Jacob Wallenberg’s Initiative

05-05-2005 , by Susanne Berger

On April 19, in an interview with Svenska Dagbladet, German Filmmaker Klaus Dexel described his disappointment at the reaction of Peter Wallenberg when some years ago he asked him about a document containing new information about actions the Wallenberg Family had taken in the 1950’s in the Raoul Wallenberg case. Peter Wallenberg simply chose to ignore the question. But Klaus Dexel is right: The document does deserve serious attention.

The paper sheds important light on the behind-the-scenes role in the Raoul Wallenberg investigation by one of the most elusive parties in the case, the Wallenberg family. It is an internal interview report from SÄPO, (dated September 15 and 22, 1954 respectively) which was forwarded to UD by SÄPO’s Chief Inspector  Otto Danielsson. A Swedish businessman by the name of Ernst Natander had reported an unusual conversation he had had in March 1954 with one of Jacob Wallenberg’s close associates, Carl Hardeberg, then a director in Industri-Diesel. According to Natander, Hardeberg had told him that a Major “Tärnström” (sic) of the Swedish Defense Staff was “traveling around Europe to establish contact with firms which had connections to Russia.” Through these contacts, Hardeberg added, “Tärnström” “hoped to obtain information about Raoul Wallenberg.” Would Natander support these efforts? Most interestingly, Hardeberg indicated that  » …the Wallenberg Family was ready to make a large sacrifice for discovering what happened to Raoul.”

Natander agreed to help. When he traveled to Prague in the summer of 1954, ostensibly to discuss the formation of a Czech business representation in Sweden, he raised the question of Raoul Wallenberg with Czech officials.  Natander was put in touch with a high Russian representative in Czechoslovakia, Tjernitjeff. Natander explained that Tjernitjeff finally addressed his request, but only cryptically: “You are talking about an acquaintance, but as far as we know we do not have such a Swede with us. But how could one explain his appearance with us, if he were here, without offending anyone?” Natander could not make sense of the remark and he claims to have left it at that.

Currently no information exists about what Natander reported back to Hardeberg and what, if anything, happened next.

For all its influence, the Wallenberg Family has always appeared curiously passive about the question of Raoul Wallenberg‘s fate. This passivity has long baffled researchers, especially since the Wallenbergs are known for their fierce loyalty towards their employees. When in 1942 six employees of ASEA and L.M. Ericsson were arrested by the Gestapo in Poland,  Wallenberg representatives – on direct instruction from Jacob Wallenberg, – negotiated for two years with Nazi authorities in Berlin to ensure the men’s safe return. Many have wondered, why the family apparently did not show a similar commitment to Raoul Wallenberg.

The document offers a tantalizing hint that there may have been efforts of which the public so far has not been aware. The timing of the initiative is interesting, taking place in the wake of the deaths of both Stalin and Beria. (Plus, by then most Swedish compensation claims for lost business in Eastern and Central Europe, including those from SKF and Swedish Match – Wallenberg family firms – in Hungary against the Soviet Union had been settled) More importantly, at the time new information had reached Sweden from former prisoners of war in the Soviet Union who reportedly had met Raoul Wallenberg in prison.

It is also worth noting that the attempt  at contact with Soviet authorities was made through Jacob Wallenberg. According to Carl Frostell, Jacob’s former Private Secretary, as a result of the Bosch affair – when Enskilda Banken had acted as a cloak for German assets during the war – relations between Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg were extremely tense. Their conflict was carefully hidden from the public. Were there perhaps also differing views on how to handle the inquiry into Raoul Wallenberg’s fate?

Other fundamentally important questions abound: What information, if any, did the discussions in Prague yield and what were the consequences for the Raoul Wallenberg investigation? Why was there apparently no coordination of efforts with the Swedish Foreign Office? Where is the complementary material in Russian archives?

Jacob Wallenberg’s efforts in 1954 may also cast new light on the still mysterious discussions, initiated by the Soviets in 1955, between  a KGB representative in Ankara, Turkey and a Finnish diplomat. (The so-called Erzine-Frey contact). These discussions yielded – for the first time since Wallenberg’s disappearance in 1945 -indirect confirmation from the Soviet side that Raoul Wallenberg had indeed been held prisoner in the Soviet Union. However, they ultimately ended in the 1957 announcement, made by Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, that Raoul Wallenberg had succumbed to a heart attack in a Moscow prison in July 1947.

