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The Long, Long Puzzle

August 16, 1987

The Soviet Union is again showing a certain testiness in the matter of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who disappeared after being arrested in Soviet-occupied Hungary 42 years ago. Tass, the official Soviet news agency, has once more criticized the media in Sweden and elsewhere for suggesting that Wallenberg may still be alive in a Soviet prison. He is not, said Tass. Another "thorough" investigation conducted last year "confirmed that Wallenberg had died in 1947."

How and precisely where Wallenberg died and, most important of all, why the life of this young diplomat of a neutral country ended in a Soviet prison are questions that Tass has never tried to answer and that Soviet spokesmen have always evaded. For decades, up through the 1970s, reports from former prisoners suggested that Wallenberg had been seen alive in one or another Soviet prison or labor camp. But nothing authoritative about his fate has ever been revealed.

Tens of thousands of Eastern and Central Europeans were seized and transported east by the Soviet secret police in 1945, most never to be seen again. The particular poignancy of the Wallenberg case derives from the remarkable humanitarian work that he was able to carry out in the months before he fell into Soviet hands. As Nazi officials worked feverishly to round up Hungarian Jews for shipment to the death camps, Wallenberg worked just as feverishly to save lives. Because of his intervention, at least 30,000 Hungarian Jews were able to escape the Nazi dragnet.

Openness is supposed to be the new guideline in the conduct of Soviet affairs. Surely there can be no better challenge to Moscow's experiment with candor than the Wallenberg case. It is patently not enough to repeat, as the Soviets have done for 30 years, that Wallenberg is dead. What cries out for explanation is why this decent and compassionate man became a victim of the Soviet system.

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