February 1, 2012
Raoul Wallenberg in Russia: Definitely not a Guest, but
(Globe Herald) When Soviet troops liberated
Budapest by the middle of January 1945, it marked the end
of the harrowing ordeal suffered by Hungarys Jewish
population at the hands of German and Hungarian Nazi supporters.
Over half a million victims lay dead, while tens of thousands
more were barely clinging to life in Budapests main
ghetto and numerous safe houses, under the protection of
neutral legations such as Sweden and Switzerland.
The arrival of the Soviet army brought an end to the carnage
and at least a momentary sense that the worst was over.
However, for Raoul Wallenberg, whose aid network had been
instrumental in helping thousands of people to survive,
it merely signaled the beginning of his own difficult journey.
From the moment Soviet officials first encountered the
young Swedish diplomat on January 13, they assigned him
a small personal detail of soldiers. When he planned to
leave the Hungarian capital a few days later to meet with
the Soviet High Command located in Debrecen, Wallenberg
told colleagues half jokingly that he was not certain whether
he was going as a guest or a prisoner. He was
unaware that in Moscow the decision had already been made
to detain both him and his Hungarian driver, Vilmos Langfelder,
with the formal arrest order issued by Soviet Deputy Defense
Minister Bulganin most likely with direct approval
from Stalin as early as January 17, 1945.
Publicly, however, the uncertainty about the Soviets
true intentions lasted for three more weeks. As the two
young men were taken by train not to Debrecen but across
Hungary and Romania to Moscow, Wallenberg passed the time
by beginning to write down notes about his experiences of
the past eventful months. Occasionally, he and Langfelder
were allowed to leave the train for a hot drink and a meal
at a railway station, but always in the company of Soviet
Upon their arrival in Moscow in early February, both men
were taken on a tour of the citys modern engineering
marvel, the Moscow Metro. From there, they were led straight
to the Lubyanka prison where any remaining pretense of benevolent
intentions on the part of their hosts was abruptly shattered.
The kind of welcome Wallenberg and Langfelder received
in Lubyanka has been described by numerous former prisoners.
The same registration procedure applied to everyone entering
the infamous investigation prison, from high ranking foreign
generals to regular Russian civilians. Lubyanka was an enormous
structure, a former hotel complex from Tsarist times, that
spanned a whole city block and housed huge cellars well
suited for detention and interrogation purposes.
Upon arrival, the Wallenberg and Langfelder had to hand
over all of their luggage and possessions, for which they
received a formal receipt. They were forced to strip naked,
while undergoing an extremely invasive body search. As former
Finnish prisoner of war, Unto Parvilahti, described this
experience: A swift and expert scrutiny was made of
every conceivable opening in the human body where one might
have thought to have hidden something, including ear holes,
nostrils and tooth cavities.
The new prisoners clothes received an equally thorough
examination. All buttons were removed, all clothes linings
were ripped open to ensure that no objects were hidden in
them. All belts and shoe laces were confiscated, in order
to forestall attempts to commit suicide. Then Wallenberg
and Langfelders heads were shaved and they underwent
a short medical examination which included disinfection
and immunization measures. Finally, the two were photographed
and fingerprinted and sent to separate cells.
There they were left to a depressing routine. They shared
cramped quarters with up to three other prisoners. The day
began at six in the morning with a few minutes alloted to
use the wash basin and to go to the toilet a closed
bucket in the corner of the cell. Breakfast arrived at seven,
consisting of tea or simply boiled water with a lump of
sugar, and a piece of bread. During the day, prisoners were
not allowed to lie on the bed or to turn their backs to
the cell door. Every few minutes, a guard would look through
the peep hole of the door.
For lunch and dinner, inmates received a thin cabbage soup
which contained some fat, barley and occasionally fish heads
or fish bones. Bedtime came at ten at night, with prisoners
forced to sleep on their backs, hands on top of the blankets,
and with the ceiling light turned on at all times. Contact
with neighboring cells was strictly forbidden and guards
used a carefully coordinated signal system to avoid meetings
with other inmates when moving prisoners between cells.
Guards did not talk to the prisoners and did not tell them
in advance where they were being taken.
Shortly after his arrival on February 6, 1945 Wallenberg
formally protested his imprisonment in a letter he addressed
to the commanding officer of Lubyanka prison. In his complaint
Wallenberg referred to his status as a Swedish citizen and
Swedish diplomat. He received no reply. Around this time
Wallenberg was led to his first interrogation, an experience
that left him deeply shaken. He told his cellmate, Gustav
Richter, that the interrogator was a terrible man.
Wallenberg learned that he was accused of espionage and
that his was a political case. His interrogator
further informed him You are well known to us. You
belong to a great capitalist family in Sweden.
Interrogations were carried out often at night with prisoners
not allowed to sleep during the day, leaving them quickly
exhausted. Harsh interrogation methods included beatings
with rubber batons. Prisoners were also forced to spend
time in punishment cells that were either extremely hot
or cold or were so small that a person could neither stand
nor sit down. Additional torment came from bedbugs and cockroaches,
a result of the excellent breeding ground provided by the
former hotels oak parquet floors.
After some weeks, both Wallenberg and Langfelder were transferred
to Lefortovo Prison, the other major investigative facility
in Moscow, which constituted no measurable improvement.
A former palace complex built in the 18th century, the cells
there got so cold and damp, that even in the warmer months
of the year ice formed on the walls. Unlike in Lubyanka,
prisoners were not given any kind of reading material such
as books or old newspapers. They could leave their cells
only occasionally, for a walk in specially designated walking
courts. Food consisted of potato or pea puree or porridge.
Lefortovo boasted effective use of psychological torture,
such as prisoners being exposed to repetitive voice and
sound recordings that played for days on end with the intention
of slowly driving them mad. During the time Wallenberg and
Langfelder were held there, Lefortovo prison also served
as a laboratory for human experiments, from the use of special
injections to testing the effects of ultrasonic sound on
In March 1947, Wallenberg was moved back to Lubyanka. During
the two years of his captivity he had not been allowed any
kind of contact with the Swedish Embassy located just a
few short kilometers away. By July 1947 he had been assigned
a number Prisoner Nr. 7? indicating
that the investigation of his case had now reached a serious
state. On July 23, 1947 he was subjected to sixteen hours
of continuous interrogation. After that, Wallenbergs
trail breaks off. It remains unclear if he was killed shortly
afterwards or if he remained for a longer time as a secret
prisoner in Lubyanka or in another facility. It is almost
certain that Russian officials today know what happened
to Raoul Wallenberg but do not wish to reveal the full circumstances
of his imprisonment.
There has been much talk in recent weeks about Raoul Wallenberg
as a man of action, as someone who did not remain indifferent
when faced with the suffering of others. In Budapest, he
fought as hard as any soldier on the battle field for the
lives and rights of ordinary people. As such a soldier,
he followed an unwritten code of honor no one
shall be left behind. Sixty-seven years later, Raoul
Wallenberg is still waiting to be extended that same honor