It would also be interesting to know if this was the first such effort by the Wallenberg family, or if there had been earlier approaches to Soviet authorities. Marcus Wallenberg is known to have been convinced as early as 1951 that Raoul Wallenberg was dead. I learned this when I interviewed former Kabinettssekreterare, Arne Lundberg who that year took over the Raoul Wallenberg investigation in UD. One of his first actions was to seek a conversation with Marcus  Wallenberg who, according to Lundberg, did not hesitate to state his views on the matter.

After I noticed the document in 2002 (in the official UD collection of declassified Raoul Wallenberg material), I made it available to Johan Matz, then Secretary of the Eliasson Commission which at the time was investigating the handling of the Raoul Wallenberg case by the Swedish Foreign Policy establishment from 1945-2001. In its final report, the Commission focused purely on the role the Swedish Defense staff had played in the discussions. Jacob Wallenberg’s involvement as the apparent initiator of the action received no mention.

The mysterious Major “Tärnström” is in all likelihood identical with Major Helmut Ternberg, a leading official with C-byrån during World War II. (A formal request to Krigsarkivet yielded no trace of a Major “Tärnström”). As former UD archivist Göran Rydeberg has discovered, Ternberg may have  conducted confidential tasks for the Wallenberg Family after the war. According to another intelligence expert – Lars Ulfving of Försvarshögskolan who served as a consultant to the Eliasson Commission – this may have included Ternberg’s travel to Germany as early as 1946 to interview prisoners of war returning from Russia. Interestingly, a memo by Otto Danielsson from January 1954 shows that Raoul Wallenberg’s father and stepfather, Maj and Fredrik von Dardel, also were in touch with Ternberg shortly before Jacob‘s initiative began. So far it remains unclear how exactly all the contacts between the parties relate.

The SÄPO document also brings into focus longstanding questions about the relationship between the Wallenberg family and Raoul Wallenberg. While he was not close to the family, he clearly was not as isolated from his famous relatives as it has generally been portrayed and he seems to have been especially close to Jacob Wallenberg.  According to the papers of Kalman Lauer, Raoul Wallenberg’s business partner, Jacob Wallenberg was Raoul’s “idol” and, as Lauer writes, “(Raoul) was his Private Secretary during the time he was with ‘Meropa‘.” (the Lauer/RW firm — SB). The Wallenberg family has neither denied nor confirmed Lauer’s claim. It was through Jacob Wallenberg that Raoul obtained his position with ‘Meropa’, whose offices were located just a few doors down from Jacob’s private residence at Strandvägen 27. Jacob also provided the references for both Raoul’s Kabinettspass (issued in late 1941) and later his diplomatic passport. According to a document released by the Wallenberg archive in 2000, it was again Jacob who made a direct request to SS Abwehr Chief Walter Schellenberg for special protection of Raoul Wallenberg before he embarked on his dangerous mission to Budapest.

When I in May 2002 approached the Wallenberg archive about Jacob Wallenberg’s initiative in  1954, I received the reply that the family had no comment and that the archive contained no information about the matter. There are indications, however, that – contrary to the archive’s assertion – important material remains in its collection which have not been opened to public review. This includes Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg’s sparse yet interesting correspondence with UD about Raoul Wallenberg. One important example is a letter by Jacob Wallenberg from October 1954, about a message he had received concerning a potential witness for Raoul Wallenberg‘s presence in Russia. Jacob went so far to privately research the man’s background and he asked UD (First Secretary E.O.G. Vinge) to keep him informed about further developments.

Jacob Wallenberg apparently also played a small role in the efforts by his niece, Elisabeth Seth, in 1965 to obtain information about Raoul Wallenberg through Russian contacts. She asked Jacob to arrange for a high  Russian official to stay at Jacob’s estate Malmvik.

If the younger Wallenberg generation does not have adequate knowledge of these issues or the details of the Raoul Wallenberg case in general, it will hopefully now make a concerted effort to fill the existing information gaps from all available sources. It is becoming increasingly clear that Russia retains important document collections in the Raoul Wallenberg case which it so far has refused to make available to researchers. As Vice-Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, Marcus Wallenberg has met President Vladimir Putin on several occasions. The next time the two get together Wallenberg may want to use the opportunity to ask Russia’s President to fill in a few missing pieces of family history for him.

Susanne Berger May 5, 2007

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