Raoul Wallenberg and the Complexities of Historic Truth

01-11-2005 , by Susanne Berger , ed. Wallenberg Bulletin [Canada]

Sixty years after Raoul Wallenberg disappearance in the Soviet Union we are left with the same old question: Will the mystery of Wallenberg’s disappearance ever be solved? The answer is a definite ‘yes’, with equally strong qualifiers.

Russia has repeatedly insisted that it has no further documents or information which would shed light on Raoul Wallenberg’s fate. The so- called Eliasson Commission Report from 2003, however, in a withering critique of the work on the Russian side of the Swedish-Russian Working Group, strongly rejects this notion and stops just short of accusing Russian officials of stonewalling.

According to the Eliasson Commission and in the assessment of most Wallenberg experts it has become increasingly clear that Russia holds important records which for one reason or another were not made available to the Swedish-Russian Working Group.

In a new documentary on the Raoul Wallenberg case by German filmmaker Klaus Dexel*, former Soviet Intelligence official Igor Prelin repeatedly refers to information supposedly learned directly from the interrogations of Raoul Wallenberg’s colleague, Vilmos Langfelder who was arrested with him in Budapest. If these and other interrogation records indeed exists [and there is strong indirect evidence that they do] they were never shared with Swedish representatives. *[Der Fall Raoul Wallenberg – Retter und Opfer. Documentary film by Klaus Dexel, Bechert & Dexel TV Programme, Muenchen 2005]-

Yet, despite the severe criticism issued by the Eliasson Commission in 2003 and longstanding concerns over Russian failure to allow direct and full access to critical documentation, there has been very little serious effort to press Russia for this material.

This comes as no surprise. Through the years Sweden has taken a very narrow, very hesitant approach to the Wallenberg question and the work of the Swedish-Russian Working Group was no exception. Part of this is the eternal problem of balancing principled action with the real life demands of the political world. Cold War politics and Swedish neutrality demands – in particular Swedish fears of Russia as well as Sweden’s wish to play a meaningful role between the superpowers – have heavily influenced the handling of the Wallenberg case and may well influence it today.

Over the years, Swedish neutrality kept Russia in check and ensured clandestine American strategic support. Sweden reciprocated by providing the U.S. already immediately at the end of the war with much needed intelligence on Russia through its far flung commercial enterprises. [see document 2]

Espionage conducted under the guise of normal economic relations is of course as old as the world. Nevertheless, the use of economics as a tool of wider political and security considerations and its effects on the handling of political issues such as the Wallenberg question, deserves to be more fully examined; meaning in particular the pursuit of Swedish economic interests, and, by extension, U.S. and Western economic and strategic interests in Eastern Europe, the Baltics and elsewhere.-

The Allies’ failure to to seriously punish the leaders of the German industrial cartels, together with a less than rigorous de-Nazification process, increased Stalin’s paranoia about the West and heavily contributed to ushering in the Cold War. There is mounting evidence that Raoul Wallenberg’s arrest was in part motivated by Soviet wishes to pressure the West for important concessions in postwar negotiations.-

In the Wallenberg case these matters gain additional relevance due to the dominant role the Wallenberg family has occupied in Swedish economic and political life. Documentation in the Swedish Foreign Ministry archive indicates that businesses owned by the Wallenbergs provided cover for industrial and military espionage in Eastern Europe in the post war years; activities that were sanctioned and actively supported by the Swedish government.

The Russians certainly had reasons to be suspicious of Sweden: Swedish businesses obtained huge profits in German occupied areas of Russia by facilitating large volume currency transactions and precisely at the time when Raoul Wallenberg was saving the Jews of Budapest, the Wallenberg owned firm SKF handed over its entire inventory of ballbearings to the German Nazi authorities in Hungary. Perhaps most importantly, the Wallenberg brothers were heavily involved in various separate peace initiatives between Germany and the Allies, many of which were at least in part fuelled by the wish to open a joint front against Russian Communism. Since at least 1942 Swedish Intelligence had as its major focus collection of news about Russia.

On the other hand, the Russians also had a lot to be grateful for: In a secret deal Wallenberg business provided them with essential steel and ballbearings in exchange for platinum. It is not known what other deals might have been struck because the relevant documents remain completely inaccessible in Russian Intelligence archives.

The issue matters in other ways as well, from Sweden’s signing of a 3 billion SKr Credit and Trade Agreement – which included compensation for lost Swedish business in the Baltic and Eastern European countries – without once demanding Raoul Wallenberg’s return during the negotiation process in 1945/46; to Sweden providing personnel, through the Swedish Red Cross and Swedish businesses, for postwar espionage missions. Most of these remain little known and some of the individuals involved may remain unaccounted for.* It is possible a few may have ended up in Soviet captivity, where as « Swedish representatives arrested in Eastern Europe » they could have easily been confused with Raoul Wallenberg. Establishing their full identity and formal tracking where and when these men were encountered, on the other hand, would have made the evaluation of witness testimonies and with that the whole Raoul Wallenberg inquiry much more efficient. Instead, confusion was allowed to reign. The Swedish government to date has not made a comprehensive list of all Swedish nationals or of individuals working on official assignment for the Swedish state missing in the Soviet Union available to researchers. *see open letter by six historians in DN, 20 November, 2003, Ezergailis et al.

