The death of Raoul Wallenberg – SvD 1994

A small man with an ugly, milky eye. Yet his look is as
penetrating as it is dismissive. He is not going to reveal

”I have never met Wallenberg!”.

The name is Daniil Gregorovich Kopelansky. Former
interrogator within the KGB. The last-known survivor from
the organisation that was in contact with Raoul Wallenberg.


It is a scruffy apartment building near the centre of
Moscow, only a five minute walk from the first McDonald´s
resturant at the Pushkin square. The city has entered a new
era, but here everything is as before. By the door to the
left on the fourth floor, four small handwritten slips of
paper are posted. The writing is hardly legible, but on the
second one it says ”Kopelansky”. Ring twice, and Daniil
Gregorovich Kopelansky and his wife know that a visitor is
looking for them and none of the other three families they
share their kitchen, bathroom and front door with.

The 76 year-old Kopelansky does not want to be contacted by
strangers. If anyone rings his bell, he lets the wife find
out – behind a closed door – what it is all about. If it
concerns Raoul Wallenberg, the visitor is categorically
turned away.

They made one exception. A few representatives from the
Swedish-Russian Wallenberg Commision were let in. The visit
ended in chaos, Kopelansky hit Wallenberg´s half-brother
Guy von Dardel in the face with his fist and then chased
away the rest with a club.

When we (myself, TV-fotographer Hasse Lisskog and
interpretator Nikita Gololobov) ring the doorbell, no one
answers. But this time Kopelansky is less fortunate. By
coincidence he is on the wrong side of his protective wall.
Suddenly, he comes walking up the stairs. A small man with
a worn coat and a milky, blind eye. Nikita places himself
in front of the door, so that he cannot pass by.
Kopelansky glances worriedly at the TV-camera, but he does
not seem to understand that it is rolling. Reluctantly, and
in poor English, he answers questions about Wallenberg.

”About Wallenberg I know nothing. Zero. I know of him only
through the press. I don´t know him and I have never met

”But is it not your name, with your handwriting, on the
interrogation slip?”

”Yes, but this I cannot understand. It is possibly a
mistake. There have been many mistakes in this country in
this century. That is all. Goodbye.

Kopelansky is obviously not telling the truth. Documents
and circumstances tie him unequivocally to the case. For 44
years, from the winter of 1945 when Wallenberg was brought
from Budapest in Hungary to Moscow, to the collapse of the
Soviet Union in 1989, his secret was safe. But ”glasnost”
provided a possibility to discover the truth about the
Wallenberg case in the old archives.

With the help of modern technology, the name Kopelansky was
found under a broad layer of black ink in a journal from
the Lefortovo prison. Wallenberg had been brought to this
hideous place after spending the first few months in the
notorious ”inner prison”, in the KGB headquarters Lubyanka.
Twice during the summer of 1946, Kopelansky had signed the
journal showing that he had brought Wallenberg out from his
cell for interrogation. At the time he was a Lieutenant
Colonel in the 3rd directorate of the KGB (then the MGB).
Kopelansky was employed by the department handling
prisoners of war. He spoke fluent German, just as
Wallenberg did.

Why does he lie about his roll in the Wallenberg case? Only
he himself can tell, but the least incriminating
explanation is that he does not want to admit his
involvement in such a scandalous case. Therefore, he
flat-out denies even obvious facts. Even worse, he is
directly involved in Wallenberg´s death. Kopelansky is not
bound by ties of loyalty to the KGB. He was kicked out
during the big anti-semitic purge of the state security
organisations in 1951. It is the irony of history that
Wallenberg, saviour of the Jews of Budapest, was tormented
by a Jewish interrogator.

Since Kopelansky chooses to be silent about what he knows,
the possibilities of getting verbal testimony about the
fate of Wallenberg are very small. The vice chief of the
department, Kuzmishin, also interrogated Wallenberg, but he
is dead. So is the chief of department, Kartashov.
Wallenberg´s death certificate, where he was pronounced
dead of a heart attack, was made out and signed by prison
Doctor Smoltsov. He is not alive, either. Chief of the
”inner prison” in the KGB-headquarters was Colonel Mironov.
He is also dead.

What did these five men´s superios within the KGB-hiarchy
know? Victor Abakumov, chief of the KGB, certainly knew.
Not only was he formally responsible for the handling of
the case, he was directly involved in it from start to
finish. Abakumov was executed in 1954 after the death of

The rest of the KGB leadership is also gone, except for one
man: Yevgeni Petrovich Pitovranov. In 1947 he was deputy
chief of the organisation and head of the second
directorate. Now he is 79 years old, a thin, birdlike man,
seemingly vital both physically and mentally. He still
active professionally, as the chairman of a Russian-Italian
Chamber of Commerce.

