Founded in 2015, the Raoul Wallenberg Research Initiative (RWI-70) is an informal alliance of more than 80 international historians, families of political prisoners, legal experts Holocaust survivors and human rights defenders, all of whom pool their expertise in an effort to obtain full clarity about Wallenberg’s fate after he disappeared in the Soviet Union in 1945.
To achieve this aim, we work to obtain access to relevant files that currently remain classified in Russian archival collections, especially those of the former Soviet State Security and Intelligence Services, as well as other international archives. We also wish to bridge the gap between pure academic research and human rights advocacy. In doing so, we hope to improve cooperation among scholars and to develop new tools for solving cases of the long term disappeared.
Together we have created, for the first time ever, a comprehensive catalogue of all open questions and research requests in the Wallenberg case in Russia. Members of Raoul Wallenberg’s family and a delegation of the RWI-70 submitted this catalogue to Russian authorities in Moscow in September 2016. So far, no access to these key files has been granted, in violation of current Russian and international law. Earlier this year, we also created a catalogue of the most important unanswered questions pending in Sweden. This catalogue was submitted to various Swedish archive authorities on March 26, 2018. (The request is currently pending).
Our efforts are intended to emphasize the urgent need for transparency and verification of information received from various international archival entities, especially those in Russia, over the past seventy years. Our project aims to underscore the rights of political prisoners like Raoul Wallenberg and their families to truthful information about their ordeal. But what good is this ‚Right to the Truth‘ when one cannot enforce it?
In 2016, the RWI-70 conducted two Raoul Wallenberg International Roundtables, in Budapest and Moscow, to explore new ways of obtaining access to specific historical records in Russian archives. A third symposium took place in September 2017 in Stockholm, where we focused on the right of victims of repression and their families to the truth, as stipulated by the U.N. Convention on Enforced Disappearance and other legal norms. At the symposium we examined in some detail the opportunities and current limitations of this official ‚Right to the Truth‘ from all angles, including the problems that stand in the way of obtaining access to key documentation and evidence from various governmental authorities as well as the courts. With these steps we intend to free the Raoul Wallenberg case from it strictly historical context, placing it instead squarely in the center of the current civil and human rights debate -in Russia and also in other countries. By insisting on direct access to original, uncensored documents we aim to make the Wallenberg case a test case of current domestic and international law. Together with our Russian partners, especially Team 29, a group of constitutional lawyers located in St. Petersburg, we are supporting the formal litigation initiated by Marie Dupuy, Raoul Wallenberg’s niece in Russia. Marie Dupuy is seeking access to key documents in the archives of the Russian State Security Services (FSB) that could provide important information needed to solve the question of Wallenberg’s fate in Soviet imprisonment. If these efforts were to prove successful, they would set an important new legal precedent in the fight for freedom of information and the search for justice; not only for Raoul Wallenberg, but also for the millions of other victims of Soviet repression.
Photo of Raoul Wallenberg from 1943. Source: The Hungarian National Archives, Budapest
Susanne Berger, born in Hannover, Germany, B.A. in International Relations and Economics, American University in Washington, D.C., 1988. Her research addresses the political and economic aspects of Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian mission to Budapest, as well as their associated effects on the investigation of his disappearance. From 1995-2001 she served as a consultant to the Swedish-Russian Working Group on the Fate of Raoul Wallenberg.
Since 2001, Ms Berger, together with Dr. Vadim Birstein, has conducted a detailed correspondence with Russian archivists and officials in the Raoul Wallenberg Case. As a direct result of their efforts, the FSB Central Archive in 2009 released new information which indicates that Raoul Wallenberg may have been held as a numbered prisoner in Lubyanka prison in Moscow, and that he may have been alive six days after his official death date. Ms Berger’s research has also contributed to new and important findings in the case of other disappeared Swedish citizens in the Soviet Union after 1945.
Her reports and more than one hundred articles about the Wallenberg case and related issues have appeared in various international publications. Since 2009, she has served as an advisor to the campaign to free Swedish-Eritrean writer Dawit Isaak who has been detained in Eritrea since 2001, without charge or trial. She is the initiator and coordinator of the Raoul Wallenberg Research Initiative (RWI-70).
Dr. Vadim J. Birstein, a Russian-American who arrived in the United States in 1991, is a molecular geneticist and historian. Born in Moscow in 1944 to the family of a Zoology Professor and educated at Moscow State University, he received his Candidate of Sciences Degree in 1971, and Doctor of Sciences, in 1988. From 1990 to 1998, he was a Leading (Senior) Research Scientist at the Koltsov Institute of Developmental Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.
Since coming to America, Dr. Birstein has been a Visiting Scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and from 1993 to 1996, he was also an Adjunct Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Birstein is the author of over 150 scientific papers and three biology books.
In addition, Dr. Birstein is a historian, an expert on the subject of foreign prisoners in the Gulag, the fate of the Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, and Soviet doctors‘ experimentation on humans. In 1990-91, he was a member of the International Commission on Raoul Wallenberg created by Wallenberg’s half-brother Professor Guy von Dardel, and in the 2000s-2010s, he, together with Ms. Susanne Berger, was in correspondence with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and received new archival information regarding Raoul Wallenberg’s presence in Moscow prisons in 1947. He published a series of articles about his research on Raoul Wallenberg in mass media.
Dr. Birstein’s first history book The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science (Westview Press, 2001) is still in print. The last book on Soviet history, SMERSH, Stalin’s Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII (London: Biteback Publ., 2012) received the international St. Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year Award 2012 – an award instituted by St. Ermin’s Hotel in London to honor its long association with the British Secret Service – winning out over thirty-three other nominated books. This book was also translated into Polish and Russian. Dr. Birstein is a member of the Authors Guild of American writers.