They did not want him back

„They did not want him back“

By Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein



In July 1944, 31-year-old Swedish businessman Raoul G. Wallenberg received an appointment as a diplomat to Hungary to protect the remaining Jewish population against the brutal Nazi persecution. Thanks to the determined efforts by Wallenberg and his staff, aided by the Hungarian resistance and diplomats from other neutral countries, more than 100,000 of Budapest’s Jews survived the Holocaust. In January 1945, Wallenberg was detained by Soviet military counterintelligence (SMERSH, acronym for „death to spies“) and taken to Moscow, where he disappeared. The Soviet and later Russian authorities have claimed that he died suddenly of a heart attack in a Moscow prison in the summer of 1947. However, 75 years after his disappearance, the full circumstances of his fate remain unknown. The Soviet leadership’s and especially Stalin’s motives to order Raoul Wallenberg’s detention are not fully understood. At the same time, it remains unclear why the Swedish government showed such a serious lack of determination to solve Wallenberg’s disappearance, especially during the crucial period of 1945-47.


In two new studies researchers argue that the Swedish government’s extreme passivity in the case of Raoul Wallenberg – the young Swedish diplomat who disappeared in the Soviet Union in January 1945 – seems to have been at least in part a conscious decision by Swedish decision makers, driven by a variety of motives. Members of Raoul Wallenberg’s family are now calling for a new, independent investigation into the official handling of the investigation of his fate.

Specifically, the new insights lead to a potential reevaluation of the actions of the much-criticized Swedish Envoy to Moscow Staffan Söderblom and other Swedish decision makers, including Sverker Åström, one of Sweden’s top diplomats in the post-war era who is suspected of having functioned as a Soviet asset throughout his long career.

On August 26, 2021, a hearing will take place in the Swedish Parliament to address the new findings.

Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein preview the discussion and summarize old and new questions that arise from the most recent research.


Three theses regarding the official Swedish handling of the Raoul Wallenberg case

In recent years, three distinct theses about the official Swedish handling of the Raoul Wallenberg case have emerged among researchers.

1) In 2003, the so-called Eliasson Commission concluded in its final report that Raoul Wallenberg’s fate was essentially sealed from the moment of his detention in Hungary and that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had no intention of ever releasing him.[1]

The Commission pointed to the great secrecy surrounding Wallenberg’s detention and the efforts of Soviet military officials to prevent him from communicating with the outside world. The Commission argued further that the Soviet leadership never seriously intended to use Raoul Wallenberg as a bargaining chip to secure concessions from the Swedish government, as had been the case with two Swiss diplomats, Harald Feller and Max Meier, who had also been detained in Budapest in 1945. Feller and Meier were released in January 1946, in exchange for the return of several Soviet citizens held in Switzerland. The Commission pointed to the fact that – in contrast to the Swiss cases – the Soviet authorities in Moscow had consistently denied any knowledge of Raoul Wallenberg’s whereabouts when responding to official Swedish inquiries about him during the years 1945-1956.

In its report, the Commission also emphasized that the negotiations for a large Swedish-Soviet credit and trade agreement in 1946 – valued at $300 million (approximately $4 billion today) – did not seriously impact official Swedish actions in the Wallenberg case. This is because in the Commission’s view, the decisive phase of the negotiations for the agreement began only in August 1946, two months after Wallenberg’s fate most likely had been decided (when on June 15,1946 the Swedish Ambassador in Moscow, Staffan Söderblom, seemingly inexplicably, had asked the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during a personal audience to confirm that Wallenberg was no longer alive.)

The Eliasson Commission’s analysis implies that, ultimately, it did not matter what kind of efforts the Swedish side (i.e., Swedish diplomats, the powerful Wallenberg business family or even the Swedish public) undertook on Raoul Wallenberg’s behalf – he could not be saved.

2) In contrast to this view, we, the authors of this article, propose that based on the currently available record, Stalin’s intentions about Raoul Wallenberg are not entirely clear. Moreover, there existed a real possibility to press the Soviet government for clarification of Wallenberg’s disappearance, in particular during the year 1946.

The Eliasson Commission’s assertion that serious negotiations about the Swedish-Soviet trade agreement only began in earnest in August 1946 is problematic. Several key aspects of the negotiations have not received close enough attention. Already in the spring of 1946 Stalin signaled that he was eager to reduce political tensions with Sweden and counteract the increasing influence of both Britain and the US in Northern Europe. By late April 1946, the Soviet leadership offered the Swedes what amounted to a clear quid-pro-quo: If the Swedish government were to conclude a trade agreement by the end of the year, „favorable conditions“ would be created between the two countries. The Swedish government reacted promptly: By the end of May 1946, a high-level official Swedish delegation travelled to Moscow to enter into serious discussions and negotiations about the agreement.

Staffan Sőderblom, the Swedish Ambassador to Moscow 1944-1946

Contrary to general belief, during the years 1945-1947, the most crucial period in the Wallenberg case, Swedish and Soviet officials felt surprisingly comfortable to discuss and secretly coordinate several highly sensitive issues, such as the repatriation of Soviet soldiers in Norway via Swedish territory in late 1945, the expulsion of 146 Baltic prisoners of war to Soviet authorities in early 1946, handing 2,158 former Soviet POWs and 1,051 civilians who stayed in Sweden over to the Soviets, as well as quietly arranging the recall of Staffan Söderblom, the Swedish Envoy, from Moscow a few months later. For some reason, however, they never raised the question of Wallenberg’s fate during these discussions. The Swedish failure to make a strong representation on behalf of Raoul Wallenberg is all the more remarkable since Swedish officials received several strong indications, that Wallenberg was possibly alive and imprisoned in the Soviet Union.

During the spring of 1946, within the span of two months, the Soviet side released two Swedish prisoners – Viva Lundberg and the journalist Edvard af Sanderberg – in an apparent effort to signal good will towards Sweden. Then in late April, Sőderblom had the impression that Alexander Abramov, head of the Scandinavian Department at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave a veiled hint that Raoul Wallenberg may possibly be still alive. Söderblom probably felt that Sandeberg’s release could suggest that Wallenberg, too, may  be alive. Moreover, despite repeated requests, Abramov and other Soviet diplomats had not given him any official confirmation that Wallenberg was, in fact, dead.

Sőderblom had long been firmly convinced that Raoul Wallenberg was dead. Already one year earlier (April 14, 1945)  Sőderblom had concluded that “even with the best intentions in the world, it may be impossible for the Soviet authorities to win clarity about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate.” Consequently, during a six-months period – from December 1945 until June 1946 – Staffan Söderblom formally asked Soviet officials at least three times to confirm that Wallenberg was no longer alive, — on December 26, 1945, March 9, and during his fateful personal meeting with Stalin on June 15, 1946, shortly before leaving his position. Each time Söderblom consulted directly with his superiors, as well as the former Soviet Ambassador to Sweden, Alexandra Kollontay, who had been forced to return to Moscow in March 1945.

