Raoul Wallenberg’s Abduction by the Russians on January 17, 1945: Seventy Years Ago

15-01-2015, by Louise von Dardel, ed. Jerusalem Post

My uncle Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary, was abducted by the Russians on January 17, 1945 and immediately incarcerated in a KGB jail in Moscow. Probably there was not one day that our family did not think of him since then and our family did all we could to bring him home. The seventieth anniversary of his separation from us leads me to reflect and some of this I would like to share.

Because of his exceptional deeds in Hungary Raoul is a historical figure and history is collective memory. Yad Vashem has a slogan: “Remembering the Past – Shaping the Future”. Also for me history is understanding the essence of past events in order to be able to learn for the future. Specifically, in the case of Raoul, I ask how do we remember a great hero? Is it only to “honor” or also the motivation for positive action?

During the past decades my uncle was often honored at high level state ceremonies and became honorary citizen of various countries. Streets, monuments and schools have been named after him, stamps have been issued by various countries and he is the best known rescuer of Jews. Many who remember him are descendents of those he rescued and thus received a gift of life. Some also remember him as a symbol of Communist terror, which swallowed tens of millions of lives.

For me there are two main questions: “What happened to Raoul Wallenberg after he fell into the hands of the Russians?” and “What can we learn from him and how can we be inspired to carry on his work and keep his spirit alive?” More information is required about his fate and why he was not rescued from the Russians. We need to better understand all the complex forces of history in the post-war period.

Raoul Wallenberg and his mother widow, Maj von Dardel, 1912

Raoul Wallenberg and his mother widow, Maj von Dardel, 1912. Courtesy RW’s nearest family

Raoul was born into a privileged family: the wealthy and very powerful Swedish banking and industrial Wallenbergs. His father, Raoul Oscar Wallenberg, died before he was born and his maternal grandfather passed away few months after his birth. In his formative years he was brought up by two grieving widows, his mother and grandmother, both dressed in black. Some feel like victims under such circumstances, but Raoul learned compassion to the suffering of others.

Raoul Wallenberg and his half brother, Guy von Dardel1920

Raoul Wallenberg and his half brother, Guy von Dardel,1920. Courtesy von Dardel

Later his mother Maj, my grandmother, married Fredrik von Dardel, an aristocrat and a noble man. Subsequently Raoul’s siblings were born: my father Guy and aunt Nina.

Instead of becoming a banker in the Wallenberg enterprise Raoul selected architecture for his university studies, because of his imagination, pragmatism and passion for creating harmony. Despite the Great Depression he chose to study at the University of Michigan in America. He  witnessed many personal tragedies and also perceived the coming of economic recovery. During a vacation he worked at a world’s fair and experienced America by hitchhiking all the way to Mexico. He appreciated the country’s vastness and beauty. He saw that America can envision and accomplish great things, almost without limits and often in totally unconventional ways. This made a great impression on Raoul and fundamentally influenced his thinking.

He enjoyed his studies, nature, travel, meeting girls, interesting discussions, reading, going to movies, dinners and many of the nice things life has to offer. Despite his family background he was modest and loved to be helpful to people.

Following the wish of his banking family on his way back to Sweden he worked for a short time in various countries in order to get banking experience. One of his places of work was a bank in Haifa where he met many Jews who recently escaped from Nazi Germany. That may well be one of the reasons why he felt so much compassion for the abandoned Jews of Europe.

The global economic crisis had already reached Sweden when he returned to Stockholm. The wealthy Wallenberg family did not seem to help him find work. Raoul found a job with a Hungarian Jew, Kalman Lauer, in Stockholm. It was an import-export company dealing with Hungarian food items.

He was a creative person in the best sense of that word, both in architecture and in other areas of life. That took courage, because a truly creative person is often scorned for being different. Raoul was not an eccentric or a one dimensional person, yet he was by no means a conformist. He was in many ways a rugged individual. He skillfully combined vision and creativity with pragmatism. He was very solution oriented. For example he designed a floating swimming pool by the royal castle for a Stockholm architectural competition.

