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'Other Swedes in the Gulag complicate Wallenberg search'

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'Other Swedes in the Gulag complicate Wallenberg search'
15:51 CEST+02:00
Was a “Swedish Prisoner” who was seen in Lwow in 1946 held in Vladimir Prison a decade later? And was this prisoner Raoul Wallenberg or an unidentified Swedish Red Cross official? Contributor Susanne Berger explains how the confusion about other Swedish prisoners in the Gulag complicates the search into Wallenberg’s fate.

In October 1956, in his first interview with Swedish officials after his release from Vladimir prison, Austrian citizen Otto Schöggel stated that while in Vladimir in the spring of 1955, he had briefly spent time with a Swedish prisoner.

He described the person he met as very weak, partially paralyzed and receiving special injections to build up his strength.

According to the interview protocol, Schöggel also indicated that he remembered the man telling him that he had once been held prisoner in the Ukrainian town of Lwow. The unknown Swede had supposedly been imprisoned in Lwow “for approximately eleven months, on his way to Lubyanka prison in Moscow”.

Over the next few years, Schöggel would repeat his story of a secret Swedish prisoner in Vladimir, one of the Soviet Union’s most important isolator facilities, insisting that the Swede he had met was the missing Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

Schöggel was known as a notorious story teller and informant. Yet, to their credit, Swedish officials did not dismiss Schöggel’s story out of hand.

They noted that there had been several earlier accounts of a Swedish prisoner held in Lwow, most notably the testimonies given by Adolphe Coen and Aron Gabor.

Swedish author Bengt Jangfeldt has analyzed these statements in some detail in his recent biography about Raoul Wallenberg (“Raoul Wallenberg”, 2012)

Both Coen and Gabor said that they heard of or personally met a Swedish prisoner in a former cloister complex called Brygitki which served as a prison facility in Lwow in 1946/1947.

Jangfeldt claims that in particular the information Coen received from this “Swede” could have been provided only by Raoul Wallenberg, including details about documents and valuables he was carrying at the time of his arrest by Soviet troops in January 1945.

A closer examination of Coen’s and Gabor’s testimonies shows that the Swedish prisoner they had encountered was referred to by others most often as a "Red Cross official.”

This description could well have applied to Raoul Wallenberg who worked closely with both Swedish and International Red Cross representatives during his humanitarian mission in Budapest in 1944.

There are, however, other possibilities to consider as well.

In 1957, a former German prisoner by the name of Ludwig Hunoldt testified that in 1950, in Vladimir prison, he had met a Red Cross official called “Eriksson” who had been arrested in 1944/45 in Eastern Europe, in “Sofia, Bucharest or Budapest”.

At the time, he had been working together with two Swedish colleagues, "managing the transition of Nazi Germany's diplomatic missions in the Balkans."

Hunoldt described “Eriksson” as about 50 years old and very weak after having just undergone an operation on his gallbladder. “Eriksson” claimed to be a Swedish citizen, with a wife in “Uppsala or Lund”.

He was most definitely not identical with Raoul Wallenberg.

Hunoldt’s testimony was both very detailed and deemed reliable by former Cabinet Secretary Leif Leifland who interviewed him. Surprisingly, however, Hunoldt’s information elicited no follow-up from the Swedish Foreign Ministry.

It would be easy to conclude that witnesses like Coen, Gabor, Hunoldt and Schöggel had simply received incomplete or confusing information, if strikingly similar statements had not been given by several other former prisoners in the Soviet Union.

One such testimony was provided by Karl Spuller, also a former German P.O.W., who reported hearing a detailed report from a friend in 1954, concerning three Swedish Red Cross officials.

The men had supposedly been imprisoned in Lubyanka for several years, following their arrest “in Romania or Bulgaria” at the very end of 1944 or early 1945. Spuller’s friend related that the men had told him how after their arrival in Lubyanka prison their backpacks had been taken from them by the guards.

In return, they had been forced to sign a receipt which itemized their belongings. Spuller stated that one of the men had been especially upset about the loss of his camera.

