This spring marks the 65th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s mission to Hungary. Earlier this week, Holocaust Remembrance Day was held in Ottawa, with survivors, MPs and senators from all parties, ambassadors from about fifty countries and many others recalling the worst catastrophe in recorded history inflicted by Hitler’s regime, which included one and a half million children among the six million murdered.
Also this week, a toxic farce staged by Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a UN conference supposed to deal with discrimination reminded us that Wallenberg’s work is far from done. The UN Secretary General was moved to say afterwards, “I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite.”
Tonight, however, we gather to honour Wallenberg and the memory of how he risked his life daily and probably hourly during a six-month period to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi death camps.
We must also consider our responsibility to demand an end to the international inaction following his abduction, incarceration and presumed death in the dark chambers of the Soviet gulag. The circumstances of his disappearance and death must be learned and explained to the world now.
The world admires Wallenberg as one of its most courageous humanitarians. He was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. Remembered as an honourary citizen in four countries, with commemorative monuments in twelve and stamps in eight, he has been the subject of numerous books and films. His mother, stepfather and friend, Per Anger, did their utmost during their own lives to find out, to no avail, what happened to him. Others with far greater influence and means must now finally act. The time has come to get to the end of Wallenberg’s story by unearthing the truth about his final years and months. This act of respect will give full meaning to all the honours accorded to him.
Raoul Wallenberg was born into two Swedish families, prominent in business, medicine and diplomacy. He later studied architecture at the University of Michigan, where he was known for his good humor, energy and ”anti-snobism”. During vacations, he hitch-hiked around the United States, Mexico and Canada. After graduating, he spent some time in South Africa and the Middle East. In the latter, he observed German Jews fleeing in horror from Hitler’s Nuremberg laws.
In 1941, Wallenberg began to work for a specialty foods business in Stockholm and central Europe. This brought him first to Budapest, a city he loved. In July 1944, he was hired by the American War Refugee Board, which was created by President Roosevelt, albeit far too late, to save victims of Nazism. His rescues, mostly by getting Jewish people into ‘safe houses’ he rented on behalf of neutral Sweden, lasted only six months, but proved effective for thousands because the war was then ending. After Adolf Eichmann blew up his car, Wallenberg had to sleep in a different location each night to avoid more attacks on his life.
Sandor Ardai, one of Wallenberg’s drivers in Budapest, described how his audacity impressed even Nazis when he intercepted a trainload of Hungarian Jews about to leave for certain death at Auschwitz.
“(Wallenberg) climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans to get down, then the Arrow Cross men (Hungarian Nazis) began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head… because they were so impressed by his courage. ”
After his capture by Russian soldiers on January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was never heard from again. How ironic it was for a man who had brought so many back into the light -to be abandoned by the international community? A wall of indifference arose around his fate, built mostly by governments, which had the means, but lacked the will, to act on his behalf.
Wallenberg and Nelson Mandela, along with the Dalai Lama, are Canada’s only honourary citizens. A bill was passed unanimously in the House of Commons and the Senate in December 1985, making him our first honourary citizen.
Canada also declared January 17, the day he disappeared, as Raoul Wallenberg Day. Numerous memorials, parks, and monuments honouring him can be found across our country. These include Raoul Wallenberg Park and sculpture in Ottawa, Wallenberg Corner in Calgary, Wallenberg Park in Saskatoon and a memorial behind Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Montreal. A Jewish high school in Toronto-Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy-is named after him. I must, however, add here that at a high school in Ottawa this week not one of the thirty students I spoke to even knew who Wallenberg was. Nor did their two teachers.
Canada should now put forth a stronger effort than in the past to show respect for the life of our honourary citizen.
It is almost universally believed by independent researchers that the
truth of Wallenberg’s fate lies in his prison file, of the type
created for all inmates of the Soviet penal system. Previous attempts
by researchers, including a Swedish-Russian Working Group that worked
from 1991 until 2000 to find traces of him in Russia, have failed to
win access to this file–although important parts of which still
appear to exist.
The report issued by the Swedish-Russian Working Group in 2000 listed 13 questions that needed to be addressed by the Russian government before Wallenberg’s fate could be determined. In the nine years since, not a single one has been answered adequately.
For example, the experts asked for the contents of the documents prepared for Politburo and Central Committee meetings in 1965, which discussed and approved a reply to Dr. Nanna Svartz of Sweden. In 1961, Dr. A.L. Myasnikov of Russia told Svartz that Wallenberg was then alive in a Moscow hospital. He later retracted saying this, but admitted to Svartz privately that Nikita Khrushchev had pressured him to withdraw his earlier statement.
In his report released in 1998, Canadian human rights lawyer and Wallenberg researcher David Matas concluded similarly that the primary difficulty in determining Wallenberg’s fate is the inability of independent researchers to access Russian confidential archives. Another ongoing problem is that the government of Sweden still claims primary and in some cases even exclusive rights based on Wallenberg’s Swedish citizenship.
The pattern of indifference in Sweden unfortunately began early. In the 1940s, the government in Stockholm didn’t even ask Moscow for Wallenberg’s return, evidently on the basis that Wallenbergm, a Swedish diplomat, was working with an American rescue body. Jan Lundvik, a now-retired Swedish diplomat who handled the Wallenberg file for decades, indicated to journalist Joshua Prager of the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that political leaders in his country worried more about offending principles of social democracy in Sweden than defending the rights of a native son. Lundvik: ”’How could the socialist government be seen to intervene on behalf of a Wallenberg?”
