Few (if any) events of the last year of the Third Reich are as mysterious as the “Raul Wallenberg Affair”. According to the most common (by far) version of events, on April 14th, 1944, the SS and their Hungarian collaborators made the fateful decision to deport all Hungarian Jews (all 700,000 of them) to Auschwitz death camp to be gassed. The first train went to its murderous destination exactly one month later – on May 14th.
In 1944, unlike in 1942 (let alone 1941), the Nazis were concerned first and foremost with their survival. Hence they paid next to no attention to keeping the extermination of Hungarian Jews a secret. Hence, the persecution of the Jews in Hungary (but still not the full enormity of the Holocaust) soon became well known all over the Western World.
In late May, President Roosevelt dispatched US Treasury Department official Iver C. Olsen to Stockholm as a representative of the War Refugee Board (WRB) with the specific order to find a way to rescue at least some Hungarian Jews.
Olsen established contact with a relief committee composed of many prominent Swedish Jews led by the Swedish Chief Rabbi Marcus Ehrenpreis to locate an appropriate person to travel to Budapest under diplomatic cover and lead the rescue operation.
Ultimately, the committee chose Wallenberg who had all necessary qualifications – he has had extensive experience dealing with the Hungarians, spoke the language fluently had connections everywhere (including the Jewish community) and – which was very important – there were deep and extensive commercial, financial and banking relationships between businesses owned by the Wallenberg family and the Nazi government. In short, he was the perfect man to lead the rescue operations.
He arrived in Budapest in July of 1944 and almost single-handedly saved all the Jews that still remained in Budapest. All 200,000 or so of them. Then, on 29 October 1944, units of the 2nd Ukrainian Front under Marshal Rodion Malinovsky launched an offensive against Budapest and by late December the city had been encircled by Soviet forces.
Despite this the German commander of Budapest, SS Lieutenant General Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, refused all offers to surrender, setting in motion a protracted and bloody siege of Budapest.
At the height of the fighting, on 17 January 1945, Wallenberg was called to General Malinovsky’s headquarters in Debrecen to answer allegations that he was engaged in espionage activities against the Red Army. Wallenberg obliged… and has never been seen or heard of since.
According to not exactly believable official Soviet document, Wallenberg died from the heart attack on July 17th, 1947 in the infamous Lubyanka prison. In 1989, Wallenberg’s personal belongings were returned to his family, including his passport and cigarette case. Soviet officials said they found the materials when they were upgrading the shelves in a store room.
The reality was (as usual) slightly different. When the news about mass deportations and murders reached the capitals of global powers, world leaders began to plead with Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy to use his influence with Hitler to stop the deportations. President Franklin D. Roosevelt threatened military retaliation (i.e. bombing the hell out of Hungary) if the transports were not ceased.
Although Admiral Horthy was no lover of Jews (starting in 1938, Hungary under Miklós Horthy passed a series of anti-Jewish measures in emulation of Germany’s Nuremberg Laws), he had no desire to become an accomplice in the annihilation of Hungarian Jews. So he was more than happy to oblige – and on July 7th, 1944 (around the time Wallenberg arrived at Budapest) ordered a halt on deportations.
There was, however, a minor problem – by that time (actually, since March 12th) Hungary was de-facto occupied by Wehrmacht. So the Nazis could have simply ignored Horthy’s order as he was totally powerless to stop them. Hence, his order was by and large a purely symbolic gesture.
But the Nazis did stop deportations, although by that time their murderous job was far from over (only 437,000 out of roughly 700,000 Hungarian Jews have been deported to Auschwitz).
And this is the first mystery of the “Wallenberg affair”. Why on Earth Heinrich Himmler, totally committed to physical extermination of all Jews in German-controlled territories, suddenly stopped this murderous process – although he could have easily finished it in a month at most (at the time of the halt order approximately 12,000 Jews were delivered to the extermination facilities each day)?
The second mystery is related to the first one. On October 15th, Wehrmacht launched Operation Panzerfaust which removed Horthy from power and replaced him with Ferenc Szálasi – an ardently pro-Nazi leader of the Arrow Cross Party (ACP).
Although ACP rule resulted in the deaths of roughly 38,000 (mostly from being literally worked to death), deportations did not resume. Instead, on November 29th, 1944 the ACP and the Germans established the Budapest ghetto (never before a ghetto was established after the deportations – it was always the other way around), forcing all remaining Jews in Budapest into it. And even those who were taking out of the ghetto, ended up in KL, not in Auschwitz where they have been liberated by the Allies.
The question again is: Why the Jews in Budapest were treated in such an unusually humane way? Humane compared to the death camp, of course. It is claimed that Wallenberg (and others) supplied the Jews with some kind of IDs that protected then from the murderous Nazis and the ACP death squads and housed them in building declared the territory of the neutral nations.
But both the Nazis and their Hungarian “partners” were well aware of the fact that the IDs were fake and that the abovementioned designation of buildings was totally illegal. Still, they honored both. Why?
And, finally, why did the Soviets arrest the diplomat (who had the corresponding immunity) of the neutral Sweden, risking alienating the country that was an important tool in Stalin’s diplomatic games? Why they accused him of espionage without a threat of evidence? Why did they keep him in total secrecy claiming that he was killed by the ACP in January of 1945?
And why did Swedish government believe the Soviets who were obviously lying through their teeth? In April 1945, W. Averell Harriman, then of the US State Department, offered the Swedish government help in inquiring about Wallenberg’s fate, but the offer was declined. Why?
This behavior is especially strange given that at the time the Wallenberg family was one of the most influential in Sweden renowned as bankers, industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats, and diplomats.
Even 30 years later, Wallenberg businesses employed 40% of Sweden’s industrial workforce and represented 40% of the total worth of the Stockholm stock market. Why didn’t the family use its influence to find out the truth about one of their own (who by that time already was a global celebrity)?
Let’s try to find the answers to these important questions.