The Fight of Their Lives

01-11-2009 , by S. Berger , ed. Judiska Krönikan

By Susanne Berger Judisk Krönika, November 2009
Independent consultant to the Swedish Russian Working Group on the fate of Raoul Wallenberg (1991-2001)

When Raoul Wallenberg disappeared into the Soviet Union in January 1945, his parents, Maj and Fredrik von Dardel, began a desperate, three decade long struggle to save their son. A closer reading of Fredrik’s diary – a meticuluous chronicle of the couple’s efforts – shows the enormous obstacles they faced. Surprisingly many of these remain stubbornly in place today.

Fredrik’s sober and precise tone throughout the diary makes it clear that he and his wife were not just two old people who clung desperately to illusory ideas. Nor did they simply fail to accept the inevitable. Fredrik von Dardel was a trained lawyer who approached his stepson’s case from the perspective of the rules of evidence — and he obviously found the official facts presented by Russia of Raoul Wallenberg’s alleged death in 1947 seriously wanting.

What raised von Dardel’s strenuous objection was the Swedish government’s strictly bureaucratic approach that, as we now know, had catastrophic consequences for his son’s chances of return.

Swedish officials not only demanded clear evidence that Raoul Wallenberg was alive in the Soviet Union before they would take any serious action on his behalf, but they placed the burden of proof on Wallenberg’s family, instead of resting it squarely on the Soviet government, where it belonged.

Equally upsetting was the Swedish government’s refusal to offer the Russians some kind of exchange or outright compensation in return for Raoul Wallenberg. As Fredrik – at age 92 – noted in his diary on December 31,1976, former Swedish Foreign Minister Östen Unden had repeatedly told him that « we do not use such methods. » (« Vi använder inte sådana metoder. ») Von Dardel commented, with noticeable sarcasm: «  »The methods the Swedish Foreign Ministry has seen fit to employ so far to obtain Wallenberg’s release have unfortunately brought no result. » (« De metoder utrikesdepartementet ansett sig böra använda för Wallenbergs befrielse har tyvärr hittills inte lett till något resultat. »)

Fredrik and Maj von Dardel faced an impossible situation: While the Swedish government asked them to provide credible evidence for their son’s presence in the Soviet Union after 1945, it refused them full access to all witness testimonies and documentation in the case, citing government secrecy laws.

When Fredrik von Dardel in 1976 formally requested reform of Swedish secrecy rules and release of all documentation in his son’s case, Sweden instead passed a law which simply shortened the then-valid fifty year secrecy requirement to thirty years – rendering most of the relevant material still inaccessible. This included important information about other Swedes in Soviet captivity after 1945. Without this documentation, a proper evaluation of Wallenberg’s fate became almost impossible. Astoundingly, as late as 2001 researchers did not have a complete picture of all witness testimonies in the Raoul Wallenberg case, and we still do not have comprehensive information about all Swedes or individuals working for Swedish interests in Soviet captivity since 1945.

Both Fredrik and Maj von Dardel, and later their children, Guy von Dardel and Nina Lagergren, continued to insist on the truth as a matter of principle because they had a clear understanding that Sweden had options at its disposal which it did not use to the fullest degree. This remains the case today and it is the central reason why Wallenberg’s two siblings have so determinedly continued their parents’ fight. The question has always been WHY the Swedish government has acted so halfheartedly when it could have done so much more.

So far, this question has only received incomplete and not fully satisfactory answers, a 700 page official government inquiry in 2003 non-withstanding.

Contrary to official Swedish claims this criminal ‘ malaise’ was not limited only to the period of 1945-1947, but carried well through the 1950’s, 60’s and into the present day.
There is no longer a debate: It is clear that Russia has documentation which could help solve the Wallenberg mystery if researchers were given proper access. Russia itself does not deny this fact, but stresses that it will not allow review of documentation it deems to be of an operational intelligence nature.That is very different from having no options on the table. Why does Sweden not fight to see this material?

Case in point is a recent article by the head of the Russian Security Service’s (FSB) Archives Directorate, Vasily Khristoforov, publised in « Vremya Novosti » this past January. It not only made the stunning announcement that the Raoul Wallenberg case « is not yet a closed chapter », but that the date and cause of his death « remain to be determined ». What has the Swedish government done to follow up this new development? Thirty years after Fredrik and Maj’s death, the same paralysing apathy that broke their spirits seems firmly in place.

Equally important questions linger when it comes to the markedly passive behavior of the Wallenberg family: [The current] Jacob Wallenberg’s statement earlier this year in Svenska Dagbladet (Mikael Holmström, 2.3. 2009) – often repeated by Peter Wallenberg as well – that it was Maj von Dardel’s caution which held back efforts by the elder Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg, appears more than a little disingenuous, especially to anyone familiar with these two rather strong willed personalities.

For one, Fredrik von Dardel’s diary contains several entries which make it clear that the von Dardels actively sought Wallenberg family support but received little in return. Tellingly, as late as July 1959, after Jacob Wallenberg finally agreed to sign a formal appeal on Raoul’s behalf, Fredrik notes: « It can be helpful for the public to know that also the Wallenbergs are beginning to show interest in Raoul’s cause. » (« Det kan vara bra att folk får för sig att också Wallenbergarna börjar visa intresse för Raouls sak. » [my emphasis].

Numerous questions about the Wallenberg family’s behavior in the Raoul Wallenberg case remain unanswered: What about the unresolved questions about Raoul’s background and his rumored professional ties to both Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg? How and why exactly did Jacob in 1954 approach Czech intermediaries about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate, and what did he learn? Did Jacob and Marcus see eye to eye in the matter? Why did Marcus Wallenberg tell former Cabinet Secretary Arne Lundberg in 1951 that he firmly believed Raoul Wallenberg to be dead? On what information did he base this conviction?

What about meaningful access to Wallenberg archives? Among other records, important company files, such as those of SKF and Swedish Match for pertinent years, remain closed to most researchers. Access would help answer questions what implications, if any, the pursuit of Wallenberg business interests during and after World War II might have had for Sweden’s official approach to Raoul Wallenberg disappearance.

These issues would be both necessary and worthwhile to explore, instead of noting the same pat responses from Wallenberg officials when the subject of the family’s role in the Raoul Wallenberg case is raised.

Instead of the ritual handwringing that follows every time a new tragic facet of the Wallenberg saga is revealed, perhaps it is time to examine more closely our own – that is the public’s – approach to the case: Do we simply want to preserve it for eternity as an emblem of a tragic fate, or do we want to discover the truth? If the latter, then it is time to stand up and to finally ask the serious questions that already troubled Raoul Wallenberg’s parents so deeply.
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