Apparently, Söderblom (and presumably some of his superiors, including the Swedish Foreign Minister Ȍsten Undén) were convinced that if Wallenberg was in the Soviet Union or in hiding, he would find a way to communicate or Soviet authorities would inform Swedish diplomats about his presence, as they had done with af Sandeberg, Lundberg and several other Swedish citizens. Sőderblom had no way of understanding how the Soviet system worked and that Raoul Wallenberg was not an internee (like af Sandeberg, for example) but listed as a prisoner of war. From the newly discovered documentation it is clear that Sergei Kruglov, Soviet Commissar/Minister of Internal Affairs, suggested to release af Sandeberg, who was in custody of that Commissariat/Ministry (NKVD/MVD). Wallenberg was not under the authority of the NKVD/MVD, as af Sandeberg and other released Swedes were, but of the separate organization SMERSH, Soviet military counterintelligence, and then the State Security Ministry (MGB), that included SMERSH in 1946. In fact, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) learned of his detention by the MGB officially only in early 1947.[2] However, they had understood unofficially already in early 1946 that Wallenberg was in the hands of SMERSH. Wallenberg’s imprisonment and information about his whereabouts were entirely controlled by Viktor Abakumov, head of SMERSH and then MGB Minister, and Stalin personally.

In the months after Wallenberg’s disappearance, other Swedish diplomats, too, repeatedly stressed in public communications that Raoul Wallenberg was „most likely dead“ (Gunnar Gerring, March 1946), or that they felt „sure he is dead;“ (Raoul Wallenberg’s uncle Col. Colvin’s correspondence with the US Ambassador to Moscow Walter Bedell-Smith, July 1946, in which Colvin cites the statements made to him by certain Swedish officials); and that even if he were alive, he could not be saved (US State Department records, September 1945). The Swedish Foreign Ministry also did not react to the fact that two Swiss diplomats who had been detained at the same time as Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest were released in January 1946 in exchange of Soviet defectors. Therefore, it appears that Staffan Söderblom’s much criticized behavior can be partially explained in the context of official Swedish attitudes at the time. In that sense, Söderblom’s actions in many ways represented the norm rather than the exception to the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s position in the Wallenberg case.

However, it appears that some top-Swedish officials did not share Sőderblom’s certainty, nor were they informed in detail about Sőderblom’s exact conversations with Abramov and other Soviet representatives. Sven Grafstrőm, deputy head of the Political Department of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regularly forwarded new witness information about Wallenberg’s possible whereabouts, along with specific instructions how to present it to Soviet authorities, which Sőderblom repeatedly ignored.

The Swedish Working Group (1991 to 2000) concluded in its report in 2000 that Staffan Sőderblom apparent “lack of judgment” during his posting in Moscow may have been due to the beginning symptoms of a mental illness that would later force him to seek early retirement. New information discovered in Söderblom’s Swedish Foreign Ministry’s personnel file instead shows that while the Envoy’s controversial role in the Wallenberg case may have contributed to a severe mental breakdown he suffered in 1951 (which led to his early retirement), it was not the only or perhaps even the decisive cause for his problems.

The central questions remain why did some Swedish officials so readily accept the idea that Raoul Wallenberg was dead and why did his potential loss not elicit a more determined official response?

Raoul Wallenberg’s mother, Maj von Dardel – who in February 1945 had been personally assured by Alexandra Kollontay that her son was alive and in the Soviet Union – was acutely aware of the Ministry’s general attitude. She repeatedly decried the lack of enthusiasm displayed by Swedish diplomats who, as she charged, assumed without evidence that her son was dead. She also referred to the handling of her son’s case as „cold blooded“.  Only in February 1952 – seven years after Wallenberg’s disappearance – did the Swedish government finally officially demand his release.

Maj and Fredrik von Dardel Source: Guy von Dardel Private Archive

It remains unclear why exactly the Swedish government, as well as the powerful Wallenberg business family, in the year 1946 failed to seize what appeared to be an important opportunity to clarify what had happened to their diplomat and relative. Recently obtained records from the archive of the wartime Swedish military intelligence (MUST) contain some important new details that can perhaps help clarify this central question. The documents show that Swedish military intelligence officers were involved in secret operations in Hungary already at the end of 1943, much earlier and to a larger extent than previously known. The operations, conducted in close cooperation with American, as well as Hungarian, intelligence representatives, aimed not only to support the Hungarian resistance against the Nazi German occupation but also to prevent or at least limit the expected Soviet occupation of Hungary. Some of the discussions were conducted via the Hungarian Legation in Stockholm. Swedish – and possibly Raoul Wallenberg’s – direct or indirect association with such activities was especially sensitive because as of June 28, 1941, Sweden officially represented Soviet interests in Hungary. The new information raises the question if the Swedish government’s possible concerns about the public disclosure of its various neutrality violations in Hungary, and elsewhere, may have affected the official handling of the Wallenberg case after his disappearance in January 1945. Furthermore, these early Swedish interests and activities in Hungary – almost a full year before Wallenberg’s diplomatic appointment in July 1944 – give rise to the question if his selection for the humanitarian mission to Budapest was as unexpected as it has generally been portrayed (including by the Eliasson Commission).

3) The Swedish historian Peter Axelsson offers a different, but possibly related, explanation for Sweden’s lack of decisive action on behalf of its missing diplomat.

Axelsson, too, concludes that in the spring of 1946 Sweden missed an important opportunity to raise the Wallenberg case more assertively with the Soviet government. Axelsson argues that Swedish officials, in particular the Swedish Foreign Minister, Östen Undén, were so eager to take advantage of Stalin’s surprising gesture to improve Swedish-Soviet relations, that they apparently felt they could not do two things at the same time: Conclude a Swedish-Soviet trade and credit agreement and at the same time press for answers about Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance. In short, Axelsson suggests that Swedish diplomats made a conscious decision to prioritize Sweden’s national interests, as he defined them, over the fate of one person. In contrast to previous analyses, Axelsson concludes that the main driving factor for the Swedish government were not economic considerations. Instead, he writes, “there are reasons to view the Swedish government’s desire to grant the credit as being mainly politically motivated already in the spring of 1946.”

According to Axelsson, Swedish officials faced a serious dilemma: If it had become known that the Swedish government was granting a huge credit to the Soviet Union while one of its own diplomats was being held prisoner or perished in the Soviet Union, it could have added to the already serious public outcry against the agreement and jeopardized the whole deal. The negotiations had remained essentially secret until the middle of May 1946, and the full volume of the credit deal was not disclosed until the middle of June.  Anti-Soviet sentiments in Sweden were already high due to Swedish government’s decision in early 1946 to forcibly repatriate almost 150 Baltic refugees to the Soviet Union.

