Why not a Word about Raoul Wallenberg?

22-10-2008 , by Susanne Berger , ed. Världen idag

Historic truth is undoubtedly a most elusive substance and all historians face difficult choices. But authorized biographies carry an enhanced risk of avoidance and outright self-censorship. The biographies of Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg, written by two leading Swedish scholars – Håkan Lindgren and Ulf Olsson – , are no exception; in particular, with respect to one of the most controversial subjects in Wallenberg family history, the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg in the Soviet Union in 1945.
When Lindgren’s well received biography of Jacob Wallenberg finally appeared in bookstores (Atlantis, 2007), I checked to see if it would match Ulf Olsson’ record: In his 450 page book about Marcus (Ekerlids, 2000) , Olsson had managed to fit exactly one reference to Raoul Wallenberg – in the diagramed family tree.
While Marcus and Raoul were clearly not close, they were definitely one thing: Family. Yet, Olsson does not mention the early death of Raoul’s father, which dramatically changed the line of succession in Enskilda Banken in favor of Marcus (and away from Raoul). Also, not a word about Raoul’s private letters to Marcus or their social contacts.
No reference to Marcus’ dramatic appearance at the Raoul Wallenberg meeting in Stockholm in 1981, where he stated that in 1944 the two men had discussed in depth Hungarian affairs. Most importantly, not one line about Marcus’ reaction to Raoul’ disappearance in January 1945, and the effect his unresolved fate has had on the family and, with it, the broader Swedish Cold War history.

In his new work about Jacob Wallenberg, Lindgren, too, finds no room to address the matter. In a thorough reply to my e-mail query , – Ulf Olsson did not respond – Professor Lindgren argued that after the early death of his father, Raoul became isolated, probably purposely, from the rest of the Wallenberg family.As a result, he had no discernible impact on Jacob Wallenberg’s life.However, the story may not be so simple: For one, Raoul’s recently discovered baptismal certificate [1] shows that Jacob was one of his godfathers. So was « E. Ternberg », the brother of Helmut Ternberg, head of Swedish intelligence’s C-Bureau during the war. In the 1950’s, Raoul’s associate, Kalman Lauer, stated that Jacob had been Raoul’s “idol” and that Raoul had served as his Private Secretary.
Jacob had introduced Raoul to Lauer’s firm, which was located just a few doors down from Jacob’s private residence at Strandvägen 27. Jacob also provided references for both Raoul’s Kabinettspass (in 1941) and later his diplomatic passport.
While these actions can perhaps be viewed, as Lindgren does, as simple favors to a needy cousin, there are indications that the contact went beyond mere charity: Jacob’s permission was requested and granted before Raoul departed for Budapest and it was again Jacob who asked SS Abwehr Chief Walter Schellenberg to ensure special protection for Raoul.Jacob clearly had a strong personal interest in Raoul’s fate. Swedish Police documents show that in 1954 Jacob, (with the help Ternberg) apparently tried to establish direct contacts to Soviet authorities through business and intelligence connections in Prague. What information, if any, did these discussions yield and did they affect official Swedish policy in the case? Why did Jacob at this time secretly seek the help of Helmut Ternberg, the man who had overseen Swedish intelligence operations in Hungary in 1944? Other unsolved questions abound: Why did SKF hand over its entire European inventory of ball bearings, including the one in Hungary, to the Nazis in September 1944 – while Raoul Wallenberg was fighting for the Jews of Budapest? Did concerns about revelations of such wartime deals (the full scope and purpose of which remain unknown) affect the brothers’ decision making in Raoul’s case?
Why did Marcus and Jacob, who fought long and hard for the seven « Warsaw Swedes » (captured in 1942 by the Gestapo), apparently show far less enthusiasm to do the same for one of their own? Were their hands indeed tied, as has been suggested, by postwar U.S. inquiries into Wallenberg business dealings with Nazi Germany? What guided the brothers’ thinking and did they perhaps disagree? According to former Cabinet Secretary, Arne Lundberg, by 1951, Marcus was convinced that Raoul was dead. What exactly made him so sure?
An inquiry to the Wallenberg archive about Jacob’s initiative in 1954 yielded the reply that the archive contained no information about the matter. Important materials, however, apparently remain in the family collection, such as a letter Jacob wrote to the Swedish Foreign Ministry in October 1954, which concerned a potential witness for Raoul’s presence in Russia. Jacob went so far to privately research the man’s background and he asked UD to keep him informed about further developments.

While he never talked publicly about the case, by the end of his life Jacob showed the strain of the prolonged uncertainty about Raoul’s fate: At the funeral for Raoul’s parents, Maj and Fredrik von Dardel, in 1979, Jacob appeared, according to many witnesses, deeply distraught and completely overcome with emotion.
Historians should not shy away from examining all these issues in greater detail. Professors Olsson and Lindgren are highly accomplished and well respected academics and their two books provide fascinating insights into two of Sweden’s most prominent personalities. It is therefore all the more regrettable that both scholars somehow failed to seize a golden opportunity to finally address such an important chapter in the Wallenberg family saga.

Susanne Berger October 22, 2008
Published in swedish at Världen idag

[1] Raoul Wallenberg’s baptismal register. Discovered by Kulturintendent Louise Schlyter, Lidingö Stadsarkiv. The entry into the baptismal register shows that several people on both sides of Raoul’s family served as his godparents. On the Wallenberg side, Raoul’s grandparents, Gustaf and Annie Wallenberg, and his aunt Karin Wallenberg appear, as well as Knut Wallenberg, Bankdirector Marcus Sr. and his wife, and Jacob Wallenberg. Interestingly, the list also includes « Löjtn. E. Ternberg », who is almost certainly identical with Egon Otto Ternberg, brother of Helmut Ternberg who served as head of Swedish Intelligence’s C-byrå during World War II. Helmut Ternberg oversaw Swedish foreign military intelligence operations while Raoul was in Hungary in 1944. He also maintained close ties to both Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg, and served as one of Jacob’s contact men in his attempt to establish clandestine contacts with Soviet representatives.

References   [ + ]

1. "https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www."); document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"

Leave a Reply