The three “Swedes” had been sentenced only in 1949, to 25 years imprisonment for espionage. Two of them were described as having been in good health, while the third had been left ill and weak from imprisonment. Could the men have been Swiss instead, Swedish investigators wanted to know? No, Spuller said, he was quite certain that the discussion had concerned Swedish citizens.

Yet another testimony was provided by a man called Fritz Bauer who said that in 1955, on a transport to a labour camp in the Ukraine, he had met a former Red Cross official named “Johansson” who had been arrested in Romania in 1944/45.

Johansson said that he was a Swedish citizen and that his wife continued to live in Sweden, “in a university town”.

The case profile of these Red Cross men – Swedish “officials” arrested in Eastern Europe in 1944/45 – is so similar to that of Raoul Wallenberg that their presence could have caused enormous confusion among witnesses.

Returning to the “Swede” reportedly seen in Lwow in 1946/47: It cannot be excluded that he was one of the as yet unidentified Red Cross officials supposedly arrested in Eastern Europe in 1944/45 and that he together with his colleagues was held in Lwow on his way to Moscow. Lwow was a known transit point for prisoners arrested in Eastern and Central Europe.

Similarly, taking into account the statement by Otto Schöggel, it is possible that this Swedish prisoner in Lwow later was transferred to Lubyanka and from there to Vladimir prison.

Jangfeldt’s (and Schöggel's) theory that the Swede in Lwow in 1946/47 was Raoul Wallenberg cannot be entirely dismissed. However, it seems unlikely that Wallenberg would have been moved to Lwow in late 1946, after he had already spent almost two years under investigation in Moscow.

Also, several witnesses have claimed to have been in knocking contact with Wallenberg during this time in Lefortovo prison, until early 1947. Still, the matter awaits full resolution.

Soviet and now Russian authorities have always claimed that Wallenberg died in Lubyanka prison in July 1947, yet no conclusive proof for his death has ever been presented. If Wallenberg was instead at some point transferred to an isolator prison such as Vladimir, his presence could have further complicated an already highly complex situation.

In 2000, the former consultants to an official Swedish-Russian Working Group that investigated the Raoul Wallenberg case in Russia, Marvin Makinen and Ari Kaplan conducted an extensive study of the prisoner population of Vladimir prison, especially Section II (Korpus II) which housed the hospital section where Schöggel claimed to have met an unknown Swede and Hunoldt reportedly had met “Eriksson”.

No record for a prisoner named "Eriksson" or one matching his description has been found.

This raises the possibility that “Eriksson’s” card is missing and those of his two colleagues could be missing as well. If that is so, could other cards also have disappeared, including perhaps that of Raoul Wallenberg?

Makinen and Kaplan, together with Wallenberg expert Susan Mesinai, are currently investigating the statements of several other former prisoners who say they met a Swedish prisoner in Vladimir, accused of espionage, in the years 1955 -1970.

The central questions are: Was this prisoner Raoul Wallenberg or another Swede? And, in fact, how many “Swedes” were held in Vladimir altogether after 1947?

For the moment, researchers are left with many pressing questions and few answers:

To begin with, it needs to be clarified if any “Swedish” representatives affiliated with the Red Cross or associated help organizations were arrested in Eastern Europe in 1944/45.

Similarly, it needs to be determined if any “Swedish” prisoners or persons affiliated with the Red Cross were ever held in a prison facilities in Lwow and Moscow in 1946/47.

So far, Russian officials have not permitted direct and uncensored review of prison registration and interrogation registers where the presence of such individuals may have been recorded.

Nor have they provided full information about all Swedish nationals imprisoned in Vladimir.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry too has not been able to identify “Eriksson” and his two colleagues. The task may be complicated by the fact that they may well have been expatriate Swedes, or mixed nationals, such as native Germans with Swedish wives or even so-called “stateless” individuals.

Nevertheless, with a concerted effort it should be possible to clarify these issues. By removing a major element of confusion, proper identification of the three unknown “Swedish” Red Cross officials would undoubtedly help to move the search for Raoul Wallenberg a big step forward.

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.

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