Axelsson’s analysis does not fully explain why the Wallenberg business family, especially the powerful bankers Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg (Raoul Wallenberg’s cousins once removed) would have quietly yielded to Undén’s wishes to appease the Soviets and, in the process, abandon one of their relatives to his fate. It is not an easy question to answer. Wallenberg owned or controlled companies played a key role in the agreement, and it could not have been concluded with their active support. Many of Sweden’s business leaders objected to the proposed agreement because it stipulated the granting of large state credits, on terms that they perceived to be too favorable towards the Soviet Union. The US government also was strongly opposed to the proposed deal, for the same reason. The Wallenberg brothers undoubtedly found themselves in a difficult position. They had to be careful not to further antagonize the US Treasury Department which demanded punishment for Sweden’s and the Wallenbergs‘ wartime business dealings with Nazi Germany. At the same time, however, Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg, as well as other Swedish businessmen, remained very much interested in the expansion of Swedish-Soviet trade relations. The Wallenberg brothers in particular needed to keep contacts with the Soviet authorities civil and constructive enough to conduct complex negotiating for compensation of their lost businesses throughout Soviet occupied Europe and the Baltic states after World War II. This may be a partial explanation why the Wallenbergs initially supported the planned credit and trade agreement. (Later on, Soviet officials charged that Wallenberg companies had intentionally „sabotaged“ the agreement, by delaying or only partially filling orders.)

Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg did not entirely ignore the question of Raoul Wallenberg’s fate during this period. From Swedish documents it is known that on or around May 21, 1946 – about three weeks after the Soviet leadership had informed the Swedish government about its willingness to conclude a trade agreement – Marcus Wallenberg sent a letter to [the former Soviet Ambassador] Alexandra Kollontay who was forced to return to the Soviet Union in March 1945. She remained an official employee of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, and Staffan Söderblom personally delivered the letter to her in Moscow. The message was, apparently, a follow-up to an earlier one Wallenberg had sent to her in April 1945 in which he had asked her assistance to clarify Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance. It is doubtful that Söderblom could have delivered the letter without the knowledge and approval of Foreign Minister Undén.

The content of Marcus Wallenberg’s second letter is not known. A copy of this letter should be preserved in both Swedish and Russian archives, yet it has not been located. A document released by the Wallenberg family archive (Stiftelsen för Ekonomisk Historisk Forskning inom Bank och Företagande, SEHFBF) late last year also shows that Staffan Söderblom met Jacob Wallenberg on July 4, 1946, just three weeks after the former’s meeting with Stalin. It is not known what the conversation entailed, but it presumably concerned at least in part Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance and Söderblom’s discussion with the Soviet leader. The conversation was almost certainly prompted also by the sensational new information that had just been received from a returned former prisoner in the Soviet Union, the journalist Edward af Sandeberg, who reported that two witnesses had confirmed to him that Raoul Wallenberg was also imprisoned there.

Marcus Wallenberg Jr. (1899-1982)

Jacob Wallenberg (1892-1980)

So far, two other important questions have only been partially answered by the three theses outlined above: First, why did Stalin order the detention of a man who enjoyed diplomatic protection in Hungary and who belonged to one of Sweden’s most prominent families? After all, the Wallenberg family, in spite of its extensive dealings with Nazi Germany, had rendered important services to the Soviet Union throughout World War II. Marcus Wallenberg, for instance, had been instrumental in securing a peace agreement between the Soviet Union and Finland at the end of 1944. Also, shipments of ball bearings and other items produced at the Wallenberg-owned factories during the war were very important for the Soviet military industry. And second, why was Raoul Wallenberg – who just two years earlier had galvanized the world’s attention with his courageous actions on behalf of Hungary’s Jews – already in 1946 seemingly expendable to his own government and, possibly, to members of his own family? To come to any preliminary conclusion, it is necessary to understand how the Wallenberg case was considered by both Swedish and Soviet officials.

The Swedish Perspective – Raoul Wallenberg as a potential risk factor

From the official Swedish perspective, the situation at the time of Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance in January 1945 may have looked even more precarious than previously understood. While Wallenberg’s activities in Budapest were mainly humanitarian, his work also involved other aspects such as contacts with the Hungarian anti-Nazi resistance and efforts to safeguard the extensive interests of Sweden and the Western Allies in Hungary. They included, among others, the protection of members of the professional class – businessmen, scientists and technical experts, politicians, diplomats, and lawyers, and other leading members of the Hungarian society and, in some cases, the protection of their assets. In certain situations, Wallenberg and his colleagues also had to pay bribes to both Hungarian and German Nazi officials to secure their cooperation. According to the statements of several witnesses, on at least one occasion, Wallenberg transported weapons and ammunition in his diplomatic car for members of the Hungarian resistance and even offered financial support for the purchases of arms and other supplies. This information was first brought to light by the Swedish historian Gellert Kovacs. There are several unconfirmed reports that Raoul Wallenberg and other members of the Swedish Legation collected information about crimes and atrocities committed by the Red Army in Hungary and Poland.

Given Wallenberg’s status as a Swedish diplomat, some of his actions would have constituted a violation of Swedish neutrality or at least a serious transgression of diplomatic norms.  So far it remains unclear if and how these additional dimensions of Wallenberg’s work might have contributed to his detention by Soviet military counterintelligence and how it may have affected the official Swedish and Soviet governments‘ handling of his case.

Swedish officials, apparently, also had additional cause to worry about Wallenberg’s disappearance. [As mentioned earlier], The newly obtained documentation from the archives of the Swedish Military Intelligence Service (MUST) shows that in 1943, Swedish intelligence representatives were ready to broaden their efforts to monitor and possibly help curtail the Soviet Union’s growing sphere of influence, not only in the neighboring Baltic states and Finland, but also in Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary. In particular, the papers reveal that already in the autumn of 1943, Swedish intelligence officers entered into a secret intelligence sharing agreement with high-ranking member of the Hungarian General Staff regarding Communist and Soviet espionage operations. Among other information, the Swedish Defense Staff compiled a secret report about Soviet intelligence networks in Sweden that it shared with its Hungarian counterparts. In return, Swedish intelligence officials received sensitive information about Communist underground activities in Hungary. (Only the Hungarian report has been publicly disclosed and it is unclear if the Swedish report has been preserved). The Swedish actions occurred in direct response to a personal request made as early as April 1943 by Maj. General István Ujszászi, head of the Hungarian State Security Center (Államvédelmi Központ) that coordinated military and civilian defense activities in Hungary.

The agreement was discussed and approved at the highest levels of the Swedish Defense Staff. During the years 1943-1944, Maj. General Ujszászi and Lt. Col. Harry Wester, the Swedish Military Attaché in Budapest, met for consultation on a regular basis, but it is clear that the new agreement was supposed to usher in a more extensive cooperation between the two countries. On at least one occasion, Captain Helmuth Ternberg, Deputy Head of C-byrån (C-Bureau, a highly secret Swedish military intelligence agency under the Swedish Defense Staff during WWII) in early 1944 joined Wester in a meeting with Ujszászi to discuss the implementation of the secret intelligence exchange.

Maj. General István Ujszászy (1894–?) Courtesy of Professor Sándor Szakály; previously published in Sándor Szakály. A 2 vkf. osztály. Tanulmányok a magyar katonai hírszerzés és kémelhárítás történetéből 1918-1945. Második, javított és kiegészített kiadás. [2nd revised and supplemented edition]. Budapest: Magyar Napló Kiadó – VERITAS Történetkutató Intézet, 2015.