During much of World War II Raoul lived in neutral Sweden is peaceful Stockholm. Most of his friends were leading normal lives while he was concerned about the war. He kept up with events and even had a map on which he noted the main battles and the fate of war. He was quite bright, but even more important he had a sensitive and caring heart. When he heard about the concentration camps he believed it was happening and tried to convince his friends that this horror was a reality in modern Europe.

In January 1944 President Roosevelt set up the American War Refugee Board. This happened mainly due to activism by the Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson) led rescue group in America and also help of Jewish Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgethau Jr. who pressured Roosevelt. With support of numerous Senators, Congressmen and even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt the “Bergson Group” persistently lobbied the Roosevelt administration to help the Jews of Europe.

One day Raoul was asked  by a Stockholm representative of the American War Refugee Board if he would be willing to help rescue Jews in Budapest. He did not speak Hungarian, had never lived there and certainly had absolutely no experience with such important work. He was fully aware of the danger of his mission. He wanted a life filled with deep meaning – one that is worth living. Ultimately he found that in Budapest, where he was totally energized by the immense meaning of his rescue work. He was given a diplomatic passport and an office at the Swedish embassy in Budapest. Most important, the Swedish King agreed that Raoul would be independent and not subject to the diplomatic rules of the Swedish Foreign Ministry. This was critical to his mission’s success. Raoul left for Budapest in a hurry and with great passion and arrived on July 9, 1944. He was a pragmatist, yet like many idealists and youthful people didn’t know the concept of impossible. This helped him face almost insurmountable odds.

His mission to Budapest became possible for many reasons. After the total defeat of the German army at Stalingrad in early February 1943 it became clear that the tables have been turned on the Germans. In June 1944 George Mantello, a Hungarian Jew and El Salvador diplomat in Switzerland, received with considerable delay the famous Auschwitz Report from Moshe Krausz in Budapest. He immediately publicized the horrors of the Holocaust in great detail. This triggered the subsequent Swiss people’s unparalleled grassroots protests and press campaign with over 400 glaring headlines about Europe’s barbarism against its Jewish citizens. This led to Roosevelt, Churchill and others threatening Hungary’s Fascist leader Miklos Horthy with post-war retribution. Horthy understood that the war was lost and was forced to stop the transports to Auschwitz, which until then took about 12,000 Jews to their tragic fate each day.


Raoul Wallenberg and his Jewish management team in Budapest

In Budapest Raoul worked with great excitement. He was tireless and frequently thought of new approaches to save people. He had excellent organizational skills. He built a fairly large group of hundreds of people, mostly Jews, organized as a company with departments and management. There were departments handling financial matters, obtaining storing and distributing food, a clinic and orphanage as well as a human resource group. His personality attracted talented and dedicated people to work with him mainly because he offered meaning and hope. He helped Jews to help other Jews. Raoul gave back to Jews dignity, the willingness to live, confidence in themselves and humanity. He inspired people and as a result some were able to save themselves.

A woman whom I met told me that she was Raoul’s secretary in Budapest. She was was then an 18 year old blue eyed Jewish girl. He sent her together with a Jewish man to various places. They were fearless and didn’t wear a yellow star. They had with them a list of names of Jews who were supposedly under Swedish protection and were able to save many. Raoul also sent his staff to the railway station in order to help him rescue Jews. At least once he would appear with a bag full of Swedish protection papers, threw them to the people who could then save themselves. Many Jews were also saved by forged Swedish protection papers.

During the winter and earlier murderous arrow cross bands terrorized and murdered many people. Winter 1944 was especially cold and the Danube froze over. This and the bombing and shelling of Budapest by the allies made things even more difficult.

Raoul spoke German fluently and with a lot of authority when necessary, which the Germans respected. He didn’t fight the Germans, in fact he understood them. He knew that many were afraid of being left behind on the battlefield, some were concerned about post-war retribution and many were worried about their families. This made it easier for him  to negotiate about the rescue of Jews.

Raoul was able to carry on his rescue work because of his daring, passion and search for real meaning to life. It helped that people respected and liked him a lot. He said that his secret weapon was his imagination. Despite his enormous responsibility he made sure to set aside a little time to maintain some balance in his life and did many sketches for his peace of mind. One of his important contributions was that he brought kindness and humanity where there was so much inhumanity.

