Raoul Wallenberg
Raoul Wallenberg. Photo by AP
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World War II hero Raoul Wallenberg's appointment for a mission to rescue Hungarian Jews from the Nazis may not have been as random as previously thought, researchers said Monday.

U.S.-based Wallenberg researchers Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein said they have obtained new material that suggests the Swede was well connected with Swedish decision-makers and Hungary's resistance movement before he was sent to Budapest in 1944.

"He was not some green, naive guy who started from scratch when he was in Budapest," Berger told The Associated Press. "There was a very strong push for him from numerous quarters it now seems."

Wallenberg is credited with saving thousands of Jews in Budapest by distributing false Swedish passports or giving shelter in diplomatic enclaves. He vanished after being arrested in Budapest by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, but the Russians have never explained why they detained the Swedish diplomat.

It's well known that Wallenberg's work as a Swedish diplomat in Budapest was a cover for his true mission as secret emissary of the U.S. War Refugee Board, created by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a belated attempt to stem the annihilation of Europe's Jews.

But Berger and Birstein said diary notes and other documents they obtained last year from the daughter of Hungarian diplomat Antal Ullein-Reviczky, a key figure in Hungary's resistance movement who was linked to U.S. and British intelligence officials, challenges the widely held belief that the choice of Wallenberg for the assignment in 1944 was largely accidental.

Ullein-Reviczky's guest lists and notes from dinner parties and other social events, in both Stockholm and Budapest between 1943 and 1944, show that Wallenberg frequently socialized with influential people that would make his appointment possible, the researchers said.

Among them were Sweden's Foreign Minister Christian Gunther and senior Foreign Ministry official Erik Boheman. Wallenberg also met with senior politicians, business executives and others within Hungary's social elite who Berger described as "the core group of anti-Nazi sentiment."

"All that would have caught Soviet attention," the researchers said in a statement, noting that many of Ullein-Reviczky's acquaintances have been found in Wallenberg's contact book.

"It is very likely that Soviet intelligence representatives in Stockholm and Hungary reported to Moscow in some detail about Raoul Wallenberg's activities in the years 1943-1945," they said.

Ingrid Carlberg, a Swedish journalist who will publish a book on Wallenberg this year, called the new information "very interesting."

"I knew Wallenberg and Ullein-Reviczky were in contact, but not to this extent," she said.

Carlberg said the findings support her own theory that Wallenberg's contacts with figures linked to Western intelligence services "triggered Stalin's irritation" and helps explain why Moscow would have viewed him with suspicion.

The Soviets initially denied Wallenberg was in their custody, but then said in 1957 that he died of a heart attack in prison on July 17, 1947.

After the Soviet collapse, that version of events was challenged by Alexander Yakovlev, the one-time chairman of a presidential panel investigating the fate of repression victims. In 2000, Yakovlev said he had been told by a former KGB chief that Wallenberg was killed in Lubyanka prison. The Russian government, however, has never formally retracted the initial Soviet version.