A memorandum dated March 3, 1944 on the meeting of Lt. Col. Harry Wester, Swedish Military Attaché in Budapest, Helmuth Ternberg, deputy head of the Swedish C-Bureau and Hungarian Maj. General Ujszászi in February 1944, to discuss a secret Swedish-Hungarian intelligence sharing agreement about Soviet espionage operations in Sweden and Hungary. Source: The Swedish Military intelligence and Security Service Archive (MUST)

After the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944, Maj. General Ujszászi was arrested by the Gestapo, but was released a few weeks later. In October 1944, he went underground, with the help of the Swedish Legation in Budapest. In early 1945, he surrendered to Soviet forces. He was then brought to the NKVD/MVD POW Camp no. 27 near Moscow, where he was interrogated intensively. Soviet interrogators questioned him in detail about the various secret attempts by the representatives of the government of Miklós Kállay, Hungary’s Prime Minister from March 1942 until March 1944, to establish contacts with the Western Allies. In August of 1948, on the request of the Hungarian State Security (ÁVO), Ujszászy was transferred to Budapest and kept in prison under the pseudonym “Iván Fekete”. During interrogations by ÁVO officers, Ujszászy gave a detailed description of the structure and activities of the 2nd Department of the Hungarian General Staff and of the State Security Center during World War II. The published record of his interrogations shows that he was asked by ÁVO/ÁVH investigators specifically about his wartime contacts with Swedish officials, in particular Lt. Col. Harry Wester. The exact date and place of Maj. General Ujszászy’s death are unknown.

The new documentation from the archive of MUST makes it clear that Swedish intelligence officials focused serious attention on Hungary and the future role of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe much earlier than previously thought. This means that Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian mission in the second half of 1944 to protect Hungary’s Jews from Nazi persecution, as well as his disappearance in Soviet imprisonment in January 1945, has to now be viewed in this broader and more complex context. In particular, it needs to be clarified what information he possessed about these various intelligence aims and operations and if he or his Swedish diplomatic colleagues had any role in them.

Raoul Wallenberg’s selection for the humanitarian mission to Budapest

The new documentation strongly suggests that systematic preparations by American and Swedish intelligence representatives to collect intelligence news from Hungary, as well as to provide active support to the Hungarian resistance, started in earnest already in late October 1943, and not only in the summer or early autumn of 1944, as previously thought. The timing of this coordinated approach, as well as the start of the secret Swedish-Hungarian intelligence sharing arrangement in the autumn of 1943, nine months before Raoul Wallenberg’s appointment as a Swedish diplomat in July 1944, is potentially significant. Just as interesting are the individuals involved in these discussions. The aim of these efforts – which also involved important Hungarian contacts in Stockholm – was to explore the feasibility of a planned Anglo-American military intervention in Hungary, to bring about the defeat of Nazi Germany, and, at the same time, to prepare for the expected Soviet occupation of the country.

These new details are especially interesting when placed in context with other known facts.

Previous investigations have found no indication that Wallenberg had any formal ties to Swedish or Allied intelligence operations. However, the newly released information shows that an important part of the communications between Swedish and Hungarian intelligence operatives was carried out via the Hungarian Legation in Stockholm. Since 1941, Raoul Wallenberg had close personal contact with many of the individuals connected to the Swedish-Hungarian affairs, including persons with direct links to the Swedish-Hungarian intelligence agreement of 1943-44. These include, most notably, Dr. Antal Ullein-Reviczky, the Hungarian Minister to Stockholm who knew Raoul Wallenberg since September 1943 and who attended a farewell dinner before Wallenberg’s departure for Budapest in July 1944; Robert Taylor Cole, head of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services‘ (OSS) Secret Intelligence (SI) branch in Stockholm, who secretly met with Ullein-Reviczky on numerous occasions. Cole cooperated closely with Iver Olsen, the OSS and War Refugee Board representative in Stockholm, who selected Raoul Wallenberg for the Budapest humanitarian mission in June 1944; Captain (later Major) Helmuth Ternberg (whose brother, the Swedish Navy Officer Egon Ternberg, was one of Raoul Wallenberg’s godfathers).

They further included: Lt. Thorsten Akrell, a special agent of the Swedish Defense Staff who was of the same age as Raoul Wallenberg and moved in the same social circles in Stockholm. The two men also met in September 1944 in Budapest. It was Akrell who handled the secret contacts with the Hungarian Legation, Stockholm, in particular with the Assistant Military Attaché Major Zoltán Vági; Akrell’s boss, Lt. Col. Carl Bonde, head of Swedish Counterintelligence (Fst Inrikesavdelningen) who oversaw the Swedish-Hungarian discussions. He was the stepson of Ebba Bonde, sister of Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg; Lt. Col. Harry Wester; and Dr. Géza Soós, one of the leaders of the Magyar Függetlenségi Mozgalom (MFM, the Hungarian Independence Movement), Hungary’s main resistance group. Soós was one of Raoul Wallenberg’s earliest contacts in Budapest.

On the left, Dr. Géza Soós, co-founder of the MFM, the main resistance movement in Hungary, circa 1941. Source: Dr. Emese Soós.

March 20. 1944. Alarming news from Hungary. From Mrs. Ullein-Reviczky’s diary: “At 5.55 p.m. phone rings … cipher arrived: “Regent, Csatay, Szombathelyi, Ghyczy, have left for Hitler’s headquarters,meanwhile the Nazis are occupying Hungary”. Courtesy of the Antal Ullein-Reviczky Foundation, Magyarnádasd-Kelecsény, Hungary

Moreover, both Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg served as important contacts and sources of information for Swedish intelligence during the war. Col. Carl Björnstjerna, head of the Swedish foreign intelligence at the Swedish Defense Staff until 1942, was married to Sonja Wallenberg, Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg’s sister. Therefore, potentially, due to his personal connections, Raoul Wallenberg could have had some knowledge, however limited, about certain Swedish intelligence operations in Hungary during the years 1943–45, including the secret Swedish-Hungarian intelligence sharing agreement.

After the war, Taylor Cole emphasized in his memoir that „our Hungarian interests and contacts occasioned a meeting with Raoul Wallenberg“, shortly before his departure for Budapest, suggesting that Wallenberg’s mission possibly involved aspects that went beyond purely humanitarian aims.  In this context it should be noted that none of Raoul Wallenberg’s appointment books or calendars from before 1944 have been preserved; neither has his passport for the year 1943. These records are known to have been in Raoul Wallenberg’s possession as late as the summer of 1944. The papers could provide important additional details about Wallenberg’s personal and professional connections during the years 1941–1944.

Raoul Wallenberg’s personal background

It is well known that since the early 1940s, Wallenberg had important professional ties to Hungary. In 1941 – through Jacob Wallenberg’s recommendation – Raoul Wallenberg joined Mellaneuropeiska, an import-export company that conducted most of its business with Hungarian firms, as a director. The company focused mainly on foodstuffs. During the years 1942-1943 Wallenberg traveled to Hungary twice on business, as well as to Germany, German occupied France, and Switzerland.

