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Why I decided to sue the Russian FSB in a quest for the truth about Raoul Wallenberg

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Why I decided to sue the Russian FSB in a quest for the truth about Raoul Wallenberg
A monument in memory of Raoul Wallenberg in his hometown of Lidingö. Photo: Mark Earthy/TT
06:59 CEST+02:00
Marie Dupuy, the niece of Swedish Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, explains why she and her family have filed a lawsuit against the Russian Security Services in an effort to clarify the circumstances of her uncle's fate.

In spite of repeated requests for clarification, Russia continues to withhold key information about an unidentified "Prisoner no.7", who was questioned in Lubyanka Prison together with Raoul Wallenberg's driver Vilmos Langfelder on July 23rd, 1947 for more than 16 hours. It remains unclear what Swedish officials may have known about the issue and why this and other important information was not shared with an official Working Group that investigated the Wallenberg case for ten years during the 1990s.

In November 2009, the archivists of the Central Archive of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) informed two researchers who had been investigating Wallenberg's fate for many years – Vadim Birstein and Susanne Berger – that on July 23rd, 1947, a still unidentified "Prisoner No. 7" had been interrogated for over 16 hours in Lubyanka Prison.

Based on circumstantial evidence, the FSB archivists concluded that "Prisoner No.7" with "great likelihood was the missing Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg". However, FSB officials refused to provide a copy of the actual entry for "Prisoner No.7" as it appears in the Lubyanka interrogation register, nor did they permit researchers to review this page in the original. Instead, the FSB released only a heavily censored copy of the page in question. It showed that two other prisoners had been questioned together with "Prisoner No. 7", on the same day, for more than 16 hours. They were Wallenberg's driver, Vilmos Langfelder, and Langfelder's cellmate, Sandor Katona. Clearly, something quite dramatic had occurred to warrant such a lengthy interrogation.


Photo: Marie Dupuy

On those two days of July 22nd and 23rd 1947, close to a dozen prisoners were questioned and immediately placed in strict isolation, most of them for many years. As it turns out, all the men had a direct connection to Wallenberg.

Wallenberg had been arrested by Soviet forces in Budapest in January 1945, after he had saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. He was taken to Moscow where he was imprisoned for at least two-and-a-half years. Soviet authorities announced in 1957 that Wallenberg had died suddenly of a heart attack in his cell on July 17, 1947, but the full circumstances of his disappearance have never been clarified.

The proper identification of "Prisoner No. 7", therefore, goes to the heart of the Wallenberg case, in particular the question of whether he really died on July 17th, 1947 or if, in fact, he survived some time after this date – as FSB archivists allege.

READ ALSO: Russian court to hear plea for files on vanished Holocaust hero Wallenberg

In December 2013, I decided to file my own request for access to the register, as Wallenberg's niece. I received a formal reply from the FSB Central Archive in which archivists informed me that, unfortunately, a review of the original Lubyanka interrogation register for July 22-23, 1947, "is not possible". They provided no specific reason for their refusal.

Once again, the FSB officials failed to present a full copy of the requested register pages or a detailed description of the entry for this mysterious "Prisoner No.7", as I had specifically asked for in my letter. I repeated my requests several times, the most recent application being denied earlier this year.

Naturally, I wonder what the FSB is hiding.

Certain notations on the page? Names of other, still unknown prisoners held in Lubyanka Prison in 1947? The name of the interrogator for “Prisoner No.7”? The entries are by now 70 years old and should no longer be subject to the official Russian 30-year secrecy requirements.

Russian privacy laws, too, should not apply to this particular entry, since the full identity of “Prisoner No.7” would remain shielded, plus Russian officials have regularly revealed the name of MGB (Ministry of State Security) investigators that appear in these very registers. Even the 75-year rule governing “personal documents” should be waived in this case, since – according to both Russian and international law – victims of repression and their families have legal Right to the Truth about their ordeal. Consequently the records of victims of repression may not be kept classified.

If not Wallenberg, who could this “Prisoner no. 7” held in Lubyanka in July 1947 be? An unknown cellmate of Raoul's in Lubyanka Prison, perhaps? Someone who had been active in Hungary in 1944-45? The matter must be fully clarified, because it could provide vital clues to our investigation. For a variety of reasons I have become quite sceptical about the FSB's claim that no positive identification of this prisoner is possible.

I wonder even more when the FSB refuses me access to documentation that was clearly available to Russian officials as far back as 1991, at the start of an official, bilateral Swedish Russian Working Group that went on to investigate the question of my uncle's fate until 2001.

