Stuck in Neutral, Susanne Berger’s analyse on Raoul Wallenberg

22-08-2005 , by Susanne Berger

Stuck in Neutral

In March 2003 the first independent, non-governmental Commission in the Raoul Wallenberg case presented its findings in Stockholm.1 Headed by Ingemar Eliasson, a centrist politician and the current Swedish ‘Riksmarskalk,’ the group had the task of examining the Swedish political leadership’s actions in the Raoul Wallenberg case from 1945-2001.

2 After a twelve-month investigation the Commission’s analysis officially confirmed what everyone has known for decades: That the Swedish government in large part mishandled the Wallenberg case, especially through its disturbing lack of initiative during the critical early years 1945-47.

Wide-ranging and impressive in both exposition and analysis, the report nevertheless falls short in a number of ways: It cannot fully explain why Swedish officials in charge behaved the way they did, nor does it clarify why successive Swedish governments pursued the case with so little enthusiasm. That Sweden chose to abandon Raoul Wallenberg is one thing – that the abandonment occurred with relative ease, despite the serious and persistent doubts concerning Russian claims about his fate, is quite another. In its search for Wallenberg over the years Sweden has resembled a car where the driver always has one foot on the brake. Why such excessive caution? Was the mishandling of the Wallenberg case simply a matter of individual ineptitude and indifference or is it symptomatic of deeper problems?
Even though answering these questions would pose a challenge to any commission, other shortcomings are less understandable. The Commission excluded from its deliberations several critical areas of inquiry, among them the full activities of the Swedish Legation [including those of Swedish Intelligence] and the Swedish Red Cross in Budapest in 1944/45, and later, the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s often questionable handling of witness testimonies in the case. It also did not consider the deeper economic and political aspects of the Budapest mission and its aftermath, as well as their associated effects on the Wallenberg investigation. Most importantly, by focusing almost exclusively on the early phase of the Wallenberg case, the Eliasson Commission missed a chance to determine whether Swedish passivity was a unique and isolated phenomenon, or if it fit a more general pattern of behavior. So far, official Swedish criticism, like the Russian, has stayed firmly confined to the past. It has not yet touched the present and with it any individuals who are still living.
Nevertheless, the publication marks a decisive step in the right direction: For the first time Sweden has cast a critical eye on its own behavior in the Wallenberg affair. In doing so, it has firmly established the idea that earlier Swedish approaches to the Wallenberg question were too narrow and that a deeper, broader analysis is necessary in order to come to terms with the case. The report is a 700+ page acknowledgment that in historical investigations details and complexities matter; especially details that, for various reasons, were long ignored or never considered.
The new study did not yield any direct clues about Wallenberg’s fate, but that was never the intention: The truth about what happened to Raoul Wallenberg is surely known in Moscow and, as the Eliasson report emphasizes, a resolution can only come from there. The Report concludes that if Russia has stubbornly kept the Wallenberg secret, Sweden largely has enabled Russia to do so. As for the U.S., the Commission argues it failed Raoul Wallenberg twice. First, by not providing him with adequate protection for an extremely dangerous mission, which the U.S. had co-initiated and financed; and secondly, by not independently insisting on a resolution of his fate after Sweden repeatedly rejected U.S. assistance.
In the Eliasson Commission’s assessment a closer reading of previously released U.S. and Swedish records raises important questions about the nature of Raoul Wallenberg’s assignment, including his association with Allied Intelligence Services during the war. The Report argues that uncertainty about Wallenberg’s mission may in part explain early Swedish passivity in the case because Swedish officials considered Raoul Wallenberg primarily an American problem, not a Swedish one. The Eliasson
1Kommissionen om den Svenska Utrikesledningens Agerande i Fallet Raoul Wallenberg. Ett Diplomatiskt Misslyckande. SOU 2003:18. Stockholm, 2003. The group included some of Sweden’s leading historians and political scientists, including Christer Joensson and Kristian Gerner
2The Riksmarskalk at the court of the Swedish King is the nominal chief of the Court’s staff. The Riksmarsalk is responsible for the King’s contacts with parliament and government, and is also involved in the supervision of the Court’s financial affairs.
In July 1944 Raoul Wallenberg, a young Swedish businessman, was appointed as a Swedish diplomat and was sent to Budapest, Hungary to aid the last surviving Jewish community in Eastern Europe. In January 1945 Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet occupation troops and his ultimate fate remains unknown.
Susanne Berger Stuck in Neutral Page 5
Commission sharply criticizes the Swedish position, but stops short of asking why Sweden so readily embraced such an excuse. The Commission also chose not to examine the complex American-Swedish political relationship during and after World War II and its possible effects on the handling of the Wallenberg case
The Commission’s Report and other current Wallenberg research ultimately leave two key issues unaddressed:
1. Why did Raoul Wallenberg’s disappearance evoke such extreme passivity from his own government and his powerful relatives, the Wallenberg family? And
2. Why does Russia refuse to reveal the truth about Raoul Wallenberg‘s fate, despite strong indications that it almost certainly knows what happened to him? [It certainly knows much more than it has publicly revealed so far]
The Eliasson Report claims that Swedish actions over the years were primarily determined by the changing ‘pictures’ that officials constructed for themselves from the few available fragments of information about Raoul Wallenberg‘s disappearance. As the Commission sees it, since this information was often incomplete and contradictory, it further contributed to some of the inconsistent behavior by Swedish officials.3 Here too, however, the Commission’s analysis does not go far enough. Diplomats do not merely assemble facts: They interpret them in terms of their potential consequences, be it political, economic or strategic. In other words, how the major actors in Sweden and in Russia assessed the associated risks and overarching interests for themselves, how they defined the case through the years against the twin backdrop of neutrality and Cold War politics – therein lies the key to the riddle.
In Sweden this refers foremost to the Swedish government and Foreign Office [Utrikesdepartementet or UD], but also to the Wallenberg Family and the Swedish public, including journalists and historians; in Russia this means the former Soviet government and its successors, with strong emphasis on the Security Services. Their basic definitions and interests determined the early responses to Wallenberg’s disappearance and continue to shape actions today. For most of the major parties involved, with the exception of Raoul Wallenberg’s immediate family, the case remains a hot iron that few like to touch. Consequently, they find the current status quo in the Wallenberg question not only acceptable but in many ways preferable – for very different reasons. There are indications that the basic definitions and, with them, the basic attitudes to the Wallenberg case are changing. However, so far these changes have not been substantial enough to penetrate to the core of the mystery.
What follows is an attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the most important aspects of the Raoul Wallenberg case as well as the most recent findings of the Eliasson Commission and other current research, and to place the case in a larger framework of reference and analysis than has been provided up to now.

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One Response to “Stuck in Neutral, Susanne Berger’s analyse on Raoul Wallenberg”

  1. […] has presented a thorough analysis of Sweden’s “passivity” in her article “Stuck in Neutral,” which also investigates gaps in the 2003 Eliasson Commission’s criticism of how the […]

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