Wallenberg and his business partner Kálmán Lauer, also acted as a business agents and facilitators of trade on behalf of other Swedish companies abroad. In this way, Mellaneuropeiska (which functioned entirely in the Wallenberg business sphere) played an important role in obtaining crucial supplies from German occupied territories for the Swedish wartime economy. Mellaneuropeiska was also involved in the wartime protection of the business assets of certain leading members of Hungarian society, including members of the wealthy Manfred Weiss industrial family and prominent individuals in the circle of Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian Regent.

Like other Swedish businesses engaged in wartime trade, it may have functioned as a useful cover for the collection of certain intelligence information from abroad as well as the handling of confidential tasks. After the war, the Swedish businessman Åke Burchardt,  brother of Björn Burchardt, one of Raoul Wallenberg’s closest friends during the 1940s, claimed  that „Raoul carried out special assignments on behalf of the Swedish state.“ During the war years, Wallenberg also served in the Swedish Home Guard (Hemvärnet), where he was a respected instructor and obtained important military experience, including valuable communications and weapons training. It is well known that the Home Guard served as a major recruiting ground for Swedish intelligence agencies.

The smuggling of US radio transmitters into Hungary in 1944

Already in November 1943, Taylor Cole had given instructions for setting up a secret network of radio communications and codes to be used „for transmission between selected Allied points outside [Hungary], perhaps Bari in Italy, and picked points in Koshoot [Hungary].“ He later explained in his memoir that, for this purpose, „Hungarian cooperation in Budapest was secured for the receipt of radios, codes and transmitting equipment which we managed to transmit through Swedish subjects (added emphasis; note the plural) carrying diplomatic pouches on Nazi airplanes to Hungary.“ The newly released documentation from the archive of the MUST reveals for the first time that Swedish intelligence (Lt. Col. Bonde) had plans to send Thorsten Akrell to Budapest as early as January 1944. Precisely at that time, the Anglo-American Allies demanded that Hungarian officials should agree to promote covert sabotage operations against the Germans, in order to demonstrate the Hungarian government’s sincerity to leave the war. The American message was transmitted to the Hungarian Foreign Minister Jenö Ghyczy by the Hungarian Minister in Stockholm, Antal Ullein-Reviczky, via a trusted courier in late January 1944. Akrell’s mission was delayed by several months, due to the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. But obviously, his mission appears to have been part of a much broader effort by American officials (with Swedish assistance) to create a network of communication in Hungary as early as the beginning of 1944.

Thorsten Akrell, special agent of the Swedish Defense Staff.

Professor Robert Taylor Cole, the U.S. Secret Intelligence (SI) Chief in Stockholm, 1943–1945 (right). An undated photograph in his office at Duke University. Source: The Duke University Archives.

Helmuth Ternberg, Deputy Head of C-Bureau. Source: Wikipedia Commons

In August 1944, Per Anger, First Secretary at the Swedish Legation in Budapest, returned briefly to Stockholm for consultations with, among others, Dr. Ullein-Reviczky and Iver Olsen. One month later, Lt. Thorsten Akrell smuggled two wireless radio transmitters into Hungary. These transmitters apparently had the capability of communicating directly with US military forces in Italy. Documentation released from the U.S. National Archive in the early 1990s shows that the Swedish C-Bureau – in particular the Deputy Chief of C-Bureau, Captain Helmut Ternberg, in close cooperation with U.S. intelligence representatives in Stockholm – tried to support the Hungarian resistance in the autumn of 1944 by providing a secret „signal plan“ that was to be used during a planned revolt against the German occupiers. Dr. Géza Soós of the MFM, had a central role in these plans. He also had direct contact with both Raoul Wallenberg and Per Anger. Matter of fact, Soós was among the first people Raoul Wallenberg met after he arrived in Hungary.

The unknown role of Swedish signal intelligence officers in Hungary in 1943-1945

In 2000, the Swedish intelligence archivist Göran Rydeberg suggested in an official report that several (possibly as many as five) Swedish signal intelligence officers were deployed to Hungary, beginning in late 1943. British intelligence historian Craig McKay recently identified one of these officers as Nils “Nisse” Johansson, who apparently was loaned out to the Swedish Defense Staff from his regular employer, the Swedish National Defense Radio Establishment (FRA). A short internal FRA memorandum states that Johansson “served at the Swedish Legation Budapest 1944-45.” According to McKay, „Nisse“ Johansson and his colleagues may have provided the necessary technical assistance to Soós and his colleagues in MFM the autumn of 1944. None of the communications sent and received by Swedish signal intelligence personnel deployed to Hungary has been released from Swedish archives. In fact, Johansson’s assignment and work in Hungary has never been formally acknowledged by Swedish authorities.

The Nils Johansson’s obituary. Source: Svenska Dagbladet. The text mentions that Johansson was assigned to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the last year of the war he served in Berlin where he was in charge of radio communications. The obituary does not refer to Johansson’s assignment to the Swedish Legation in Budapest in 1944.

The presence of Swedish signal intelligence officers in Budapest suggests that the members of the Swedish Legation, including Raoul Wallenberg, had available to them an additional channel of secret communications with Stockholm. The new insights also lend added credence to previously reported claims (first outlined by Gellert Kovacs in 2013) that members of the Hungarian resistance relayed key information about potential bombing targets to Allied forces located in Bari (Italy) and Malta via a transmitter located in or adjacent to the Swedish Legation. The OSS archival materials, in fact, show how in October 1944 information obtained from sources in Hungary regarding supply trains and troop movements was transferred via wireless transmitters to OSS headquarters in Bari and Caserta (Italy). From there, the details were shared with the British Air Force. Additionally, it is known that on two occasions in late October 1944, Per Anger forwarded communications on behalf of the MFM, intended for Soviet representatives, presumably via the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm. These communications have not been located in Swedish or Russian archives until now.

Unfortunately, nearly all information regarding the Swedish Defense Staff’s clandestine activities in Hungary, including those of C-Bureau’s, seemed to have completely vanished from Swedish archives. The material is believed to have been intentionally destroyed after World War II, but many analysts doubt that all information has disappeared. The possible motives behind any destruction or hiding of the documentation regarding Hungary are slowly becoming a bit clearer to understand, especially if Sweden engaged in active intelligence operations in Hungary as early as 1943, in cooperation with American and British intelligence representatives. The situation becomes even more sensitive if these operations could be seen as having been directed (in some form) against the Soviet Union, and if they were carried out with perhaps some knowledge and possible active involvement of Swedish diplomatic personnel in Budapest.