There was a spirit of friendship and collaboration between Raoul and some other diplomats in Budapest, including Carl Lutz, Giorgio Perlasca, Monsignor Angelo Rotta, Friedrich Born and Ángel Sanz-Briz. They inspired each other and thus a few exceptional people saved large numbers of Jews, which was unprecedented in Europe.

One of the first actions of the Russian forces in Budapest was to abduct my uncle and his Jewish driver Vilmos Langfelder on January 17, 1945 and took them to the Lubyanka KGB prison in Moscow. Sweden conveniently considered him dead and the Americans, who convinced him to go to Budapest, did not help him. My family was left alone to try to bring Raoul back home.

The world started to be interested in his exceptional deeds about 30 years after his abduction, but did not seem to care about his fate. It took over twenty additional years for Sweden to acknowledge his heroism and apologize for being apathetic about his fate.

Guy von Dardel in front of Lubianka prison, 1989

Guy von Dardel in front of Lubianka prison, 1989, Expressen

After my grandparents’ death my father took on the task of searching for his older brother. He was a nuclear scientist and traveled to Russia over fifty times to try to find Raoul. His intense research brought him in contact with talented and dedicated people who wanted to help. They included Andrei Sakharov, Russian nuclear physicist, human rights activist dissident as well as noted human rights lawyer and one time Canadian Attorney General and Minister of Justice: Professor Irwin Cotler. My father approached all relevant governments and institutions, but unfortunately lacked support by the concerned parties.

Raoul rescued tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary. Three generations were born since then and large numbers owe their life to him. Raoul’s energy, compassion, passion, caring for others made a difference. The War Refugee Board provided considerable sums, which was an important tool. Using it he was able to buy buildings for safe houses and office space, to purchase food and pay for other expenses of the rescue operation. His diplomatic status and independence of normal Swedish diplomatic rules and lack of bureaucratic interference were certainly very important.

We are very proud to be Raoul’s family and regret that the world did not try to find out what was his tragic and undeserved fate in Russia. In enlightened countries generals don’t leave soldiers on the battlefield, yet if humanity truly cared about heroes then Raoul would not have been abandoned. My sister Marie and I greatly respect that our father never abandoned his brother and dedicated his life to bring him home.

President Moshe Katzav, Minister Natan Sharansky meet with Raoul Wallenberg nieces Louise von Dardel and Marie Dupuy, January 2005, Jerusalem Post

President Moshe Katzav, Minister Natan Sharansky meet with Raoul Wallenberg nieces Louise von Dardel and Marie Dupuy, January 2005, Jerusalem Post

As you read this article perhaps you can pause for a while and ask what you understand about Raoul and how would you put in practice his passion of love and caring for people’s life. The 70th anniversary of my uncle’s abduction is an opportunity to reflect and be inspired. Perhaps that is the best way you the reader can honor my dear uncle. My sister Marie proposes to light a candle on January 17 to sustain Raoul’s light.

Louise von Dardel, Stockholm

Louise von Dardel, Stockholm. Courtesy Bo Person

Louise von Dardel and Marie Dupuy reside in Switzerland.
Marie’s Web site is:

This article appears in the January 16, 2015 weekend Magazine of The Jerusalem Post

The Swedish Foreign Affair and Interpol


Letters between Interpol, Max Grunberg and the Swedish Government concerning Raoul Wallenberg’s Fate.

Other Swedes in the Gulag complicate Raoul Wallenberg search

22-08-2012, by Susanne Berger, ed. The Local

Possibilities of unknown Swedes and Raoul Wallenberg in Vladimir prison and throughout the Soviet Gulag. By removing a major element of confusion, proper identification of three unknown “Swedish” Red Cross officials would undoubtedly help to move the search for Raoul Wallenberg a big step forward.

In October 1956, in his first interview with Swedish officials after his release from Vladimir prison, Austrian citizen Otto Schöggel stated that while in Vladimir in the spring of 1955, he had briefly spent time with a Swedish prisoner.

Makinen and Kaplan, together with Raoul Wallenberg expert Susan Mesinai, are currently investigating the statements of several other former prisoners who say they met a Swedish prisoner in Vladimir, accused of espionage, in the years 1955 -1970.

