Soviets likely shot missing diplomat

Associated Press

MOSCOW — Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who disappeared after helping tens of thousands of Jews escape Nazi-occupied Hungary, undoubtedly was shot and killed by the Soviets, the head of a Russian presidential commission said Monday.

The statement by Alexander Yakovlev, chairman of the presidential commission on rehabilitation of victims of political repression, indicates that Russia may be on the verge of confirming allegations that Soviet authorities have denied for a half-century.

"We do not doubt that he was shot at Lubyanka," the Soviet secret police headquarters and prison in Moscow, the news agency Interfax quoted Yakovlev as saying.

If Wallenberg was indeed shot, it likely would have happened before Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s death in 1953. The Interfax report did not specify on what evidence Yakovlev’s commission based its conclusion.

The last confirmed sighting of Wallenberg was on Jan. 17, 1945, in Budapest, Hungary, when he was 32 years old. Wallenberg, a member of one of Sweden’s wealthiest and most prominent industrialist families, had gone to Nazi-occupied Hungary a year earlier as a diplomat.

He distributed Swedish passports to Jews in deportation trains and on death marches, won diplomatic protection for whole sections of Budapest and organized food and medical supplies. His efforts are credited with saving at least 20,000 lives.

The Soviet army occupied Budapest in January 1945, and Wallenberg was arrested and brought to the Soviet Union. The Soviets said he was suspected of spying. Some observers have speculated the arrest also could have been retaliation for his family’s companies having sold ball bearings and other strategic supplies to the Nazi regime.

"At first we said he was killed in a street in Budapest, then we said he was taken under the protection of our troops," Interfax quoted Yakovlev as saying. Then came a memo from then-Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko saying Wallenberg died of a heart attack in Soviet custody in 1947.

Many former prisoners continued to claim Wallenberg was alive as late as the 1970s and 1980s.

The closest Russia has come to changing the official version of Wallenberg’s death was a statement in 1997 when then-Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin said Wallenberg was probably killed by the Soviets.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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