The Soviet perspective – Raoul Wallenberg as an accidental and potentially useful bargaining chip

It is well known that the Soviet leadership, as well as intelligence and counterintelligence services were extremely suspicious of every Western foreigner and considered him or her to have been a potential spy against the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership very much feared that the Western Allies eventually would make common cause with a defeated Germany and together turn against the Soviet Union, in a one-front war – with both sympathy and active support from neutral countries like Sweden. Soviet external intelligence, therefore, followed very closely all of the secret discussions during the years 1942-1945 between Hungarian officials and Anglo-American representatives to gain Hungary’s exit from the war and to deliver the country into the hands of the Western Allies. Not surprisingly, the resistance movement in Hungary was regarded with great suspicion because its leading members belonged to the conservative middle – and upper class, the aristocracy, as well as the military.  Their mostly Western, in particular anglophile orientation was well known. These deep Soviet suspicions obviously also extended to Raoul Wallenberg and other neutral diplomats who were engaged in extensive Jewish rescue operations.

Joseph Stalin. Source:

A month after Raoul Wallenberg had been detained and sent to Moscow – obviously on Stalin’s order (Viktor Abakumov, head of SMERSH, reported directly to Stalin and received orders and instructions only from him) – the SMERSH Directorate of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, which had previously interrogated Wallenberg, conducted an investigation with the goal to “prove” that the Swedish Legation in Budapest had been involved in the sale of Swedish protective papers to German and Hungarian Nazi officials. The only declassified report of this Directorate states that „instead of protecting the interests of the Soviet Union and Hungary, the Swedish Embassy and the Swedish Red Cross were giving protection to the enemies of the Soviet Union and the Hungarian people and providing them with refuge and sanctuary.“ The report also strongly criticized the Swedish Envoy in Budapest Ivan Danielsson and Lt. Col. Harry Wester for their alleged mistreatment and neglect of Soviet prisoners of war.

This investigation seems to have been an initiative of the Front Directorate and it is not clear if the information ever reached Abakumov at the SMERSH Main Directorate in Moscow. When evaluating what Stalin may have known about RW it is important to understand that there existed practically no exchange of foreign intelligence information between various Soviet intelligence agencies. The situation was complicated even further by the fact that such agencies as the NKGB Foreign Intelligence and the GRU were in constant traditional rivalry. It was Stalin who received all information from various entities and made decisions, while the other Politburo members had only an advisory role.

The Soviet leadership’s information about Raoul Wallenberg and the Wallenberg family

However, even taking into account some of the realities and limitations regarding the internal flow of information in the Soviet State Security apparatus, Stalin was almost certainly well briefed about Raoul Wallenberg from the moment he made contact with Soviet officers in Budapest in January 1945. While Wallenberg was formally transferred to Moscow by operatives of the Soviet military counterintelligence (SMERSH), he was initially questioned by Red Army political officers. The Red Army Political Directorate was, in fact, not a part of the military command, but part of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party. Its head, Aleksandr Shcherbakov, was not only a Politburo candidate member, but also a deputy Defense Commissar, i.e., Stalin’s deputy. It means that Stalin most likely was informed about Raoul Wallenberg’s detention right from the start. [It is known that information about Wallenberg’s colleagues was also transmitted through the same channels from Hungary to directly to high-level Soviet officials in Moscow]. Similarly, in the case of Count István Bethlen, the former Prime Minister of Hungary (1921-1931), who was detained approximately at the same time as Wallenberg, interrogations by political officers were intense and there was a detailed correspondence of field units with Moscow headquarters. These facts strongly suggest that documents regarding the Wallenberg Case exist in the archive of the Political Directorate that have never been released by Russian authorities.

Stalin and the Soviet leadership also had access to various other sources of information about Sweden, including the Wallenberg family and, possibly, Raoul Wallenberg. One example are the encrypted communications sent from the Soviet Legation in Stockholm to the Soviet Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (later the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and other Soviet agencies during the years 1944-1945. In 2012, in connection with the Raoul Wallenberg centenary (the 100th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s birth), the Russian Federation Foreign Policy Archive (formerly the Russian Foreign Ministry Archive) released almost 7,000 diplomatic cipher cables sent between Stockholm and Moscow in the years 1944-47. However, 3,000 additional communications for that same period have remained classified in a number of Russian archival collections, including the Central Archive of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

During the years 1945-1947, Soviet investigators most likely also collected additional background material from the interrogations of Raoul Wallenberg’s fellow prisoners including his long-term cellmate, the German diplomat and intelligence man Willy Rödel. These so-called „Agent Files“ and related documentation are almost certainly preserved but have never been publicly shared with investigators.

The available records show that during the two and a half years of his imprisonment in Moscow Raoul Wallenberg was apparently interrogated only a few times and each time only briefly [with, apparently, at least one serious exception, the sixteen hours long interrogation on July 23, 1947]. This suggests that the NKGB/MGB investigators had no serious interest at the time in the detailed information he possessed about the conditions or events in Hungary. Therefore, when Stalin ordered Abakumov to detain Wallenberg, he most likely had in mind other reasons for this decision. Instead, Stalin may have intended to use Raoul Wallenberg as a way to apply pressure on either the Swedish government or the Wallenberg family in some form in the future. As mentioned earlier, one theory states that Stalin potentially wished to pressure Swedish decision makers into making important concession to the Soviet Union, including the signing of a substantial Swedish-Soviet trade and credit agreement. There are also some indications in Soviet era records from the 1950s that the secret Hungarian separate peace discussions of 1942–1944 may have been a factor in Stalin’s decision to detain Raoul Wallenberg.

The Wallenbergs were certainly no strangers to Stalin.  Wallenberg-controlled companies had a presence in Russia since 1916, especially the ball bearing trust SKF (Svenska Kullagerfabriken) that built a large ball bearing factory operating in Moscow under Swedish management until the 1930s. The SKF provided crucial deliveries to Moscow during WWII. As mentioned earlier, among other benefits the Soviet Union received from the association with the Wallenberg brothers personally was Marcus Wallenberg’s instrumental help in organizing the Finnish-Soviet peace negotiations in 1944, just a few months before Raoul Wallenberg’s detention. Russian officials have repeatedly stated that special collections about the wartime business contacts of the Swedish bankers Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg with both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union exist in several Russian archives. However, only a few of these documents have been released so far.

If the Soviet leaders had information about Wallenberg’s extensive plan for the post-war organization dedicated to the restitution of Jewish property and the reconstruction of Hungary’s economy, they would have been extremely wary that the plan could have been a veiled front for promoting future Western influence and control over Hungary. In general, to the Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence Raoul Wallenberg’s mission to Hungary, supported and financed by the U.S. government and international Jewish organizations, such as the American Joint Distribution Committee, the World Jewish Congress and others, may have appeared as an intentional step in this direction. Wallenberg’s intended private post-war organization was designed on a vast scale, going far beyond the mere reclaiming of certain valuable personal effects. According to Wallenberg’s notes about the project, it was also going to encompass the restitution of crucial Hungarian industrial assets, as well as large scale patent – and consortium rights.