”I know nothing about the fate of Wallenberg, I did not
work in that branch of counter-espionage. Actually, I did
not hear of him before mass-media here paid attention to
what happened to him. But I know now that Stalin took great
interest in the case. To him Wallenberg was a possible pawn
in the game concerning the formation of the state of
Israel. Wallenberg is dead, that´s a fact, but if he was
killed it could not have happened without the consent of

Since Pitovranov is the sole survivor of the top KGB brass,
no one can contradict him. But his wordings are strikingly
similar to Kopelansky´s: Both say that they first heard of
Wallenberg in the media.

So, no information from these survivors. What then about
the politicians? As ghosts from the past they materialize
one by one in the documents.

Nikolai Bulganin, deputy secretary of defense in the Soviet
government, ordered the arrest of Wallenberg in 1945. He
died in 1975.

Andrei Vyshinsky, deputy foreign secretary, and Vjatjeslav
Molotov, foreign secretary, were directly involved in the
case during the critical year of 1947. Vyshinsky died in
1954, Molotov in 1986.

Josef Stalin´s steering hand cannot be seen in the
documents, but here one cannot doubt Pitovranov´s words:
Wallenberg´s fate was not decided against Stalin´s wishes.
Stalin died in 1953.

Lavrenti Beria, Stalin´s master henchman, must also have
known. He was vice chairman of the government, which placed
him above Abakumov, the KGB leader. Beria was executed the
year Stalin died.

10 years later, an additional at least five men gained
access to the facts in the case: Nikita Khrushchev, party
secretarary; Andrei Gromyko, deputy foreign secretary; Ivan
Serov, chief of KGB; Aleksandr Shelepin, KGB-chief to come;
and Dmitri Shepilov, foreign secretary.

They recieved the information while preparing a diplomatic
note to the Swedish government about Wallenberg. In this
note of february 1957, the Soviet government claimed that
Wallenberg had died of a heart attack on july 17, 1947.

The note was authored by Serov, Shelepin, Molotov and
Bulganin. The latter two were once again able to cover up
their crimes. Gromyko and Shepilov then agreed to the
content of the note. Khrushchev is not mentioned here, but
he was the leader of the Soviet Union and must have known
what was said and what was not said in such an important

Four of these five persons are dead. One, Aleksandr
Nikolajevich Shelepin, is still alive. But like Kopelansky,
he refuses to talk about Wallenberg.

The circle that knew about Wallenberg´s fate in the Soviet
Union is very small: altogether 16 persons. 14 are dead.
Two remain silent about what they know.

If the truth cannot be obtained from live witnesses,
documents remain. Since 1991, a Swedish-Russian commission
has been searching for papers about Wallenberg in the old
Soviet archives. But just as the black ink over
Kopelansky´s name implies, the traces that Wallenberg left
have been systematically destroyed.

When did this happen, and why? Anatoly Sudoplatov has a
definite opinion about this. He is the co-author of his
father Pavel Sudoplatov´s book ”Special Tasks”, published
in 1994. Pavel Sudoplatov was a Lieutenant General in the
KGB and guilty of a number of ”wet jobs”, murders of real
and imagined enemies of the Soviet leadership. In their
book they discuss the Wallenberg case.

”Khrushchev was the man covering up this case. It was done
so that the documents would not later contradict the
official version, given to the Swedes in 1957, and because
two of the guilty, Molotov and Bulganin, were still part of
the leadership.”

A number of documents ”survived” this destruction, because
they were put in different places in the archive system.
And there, between the lines, the truth emerges: Raoul
Wallenberg was killed on July 17, 1947, on direct orders
from the Soviet government.

This picture is puzzled together from four different
documents. On May 13, 1947, deputy foreign secretary
Vyshinski writes to his boss Molotov about Wallenberg. In
the letter he wants Molotov to ask Abakumov, the KGB-chief,
”to sum up the important features on the matter and make a
suggestion concerning its liquidation”.

The meaning of the word used here by Vyshinski,
”liquidation”, has been discussed. Is it an open question
of how to end the whole thing? Or should a more direct
interpretation be made: when and how should Wallenberg be
liquidated? Zoya Zarubina is a linguist, and she is certain
that Vyshinski meant that Wallenberg should be killed. Her
capacity of interpretation extends beyond linguistics. She
was employed by the KGB until 1951 and personally met all
the leading politicians of the Stalin era.

”I knew Vyshinski. He was an absolutely ruthless man. If he
only meant that the case was to be finished, there are
three or four other synonyms in Russian that he would have

An instruction was added to the letter by Molotov and then
forwarded to the KGB: ”Comrade Abakumov. Please notify me”.
The annotation gives the impression of an order concerning
what has to be done.