More about swedes in the Gulag and the Raoul Wallenberg search

A note on Kutuzov-Tolstoy’s letter of authorization

28-05-2012, by C.G.McKay,

In her recently published mammoth work (2) of nearly 800 pages on Raoul Wallenberg, Ingrid Carlberg has a note referring to the important question of Michael Kutuzov-Tolstoy’s letter of authorisation, said to have been issued by the Swedish Minister in Budapest, Ivan Danielsson and giving Kutusov-Tolstoy the right to engage in discussions with the Russians on behalf of the Swedish Legation. In this note she writes :

Philipp [Rudolph Philipp] also claims that Ivan Danielsson at the same time had given the Russian interpreter in the Protecting Power Section , Tolstoj-Kutusov , a written letter of authorisation to negotiate with the Red Army on behalf of the Swedish Legation. However no such document has been found. If this was indeed the case, it can have contributed to queering the pitch for Raoul Wallenberg. (3)

More ->


Swedish Investigation into Fate of Raoul Wallenberg Must Continue

24-04-2012, by M. Grunberg, S. Berger, D. Matas, ed. Jerusalem Post

With Russia’s failure to produce conclusive evidence about the fate of Raoul Wallenberg in Soviet captivity, the Swedish Government must continue to press for direct access to essential archives and to locate  witnesses who may have factual information about what happened to the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi persecution in 1944, only to disappear himself in the Soviet Union in 1945.

For decades Russia has claimed that Raoul Wallenberg died on July 17, 1947 in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison. Yet, in 2009,  Russian officials  finally admitted  that Wallenberg had been interrogated as late as July 23, 1947, six days after his official death date.  It also became clear that Russia had intentionally withheld this crucial fact from an official Swedish-Russian Working Group that had investigated Wallenberg’s fate from 1991-2001.
In spite of numerous requests  to Russian authorities to produce uncensored copies of the July 23, 1947 Lubyanka interrogation register and related documents, Russian officials so far have not released any additional records to show what happened to Raoul Wallenberg after this date. The  new information proves that vital documentation about  the case continues to exist in Russian archives and that the case can and should be solved.
Russian officials have repeatedly stated that  they “continue to assist Sweden in replying to specific requests for additional information about the fate of Raoul Wallenberg.” However, Russian officials have not allowed  scholars access to a variety of key files and materials that remain classified  in  Russian archives and that are  essential for solving the case.
In addition to the previously cited prison interrogation registers, this material includes Soviet foreign intelligence records from Hungary and Sweden for the period 1943-1945 which would shed light on the reasons why Soviet authorities decided to arrest Wallenberg; and uncensored access to investigative files of a number of prisoners closely associated with Raoul Wallenberg in captivity, as well as  key correspondence records between the Soviet security services and the Soviet leadership, such as the Central Committee and the Politburo, and other Soviet agencies, such as the Russian Foreign Ministry, which would reveal how Soviet leaders handled Wallenberg’s before and after 1947.
Until this documentation has been reviewed, no final conclusions about Wallenberg’s fate can be drawn.
What is the Swedish government  doing to ensure that Russian authorities provide access to this documentation? The answer is, unfortunately, « not much ».
As stated on the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s website, the full clarification of  Wallenberg’s fate remains an important priority:
« The main purpose of research studies should be to produce conclusive evidence regarding Raoul Wallenberg’s ultimate fate and, if he is still alive, enable him to return to Sweden. » (http://www.sweden.gov.se/content/1/c6/01/84/44/0b07128c.pdf)
However, the Swedish Foreign Ministry considers the Wallenberg case a historical issue and has therefore chosen  not  to make any direct requests for  clarification about « Prisoner Nr. 7 » to Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev or his elected successor, the current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  Instead, official Swedish demands have been limited to asking Russia merely for an « open archival policy ».
On January 17, 2012  the Associated Press widely reported that in 1991, Russia’s Security Services had actively interfered with the work of the  first official International Wallenberg Commission when it was  trying to review  relevant records in Russian archives.   Swedish Foreign Minister Card Bildt immediately announced that he would be sending  Ambassador Hans Magnusson  on a  fact finding mission to Moscow to determine what additional  information about Raoul Wallenberg’s fate remains available in Russia.
As former Swedish Chairman of the Swedish-Russian Working Group, Magnusson is well qualified for the task.   However, while the dispatching of  a special emissary to Russia to request an « update » about the Wallenberg case is undoubtedly welcome, implementing procedures to ensure meaningful access to  important documentation  so that a credible investigation can be conducted is quite another.  It remains to be seen how the Swedish Foreign Office structures this new official inquiry so that it will not  turn out to be simply a play for the galleries.
Unfortunately, both Mr. Bildt and Mr. Magnusson have  already publicly stated that “we should not have great expectations” of about the new efforts, essentially consigning the inquiry to failure before it has even gotten off the ground. This attitude is unfortunate, especially since Mr. Bildt  apparently felt that additional official steps  in the Raoul Wallenberg case had become warranted.
A scheduled conference on Wallenberg in Moscow on May 28, 2012, coordinated  by the Institute for Contemporary History of the Russian Academy of Science and co-sponsored by the Swedish Foreign Ministry will address the question of Wallenberg’s fate only indirectly and  the issue will receive only a fleeting mention in the  week-long program surrounding the conference.
Over more than six decades, Sweden has made surprisingly little efforts to engage  international organizations and institutions in the search for Raoul Wallenberg. It took a full six years after Wallenberg’s disappearance, until 1951, before Swedish officials asked U.S. authorities for assistance in the case. In 1995, the International Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland confirmed  that « the subject of  … Raoul Wallenberg is known to us only from the press and different campaigns organized on his behalf. » Although the head of the Swedish Red Cross Folke Bernadotte had sent an appeal to help locate Raoul Wallenberg to his Soviet counterpart by January 1947, no official case  record seems to have ever been established with the ICRC.
Similarly surprising is the fact that  Sweden has so far not filed a formal motion concerning Raoul Wallenberg with the U.N. Working Group on Enforced Disappearance. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, was adopted on December 20, 2006 by the UN General Assembly and   came into force on December 23th 2010. The convention specifically safeguards the rights of the victims and their relatives  « to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person.”
With the help of other countries, Sweden could  pursue additional ways to press Russia for the truth about Raoul Wallenberg.
On April 19, the U.S. Congress honored Wallenberg, who is an honorary citizen of the U.S.,  with  the Congressional Gold Medal.
As it happens, the U.S. Senate  is currently debating the repeal of the so-called Jackson-Vanick Amendment. Adopted in 1974, that Amendment has long been a thorn in Russia’s side since it makes trade with Russia contingent on allowing Jewish immigration.