Before his departure from Budapest, Wallenberg had told his staff that he planned to use some of the remaining American funds that had been allocated (by the U.S. War Refugee Board and the U.S. American Joint Distribution Committee) for the original humanitarian mission to finance this new project. It is an often-overlooked fact that Wallenberg’s official task (as described in a cable sent by the Swedish Foreign Office to the Swedish Legation, Budapest from June 21, 1944) concerned not only the development of a proposal for an „appropriate and realistic humanitarian initiative“, but also specifically included „any necessary post-war aid measures“. The text of the Swedish cable further emphasized that „the American Legation here [in Stockholm] pays great attention to the issue.“

The specter of Swedish-Allied post-war intelligence cooperation in Hungary and Stalin’s decision in 1946 to reduce tensions with Sweden

Another question that needs to be examined in more detail is if – and if so, to what extent – the various intelligence contacts and activities in Hungary and Sweden during the years 1943–1945 (some of which began as early as the spring of 1943), may have already included some important post-war considerations. During the summer of 1944, the OSS decided to prepare a larger intelligence group for deployment to Hungary. The so-called OSS Budapest City Unit consisted of more than fifty intelligence officers and soldiers who were to be stationed as permanent U.S. intelligence representatives in Budapest the moment the hostilities allowed. One of the group’s declared post-war aims was „to give the American authorities an unequaled source of information on Russian policy and intentions in Hungary.“

It is clear that for all parties involved crucial long-term security as well as economic interests were at stake. Sweden and the countries in Central and Eastern Europe had many vital interests in common once hostilities ceased in Europe. Many aspired to a situation in which the Soviet Union could be contained with the help of secret intelligence as well as perhaps economic and financial means. Already during the spring of 1944, the time of Raoul Wallenberg’s appointment to Budapest, the OSS was beginning to implement a new economic intelligence program aimed at influencing the major industrial and financial centers in Europeand in which businessmen from neutral countries were to play a critical role. A year later, an OSS telegram dated August 1, 1945, indicates that with the end of the war, the foreign branches of leading Swedish companies were to serve as important collection points for intelligence about the Soviet Union, to be shared with Western intelligence services. The telegram stated:

„[The] Swedes [are] planning [to] organize their future intelligence eastward, using representatives of large Swedish commercial and industrial firms which have agencies and representatives in Russia, Baltics, and Balkans. Economic intelligence will be furnished [by] us, they will endeavor collect military intelligence from Balkans and Turkey via Switzerland and have requested from us [to] present disposition Russian troops in Europe, can we supply?“

Preparations for such arrangements must have occurred well before August 1945 and clearly involved Wallenberg owned or operated companies.

Excerpt from the OSS Telegram dated August 1, 1945, Taylor Cole (Stockholm) to Director, OSS. Source: U.S. National Archive (NARA, Maryland)

It is not known to what extent members of the Soviet leadership were aware of the planned Swedish-American post-war intelligence cooperation in Eastern Europe. However, Soviet officials were clearly concerned about Sweden’s role in the post-war order and their ability to affect this order. Already in late March 1945 Alexandra Kollontay warned the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov that after the war, Sweden would become a battleground for the U.S. and Great Britain. A few months later, in June 1945, and again in early 1946, the new Soviet Envoy in Stockholm Iliya Chernyshev (Kollontay’s successor), informed his superiors in Moscow of the necessity of a serious policy change towards Sweden, in order to improve Soviet-Swedish relations and to counter Anglo-American influence in the country.

On April 5, 1946, Stalin and the Politburo (Soviet leaders closest to Stalin) decided “to improve relationships with Sweden” and instructed Envoy Chernyshev in Stockholm to inform the Swedish Foreign Minister Östen Undén of Stalin’s offer of a quid-pro-quo:  If a Swedish-Soviet “credit negotiations develop successfully”, “favorable conditions” would be created between Sweden and the Soviet Union. On April 29, 1946 – a full six weeks before [Sweden’s envoy in Moscow] Staffan Söderblom’s illfated meeting with Stalin – Chernyshev briefed the Swedish Foreign Minister. The very next day, Söderblom reported from Moscow what he perceived to be a slight but significant change in attitude of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Wallenberg case. „It appears that, against all expectations, Raoul Wallenberg could be alive, “ Söderblom wrote. Undén showed no reaction. The Swedish government immediately took up Stalin’s offer and in October 1946, the agreement was signed. There was no indication, however, of any effort to make the resolution of Raoul Wallenberg’s fate or his rescue part of the negotiations in any way. In December 1946, the Swedish Foreign Minister Undén had the opportunity to raise Wallenberg’s disappearance directly with the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov at the United Nations. For unknown reasons he failed to do so. On July 16, 1947, Sweden’s new Envoy to Moscow, Rolf Sohlman met Mikhail Vetrov, Acting Head of the 5th European Department (Scandinvia) of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In his notes of the meeting Vetrov wrote[3]:

S.[ohlman] explained that, according to the information that Stockholm has, Wallenberg wanted to leave Budapest for Debrecen, where the just formed Hungarian government was located. One cannot exclude, of course, that in Budapest or somewhere on the way something happened because at that time, there were fights and bombardments.

I answered that I do not have anything new on this matter.

Sohlman’s statement sounded almost exactly what Staffan Söderblom had told other MID officials three times before, even repeating this version to Stalin.

„They did not want him back“

The foregoing raises the question why Swedish officials so readily accepted the idea that Raoul Wallenberg was dead and could not be rescued?

For the Swedish government and Wallenberg business family, the lengthy post-war investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department into Sweden’s wartime business affairs with Nazi Germany created both an enormous challenge and a major public embarrassment. In September 1945, a high-level Hungarian official informed Swedish representatives that the Soviet authorities had detained Raoul Wallenberg and allegedly planned to use him and his papers in the future trials of “leading persons in trade and finance … who over five years were German friendly.” Even though this information was unconfirmed and remained simply a rumor, the news can only have enhanced Swedish concerns.

In late September 1945 Swedish diplomats shared the information with their U.S. counterparts, and they added that it was doubtful that the Soviets would “ever produce Wallenberg alive.” The reasons for this comment or who made it have never been established. If accurately cited or paraphrased, the remark suggests that only nine months after Wallenberg’s disappearance, some Swedish officials had made up their minds that – alive or not – he could not be saved.

At the time, Staffan Söderblom was in Stockholm for consultations. Only three months later, in December 1945, Söderblom asked the Soviet Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Abramov to issue an official declaration that Wallenberg was dead. He repeated his request in a meeting with Abramov on March 9, 1946, and, most importantly, again on June 15, 1946, during a unique appointment with the Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Both the context and pattern of Söderblom’s behavior need to be studied more closely. For example, before Söderblom’s official requests in December 1945 and June 1946 to declare Raoul Wallenberg dead, he had just recently returned to the Soviet Union from visits to Stockholm. Söderblom, who did not enjoy the confidence of the Swedish Foreign Minister [Östen] Undén, supposedly received no specific instructions from his superiors regarding Wallenberg’s disappearance. However, as an experienced diplomat, Söderblom must have realized how his words would be interpreted by Soviet officials. Swedish authorities never reprimanded him for his statement to Stalin. Also, Söderblom’s requests were preceded each time by personal discussions with Alexandra Kollontay, conducted at her private residence in Moscow. Kollontay’s role in these contacts remains unclear. She certainly could not have acted independently, without approval of the Soviet authorities. Although ill, officially she was still an adviser to the Soviet Ministry for Foreign Affairs. For unknown reasons, the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs released not all records of diplomatic meetings for the period of 1945-47. Even less materials were released for the years 1951-54.