Another document found implies clearly that their intention
was that Wallenberg should be killed. On July 7, 1947,
Vyshinski turned directly to Abakumov to get certain
detailed information. He wanted to know if there had been
bombings or fighting near places in Budapest where
Wallenberg had been kept in custody by the Soviet military
in January 1945.

The reason for this seemingly strange question was that
Vyshinski was preparing an answer to the Swedes about
Wallenberg. His intention can only be one. The Swedes knew
that Wallenberg had been captured by the Russians, a fact the
Soviet government could not escape from. Vyshinski was now
searching for a way to claim that Wallenberg had
already fallen in Budapest. The decision had been made. The
Soviet leadership was not going to let Wallenberg return to
Sweden alive.

The third document of vital importance is the death
certificate. A technical examination has shown that prison
Doctor Smoltsovs´ handwriting is authentic and that the ink
and the paper are from the 1940´s. This is not a latter day
forgery. This implies that Wallenberg really did die July
17, 1947. This conclusion is supported by a notation made
in the diary of the KGB main office on the same day.
rebealing that a report about Wallenberg was sent from
Abakumov to Molotov. The report is lost or destroyed, but
what could it be, other than ”now the case is liqudated”?

If it now is clear that the death certificate is genuine in
the sense that Wallenberg did die on the mentioned date, it
is equally clear that the official cause of death is a
fake. Wallenberg did not die of a heart attack.

Vyshinski´s letter to Abakumov of July 7, 1947 – about the
bombardment and fighting in Budapest – shows that they were
preparing the killing of Wallenberg. That he then, very
conveniently, should support to the Soviet government by
dying on his own of a heart attack 10 days later is not
easy to believe.

”I had two relatives in Soviet concentration camps who
officially died of heart attacks,” says Zoya Zarubina.
”Later we found out what happened to them. Both were
exterminated of course. They called them heart attack
because everyone was afraid of what might happen in the
future. Those who purged people from the KGB often went
through purges themselves later on. No one trusted anyone
in the KGB. I know, I was there.”

But if Wallenberg did not die of a heart attack, but was
murdered, how was it done? In the newly found documents
there isn´t a clue, so we are left to speculation. The only
conherent theory about this has been presented by Pavel
Sudoplatov and his son Anatoly. They claim that Wallenberg
was killed in a secret laboratory, called ”Lab X”. The
director of this chamber of horrors was Doctor Gregori
Moisejevich Maijranovski.

Pavel Sudoplatov did himself use the services of Doctor
Maijranovski for killing four persons that the Soviet
leadership found objectionable.

”My father was not involved in the killing of Wallenberg”,
says Anatoli Sudoplatov. ”But Maijranovski´s methods were
used in hundreds of cases. We draw the conclusion that
Wallenberg was killed in Lab X because this was the way it
was done when someone was to disappear unnoticed.”

The building where Lab X was situated still exists. It is
inside the original KGB headquarters on Varsonofievsky
Street, just a couple of blocks behind the Lubyanka in the
centre of Moscow. On the premises there was a smaller
prison. The bars are still on the windows, as a horrid
reminder of the atrocities that went on inside. Deeper
within of the former prison was Lab X, but here we are not
allowed to take pictures. Within a few seconds, a guard
harshly orders us to leave.

According to Pavel Sudoplatov, a ledger was kept recording
all those killed. Victims could have been registered
anonymously, but the dates were there. Anatoli Sudoplatov
is however sure that the ledger was destroyed in the
1950´s. And Doctor Maijranovski is dead.

What happened to Raoul Wallenberg´s remains? In the death
certificate, prison Doctor Smoltsov has added that Abakumov
ordered cremation without an autopsy. That means that the
corpse was brought to the Donskoi cemetery. It had the only
crematory in Moscow until the middle of the 1960´s. The
cemetery is still used for burials. The black ovens of the
crematory are in a very shabby building, but are shut long

The director of the cemetery, Tatyana Kuznetsova, a
friendly, middle aged woman, is very touched by the fate of
all those who fell victim to the KGB. In her office she has
pictures and records of over a thousand of them.

”The KGB men came at night, always at night, with the
corpses in a truck. They brought written orders concerning
how many bodies were to be burnt. When the job was done,
the order was signed by the crematory workers, and the
document was taken back to Lubyanka.”

”Then the ashes were buried in a common grave, the ´grave
for unclaimed ashes´. That is where all the remains of
people whose families could not or dared not bury them were
put. This was done without exception.”

In the cemetery, there are three graves of this kind.
Inscriptions on the tombstones show which years that they
were used. Grave number 3 is located next to the old
crematory. The top line reads 1945-1952.

Once the Jews of Budapest experienced a miracle. In the
absence of another one, this is where Raoul Wallenberg

Thomas Kanger

Copyright © 2024 Thomas Kanger