Raoul Wallenberg var inget oskrivet blad

12-04-2012, by Susanne Berger, Vadim Birstein, DN,

Hittills okända uppgifter visar att Raoul Wallenbergs resa till Budapest 1944 föregicks av nära kontakter med antinazistiska, västvänliga och judiska kretsar i Ungern, något som i efterhand tonades ned av oro för sovjetiska misstankar.

F. v. Dardel, dagboksanteckningar angående R. Wallenberg, 1970-1971

31-03-2012, by Fr. von Dardel,

F. von Dardel,  dagboksanteckningar


Exclusive new 1944 document of Raoul Wallenberg


A passport application from 1944 applied by Raoul Wallenberg at the Riksarkivet, Stockholm

(Source: Riksarkivet, via S. Berger)

Exclusive new document 1943 and photograph of Raoul Wallenberg


A passport application from 1944 applied by Raoul Wallenberg at the Riksarkivet, Stockholm

(Source: Riksarkivet, via S. Berger)


19-03-2012, by Susanne Berger, Dr. Vadim Birstein,

A major challenge for researchers  in the Raoul Wallenberg case has always been how little original documentation about the young Swedish diplomat survives from his adult life before 1944. Few personal letters or other documents have been preserved.

In particular, such papers would fill in important information about Wallenberg’s personal and professional contacts before he was sent to Hungary in July 1944 on a humanitarian mission to aid its Jewish population. Hungary had been formally allied with Nazi Germany since 1940, but Germany had nevertheless moved to occupy the country on March 19, 1944. In a short few months, almost 500,000 Jews were deported to exterminations camps in Poland and Czechoslovakia. > More