And probably has been for a long while…
LONDON — Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from being killed by the Nazis, has been formally declared dead, 71 years after he disappeared in Hungary in the closing months of World War II.
It is widely believed that Soviet jailers killed Mr. Wallenberg after he was abducted off the street near Budapest, but his fate has remained a lingering mystery. The official Soviet account, issued in 1957, was that Mr. Wallenberg died of a heart attack at age 34 on July 17, 1947, at the Lubyanka headquarters of the K.G.B. in Moscow. But few took that account seriously.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, a comprehensive Russian-Swedish re-examination of the case, completed in 2000, cited evidence suggesting that Mr. Wallenberg was executed in Lubyanka’s prison, but the report stopped short of reaching a definitive conclusion. In June, newly published diaries of Ivan A. Serov, the original head of the K.G.B., shed new light on the case by stating outright that Mr. Wallenberg was executed.
Mr. Wallenberg’s family said last November that they wanted the Swedish authorities to declare him dead. In a statement, they called the step “a way to deal with the trauma we lived through, to bring one phase to closure and move on.”
The statement added, “The family has lived in hope and despair — hope that their efforts would bear fruit and Raoul would return, despair as their hopes were dashed again and again.”
The family also needed to obtain a death certificate to settle his estate. The formal request was submitted in the spring by Martin Gartner, a trustee from the Swedish bank SEB, on behalf of Mr. Wallenberg’s half sister, who is 95, and two distant relatives.
In an email, Pia Gustafsson, a lawyer at the legal department at the Swedish Tax Agency, said it had decided to regard Mr. Wallenberg as missing as of July 31, 1947. Under Swedish law, the official date of death for missing people is defined as the fifth anniversary of their disappearance — in Mr. Wallenberg’s case, July 31, 1952.
“Please note that this does not imply that the Tax Agency has made any judgment as to whether this is the actual day of death,” Ms. Gustafsson wrote.
The decision to grant the family’s request and declare Mr. Wallenberg dead was made on Wednesday, according to Gunilla Hedin, the agency’s press secretary. Swedish newspapers reported the decision on Monday.
Susanne Berger, a German historian, is part of a research initiative that is examining the case with support from Mr. Wallenberg’s family. She said in a telephone interview that she and her colleagues would continue to press the Russian authorities for greater access to the archives. In a recent essay she wrote with a colleague, Ms. Berger noted that Mr. Serov’s recollections about the case were recorded in or around 1987, decades after Mr. Wallenberg’s presumed death, and that they were “surprisingly vague and imprecise.”
The most sensational claim in the diaries is that Viktor Abakumov, who preceded Mr. Serov as head of state security, revealed in a 1954 interrogation that the order to “liquidate” Mr. Wallenberg had come from Stalin and Vyacheslav M. Molotov, the foreign minister.
But Ms. Berger notes that no transcript of the interrogation, if it happened, has ever been released. The Serov diaries “do not shed any additional light on what exactly happened to Wallenberg after his trail breaks off in Lubyanka Prison in March 1947, nor do they contain any evidence for the claim that Wallenberg was ‘liquidated’ in 1947,” she wrote in her essay.