for a spin in the seized car to impress her. Upon running it into a ditch, the Russians discovered the hidden valuables.
The value of the gold today is estimated to 1.7 million kronor ($236,000).
Jangfeldt’s book proposes that this was the amassed fortune of many of the Jewish victims Wallenberg had helped, who had left their valuables to their benefactor for safekeeping.
“The same way that he was saving the Jew’s lives, he also meant to save their valuables. This was a logical part of the rescue operation. He thought the valuables would be safer in Sweden than in Budapest,” Jangfeldt told SvD.
However, according to the author, this may have been Wallenberg’s fatal mistake.
The Russians already believed that Wallenberg was involved in a “German conspiracy” and allegedly suspected him of trying to escape with property belonging to anti-democratic persons.
The fact that Wallenberg had what could be perceived as German loot in his car when he was arrested by the Soviets may also have been a reason for a perceived reluctance from the Swedish foreign ministry to act on Wallenberg’s behalf at the time, SvD reports.