Sweden’s passivity in the Wallenberg question has baffled researchers for years. In light of these realities that are slowly emerging, Swedish hesitancy may become more understandable.

In this connection the question of why Sweden’s passivity has been so extreme throughout the years attains additional importance. So does in particular the behavior of the Wallenberg Family, especially that of, the powerful brothers, who were Raoul Wallenberg’s second cousins. The Eliasson Commission concluded that the Wallenberg Family’s loss of reputation and influence as a result of the affair – when American investigators charged that Wallenberg businesses had acted as a cloak for German owners of the Robert Bosch industrial concern – made it impossible for them to effectively pursue the question of Raoul Wallenberg’s fate. This assessment is clearly incomplete and only partially valid. According to Swedish historian Ulf Olsson’s biography of Marcus Wallenberg, despite some damage to the Wallenberg name in Sweden and abroad, the Wallenberg network of contacts and influence emerged out of World War II largely unscathed and possibly even stronger than before.

With the Soviet threat looming, almost certainly a gentlemen’s agreement appears to have been struck between the U.S. and the Wallenberg brothers, as was first suggested by Swedish economist Gunnar Adler Karlsson.* The U.S. government apparently agreed to lift the freeze of Wallenberg assets in the United States in exchange for Swedish support of its anti-Soviet economic policies. This would have rendered any active Wallenberg Family support of Raoul Wallenberg difficult, to say the least. But there are also indications that the Wallenbergs simultaneously managed to keep their options open with the Russians: In their book « Business at any Price: The Wallenbergs Secret Support of the Nazis », Dutch historians Gerard Aalders and Cees Wiebes showed that in the early 1950’s, during the Korean war, Swedish ballbearings valued at about $20 million annually somehow found their way into North Korean tanks. *Gunnar Adler-Karlsson. Dagens Nyheter, 1979.-

Other new information and questions have recently emerged which deserve follow-up: In 1954 – after Stalin’s and Beria’s death and in the wake of new witness testimonies – Jacob Wallenberg attempted to contact Soviet authorities through business connections in [then] Czechoslovakia, supposedly stating that the Wallenberg Family was ready to make « great sacrifices » in return for information about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate. It is not known what came of this foray and why none of these efforts were apparently coordinated with the Swedish Foreign Office. That it was Jacob Wallenberg who took this initiative is noteworthy. There are reports that Raoul Wallenberg was closer to the Wallenberg Family than previously known and that he may have worked for Jacob in some type of capacity before going to Budapest, including possibly traveling to Estonia on Wallenberg Family business in the 1940’s. [see Document 2] It also appears that in the aftermath of the Bosch affair relations between Marcus and Jacob were so strained that the two were barely on speaking terms. The question is: Did these differences of opinion also extend to the question of how to search for Raoul Wallenberg?

As for the Swedish government, one is left to wonder why Sweden has never effectively reached out to the international community for help in the Wallenberg question. It did not do so in the beginning of the case, nor does it do so now. Instead, Sweden has made it clear to other countries offering assistance that it alone considers itself in charge of the question and that any country wishing to take action should defer in the matter to Sweden.

If Sweden is truly interested in solving the Raoul Wallenberg case it must be willing to shed its reluctance to examine in depth issues of its complicated past and it must make use of all the means at its disposal. For one, it will have to rigorously pursue the very concrete research results of the past ten years. Without such a commitment any current efforts amount to little more than window dressing. The central role of the Swedish Foreign Office is of course to define and protect national interests. In the Wallenberg case this currently poses an inherent, possibly insurmountable conflict of interest. Political will is essential, on all sides of the problem. Other countries will have to provide serious assistance, meaning finally allowing access to records which remain classified. Aside from Russia, the U.S., Great Britain and Hungary are of central importance.

Whether or not the Wallenberg case can be solved despite of or independently of these problems remains to be seen. Raoul Wallenberg certainly deserves that we try. His case was never just about the fate of one man – it is about the rights of millions of people like him who got lost in the wheels of a totalitarian system without a voice. The question of how we balance the rights of individuals with the interests of the state remains as current today as it ever was. For this debate alone historic truth is critical and a democratic society has to vigorously insist on full disclosure. One can only hope that this will be one of the lasting legacies of this case.


Document 1:

Invitation List to a Cocktail Party at Raoul Wallenberg’s apartment from December 2, 1943. among the invited guests are his aunt, Ebba Bonde, his uncles, Axel, Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg, as well as the head of Investor, Count Archibald Douglas. Another invited guest was Hungarian Minister Dr. Antal Ullein-Revicky who precisely at that time was engaged in secret discussions with the Allies in Stockholm, as was first noted by American researcher Dr. Vadim Birstein.

Document 2

NARA, RG 226, Entry 210, Box 379. OSS Telegram from August 1945 which shows the postwar plans for the exchange of intelligence between Sweden and the United States.

Published in the new edition of the Wallenberg Bulletin [Canada]

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