The Soviet Ambassador Alexandra Kollontay  (1872 – 1952)

The apparent mindset among some Swedish officials that Raoul Wallenberg was either dead or, even if alive, he could not be saved, may well have provided additional motivation for Swedish authorities to distance themselves from Raoul Wallenberg’s work, with the implication that any transgressions or violations of Swedish neutrality in Budapest regarding business or intelligence activities were mainly his own doing and, therefore, his own responsibility. As the former Swedish diplomat Jan Lundvik and member of the Swedish Working Group summed up the matter succinctly some years ago: „They did not want him back.“ Such a scenario would also constitute a particularly bitter irony, given the fact that Wallenberg’s mission in many ways had served to compensate for many questionable activities of his country during the war, including those of his own relatives.

What did Swedish officials know about Raoul Wallenberg and when did they know it?

It must now be urgently determined if Swedish government officials, including individuals at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had at least some knowledge of the secret contacts between Swedish intelligence and the Hungarian General Staff in 1943–1944 regarding the Soviet Union, as well as the aims and operations of Swedish intelligence in Hungary during this period, already at the time of Raoul Wallenberg’s presence in Budapest and his disappearance in January 1945. Aside from Raoul Wallenberg’s diplomatic colleagues Per Anger, Lars Berg and Ivar Danielsson, such a person was clearly the young diplomat Sverker Åström (1915–2012), who worked with leading officials in the Political Department of the Swedish Foreign Ministry from 1944 to 1946. In March 1945, it was Åström who accompanied Alexandra Kollontay home to the Soviet Union.  This meant that he was a firsthand witness to some of the earliest discussions about Wallenberg’s disappearance among Swedish and Soviet diplomats in Moscow. Åström later rose to become one of Sweden’s top diplomats for more than three decades. During the 1950s, Åström was directly in charge of the Raoul Wallenberg case. While undoubtedly brilliant, his career was marred by persistent suspicions that he may have functioned as a Soviet asset during his time in office. These rumors have not been fully resolved and Åström’s personal file in the Swedish Security Police remains largely inaccessible.

Staffan Söderblom’s actions, too, deserve serious additional analysis. As mentioned earlier, his actions appear to have reflected the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s basic attitudes to the Wallenberg case in a much more direct way than previously assumed. Another key question is what the Wallenberg brothers knew about Raoul Wallenberg’s wartime contacts and connections and what considerations may have guided their behavior in this sad affair. Both Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg clearly had the power and the influence needed to make a strong representation on Raoul Wallenberg’s behalf, yet apparently, they never did so. An intriguing question is why Major Helmuth Ternberg appears to have been pursuing many private efforts after the war to obtain information about Raoul Wallenberg from former prisoners in the Soviet Union. In his search for clues, he traveled extensively to Germany and some iron curtain countries, and he reported regularly to Jacob Wallenberg. Possibly Jacob Wallenberg simply hired Ternberg because he possessed the necessary background and expertise to conduct a highly confidential inquiry. Both men a had a close personal connection to Raoul Wallenberg which may have motivated them to search for information about him. The issue that has not been examined in detail up until now is whether Raoul Wallenberg perhaps had a formal or informal association with Swedish intelligence during the years 1943-1945. Given the new details that have emerged from Swedish intelligence archives, this possibility cannot be entirely dismissed.

It will need to be established what exact knowledge Raoul Wallenberg’s colleagues had about Swedish intelligence operations in Hungary and what role they had in these events. Finally, it must be clarified to what extent this and other information influenced the official Swedish handling of the Wallenberg case, in 1945 and in later years, including the inquiry by the Swedish-Russian Working Group during the 1990s. There are indications that both Swedish and Russian officials intentionally kept the focus of the Wallenberg investigation very narrow, misrepresented or omitted important details in the case from their respective official reports, and failed to provide access to key documentation to researchers and Wallenberg’s family. The new inquiry should also examine if there existed a spoken or unspoken understanding with Russian officials to exclude specific subjects or issues from the investigation (by limiting the scope of the inquiry, for example). Secondly, it should be determined if the investigation was primarily intended to solve the mystery of Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance or if its main purpose was to remove the Wallenberg case from the official Swedish-Russian political agenda. The new findings strongly suggest that additional records related to these issues remain to be discovered in foreign archive repositories, including the U.S., Britain, Hungary, and Russia, as well as in Sweden.


Documents and information that so far have not been located in Swedish archives

  1. Major Gen. Ujszaszy’s request to the Swedish Defense Staff in March 1943, relayed by Lt. Col. Harry Wester, for a Swedish-Hungarian intelligence exchange.
  2. Report authored by the Swedish Defense Staff in October 1943, on Soviet espionage operations in Sweden. The report was delivered to the Hungarian Military Attaché Zoltán Vági and through him to the Hungarian General Staff.
  3. Letter from Lt. Col. Bonde to Col. Harry Wester in Budapest, from January 25, 1944. It mentions that Bonde planned to send Thorsten Akrell to Budapest as early as January 1944.
  4. Messages from the Hungarian resistance group MFM to the Soviet Union, forwarded by the Swedish Legation, Budapest (Per Anger), on October 21 and 23, 1944
  5. All Information and communications regarding several Swedish signal intelligence officers deployed to Hungary in 1943-1945, including Nils „Nisse“ Johansson.
  6. Marcus Wallenberg’s letter to Ambassador Alexandra Kollontay from May 1946.



[1]Ett Diplomatiskt Misslyckande: Fallet Raoul Wallenberg och den Svenska Utrikesledningen [A Diplomatic Failure: The case of Raoul Wallenberg and the Swedish Foreign Office]”. Statens offentliga utredningar (SOU) 2003:18 (in Swedish),

[2] Approximately in March 1946 some Soviet representatives in MID learned unofficially of Wallenberg’s presence in Moscow. N. Burashnikov, deputy head of the 2nd SMERSH Main Directorate, told I. Chebotarev (5th EO) that it would be desirable for 1st Deputy NKID (People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs) Commissar Andrei Vyshinsky to call the head of SMERSH Viktor Abakumov re Wallenberg.

[3] Copies of the transcript were sent to Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Molotov, 1st Deputy NKID (People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs) Commissar Andrei Vyshinsky, Deputy Foreign Minister Yakov Malik, and the Soviet Mission in Stockholm.


Header: © Alexey Derevtsov (unsplash)


Quote:  Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein, „They did not want him back“, in: RWI-70 News, August 24, 2021: URL:


Cookie settings
Cookies are used on this website. These are needed for the operation of the website or help us to improve the website.
Allow all cookies
Save selection
Individual settings
Individual settings
This is an overview of all cookies used on the website. You have the option to make individual cookie settings. Give your consent to individual cookies or entire groups. Essential cookies cannot be disabled.
Essential (1)
Essential cookies are needed for the basic functionality of the website.
Show cookies