The information about a "Prisoner No.7" being questioned for 16 hours, together with two other persons very closely associated with Wallenberg, should have been thoroughly examined in the course of that 10-year investigation. Yet it was not, since Russian never formally disclosed the information to their Swedish colleagues. Russian officials simply verbally informed the Swedish side of Langfelder's lengthy interrogation, but never mentioned a “Prisoner no.7” or produced a copy of the relevant page.

For still unexplained reasons, the Swedish side failed to insist on obtaining such a copy. The Chairman of the Swedish side of the Working Group, Hans Magnusson, was allowed to review all register records, but apparently did not notice the entry for July 23rd, 1947.

The information should and would have received serious scrutiny because the Working Group had received an important statement from Boris Solovov, a former investigator in the MGB's 3rd Main Directorate, 4th Department, which in 1947 oversaw the Wallenberg case. In several interviews Solovov had told Swedish and Russian officials that at some point in 1947, he had been asked by his superior officer to deliver a package to the MGB archives. This package carried the label: “Contains materials related to ‘Prisoner No.7'”. It was to be opened only by the "head of MGB" (Viktor Abakumov).

Even more interesting is the fact that Solovov had indicated explicitly that he knew in 1947 that Wallenberg was this particular “Prisoner No.7”. Solovov further testified that his superiors had prepared a complex diagram designed to keep track of prisoners whom they wanted to place in isolation because they knew of Wallenberg's presence in Soviet captivity. In fact, Solovov stated that “Prisoner No.7” was included in this diagram.

[It is important to understand that Solovov made these statements many years before the release of the more recent information from 2009, concerning an interrogation of a "Prisoner No.7" on July 23rd, 1947.]

In retrospect, it upsets me greatly that Russian officials apparently intentionally withheld this highly relevant information during the official inquiry in 1991-2001. My late father, Guy von Dardel, fought for over six decades to learn the full circumstances of Raoul's disappearance. He had agreed to join the Working Group as an official member, trusting that the investigation would be conducted in good faith, from both sides.

Instead, we are now left with the obvious question of what other documents and insights Russian and possibly Swedish officials shave not shared and why. Since the end of the Working Group, a number of other documents have emerged that were not previously shared with researchers. As it turns out, Russian officials repeatedly lied when they stated that the formal Archival-Investigation file of Wallenberg's longtime cellmate, the German diplomat Willy Rödel, had not been preserved.

Some years ago it became clear that the documentation has, in fact, survived. In spite of numerous requests we have yet to see a special MGB file that contains this very documentation about Rödel and other foreign diplomats who died in Soviet imprisonment during the years 1945-1947. Is Wallenberg's case among this collection? Over the strenuous protests of researchers, Swedish officials never insisted on access to the material. The issue attains added urgency in light of the miraculous “discovery” of Raoul's personal possessions in September 1989 – a few weeks before members of our family travelled to Moscow, on the invitation of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

I took the step of filing a formal legal claim against the FSB very reluctantly and only after all other efforts of obtaining the requested information failed. Neither I nor anyone in my family holds any resentments towards Russia. Those who worked with my father know how he enthusiastically and unreservedly embraced the Russian people.

READ ALSO: Family of Holocaust hero Wallenberg sues Russia's security service

Last September, I and other members of Raoul's family traveled to Moscow to personally submit a comprehensive catalogue of all currently unanswered questions to Russian representatives from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) and the FSB. Our requests concern records that Russian officials can and must share before the question of Wallenberg's fate can be fully laid to rest. So far, we have not received any satisfactory answers or access to the requested documentation.

While Russia clearly holds the key to the Wallenberg mystery, I want to emphasize that the Russian government does not stand alone when it comes to restricting access to information. Important gaps also remain in the Swedish case record. Time will tell why Sweden's passivity in the case was so extreme, what Swedish (as well as possibly U.S. and British) authorities knew about his fate and if there was perhaps an unspoken understanding [with Russian counterparts] to keep the official Wallenberg inquiry within ‘safe' parameters – and if so, why?

Members of Wallenberg's family and researchers will meet on September 14th-15th in Stockholm to address these and other unsolved questions at the third Raoul Wallenberg International Roundtable. They will be joined by other families of Swedes disappeared, past and present, members of the Swedish Foreign Ministry, as well as international legal experts, historians, journalists and human rights defenders.

Together we will explore options for how we can more effectively enforce the Right to the Truth, which includes finding new ways of obtaining access to still classified documentation in both Russian, Swedish and other international archives. This includes the submission of a catalogue of unsolved questions to Swedish authorities in the Wallenberg case. More than 70 years after Wallenberg's disappearance, it is high time that justice is done and all facts about his ordeal finally come to light.

READ ALSO: Sweden declares Holocaust hero Wallenberg died in 1952

This is an opinion piece written by Marie Dupuy, niece of Raoul Wallenberg.

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