According to a memo discovered in the Russian foreign ministry, then Swedish ambassador Staffan Soderblom told the soviet deputy minister already in Dec, 1945, ”It would be splendid if the (Swedish) mission were to be given a reply…that Wallenberg is dead.” My impression is that every Swedish government until today–even during the Glasnost years of Gorbachev and Yeltsin–has been more interested in cultivating good relations with Moscow than in doing honourable things about one of its most internationally respected citizens.
Russia and Sweden were not alone in their inaction. Wallenberg and his special team within the Swedish legation in Budapest saved possibly as many as 100,000 Jews and others from the Holocaust, more than one third of all saved by the US War Refugee Board. Until his seizure, he was the Board’s best asset. Yet successive US administrations have offered little more than tokenism since 1945 in solving the mystery of his disappearance.
In 1945, the American ambassador to the Soviet Union was asked to assist the Swedish legation in Moscow on the matter. Shortly afterwards, American intervention at the necessary high level effectively ended. With the Cold War excuse for inaction no longer applicable and President Medvedev indicating that he wants to elevate the rule of law in Russia and to make available electronically to every Russian all the information the government holds on him/her, let’s all hope that the energetic Obama administration will take up this cause.
After his capture by Russian soldiers in January 1945, Wallenberg was never heard from again, and, among other conflicting reports, Moscow would claim that he had died in Lubyanka prison in 1947. Over the decades, there have been numerous reports from former gulag inmates, who claimed to have seen, heard of, or communicated with him in various Russian prisons after 1947.
Moscow has consistently stonewalled all efforts at unraveling the mystery. Even in the 2001 report, the Russians insisted he was killed in 1947 without offering any evidence, although they conceded that additional documentation might exist in their archives.
The Russian campaign to hide what happened to Wallenberg had four separate stages:
– In 1945, its foreign ministry told the Swedish embassy in Moscow that the Russian military had taken “measures to protect Raoul Wallenberg and his belongings” and informed his mother that he was safe and would soon return home. She would later find out that her son was then in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison as a declared “prisoner of war”.
– In August, 1947, Russia’s deputy foreign minister declared that “Wallenberg is not in the Soviet Union and is unknown to us.” This preposterous line was repeated for a full decade.
– In 1957, in response to overwhelming evidence from released gulag prisoners, who had seen Wallenberg, Deputy Foreign Minister Gromyko admitted that Wallenberg had been in Lubyanka prison, but insisted he had died of a heart attack in 1947 and had been cremated. Wallenberg was in excellent health during his six months in Budapest and the only crematorium then in Moscow carried no Wallenberg in its list of cremations for 1947.
– In November 2000, former Politburo member and powerful chair of the Commission for the Rehabilitation of Stalin’s Victim’s of Repression, Alexander Yakovlev (who is well-known to Canadians because he was ambassador here), publicly announced that Wallenberg did not die of a heart attack, but had been executed by shooting in 1947. Like all Russian officials before him, Yakovlev produced no evidence in support of his claim.
Leading archivists of the former Soviet Union have repeatedly pointed to the Kremlin’s refusal to provide adequate access to relevant materials as the cause of the failure to discover Wallenberg’s fate. One of the most respected of the archivists, Anatoly Prokopienko, in numerous interviews insisted that the decisive condition for a resolution of the Wallenberg case is “the political will of the highest leadership in Russia.”
One researcher on Wallenberg (who wishes anonymity) is candid about the role of successive governments in Hungary since his disappearance in their capital, pointing to a cloak of secrecy in collaboration with Russian governments.
“In Hungary, access to intelligence files…remain closed to researchers. Good example are the records regarding planned show trials in 1952/53, which were to centre in large part around Raoul
Wallenberg. Dozens of Wallenberg’s former associates were rounded up and interrogated – an extraordinary fact seven years after his disappearance. There was close oversight from Moscow in the planning stages…Most of the records remain inaccessible in both Hungary and Russia. They could provide important clues on how the Soviets viewed the case at that very moment in time. They could also answer the question whether (Wallenberg) was definitely dead in 1953.
“At least three individuals who worked with Wallenberg and the Swedish Legation in Budapest in 1944/45 ended up as highly secret, numbered prisoners in the Soviet Union. This is truly remarkable, given the millions of souls incarcerated in Soviet prisons after the war. Their investigative files remain off limits both in Russia and Hungary. Several other of (Wallenberg’s) closest Hungarian associates were detained and killed…So, once again, the central theme holds: We are not facing a lack of options, but lack of political will.”
Effective Action Long Overdue
David Matas offers compelling reasons why effective action should be taken now to solve the Wallenberg disappearance and has recommended concrete steps needed to solve the mystery:
1-Do everything feasible to persuade the Medvedev-Putin government to release all it holds on Wallenberg.
2- Seek to involve the governments of Canada and other countries as an international duty: While the Holocaust showed us the depths to which humanity could sink, Wallenberg scaled the height of human courage at a time when many did nothing in face of Nazi horror. With his action and the many lives he saved, Wallenberg, a Christian, demonstrated his love for his neighbours. He also reminds a post-modern world that the human spirit can prevail in the face of evil.
Canada has lived through the difficulty of research in Russia for the purpose of war crimes prosecutions, de-naturalizations and deportations. We can apply lessons learned there in Wallenberg research. There are a number of alumni of the War Crimes Unit, who have contacts and experience. They can be hired on contract to carry on for Wallenberg work that is similar to what they have already done on war crimes.
3. Develop a new strategy:
Responsible authorities in Moscow should be approached to seek agreement for obtaining access to KGB files to identify and trace witnesses, advertising in the mass media there for witnesses , and interviewing Russians by historians working for the government of Canada.
4. Encourage the Swedish Parliament to conduct formal hearings on the Wallenberg case: Witnesses from all concerned bodies should be called, preferably with all participants under oath, to give a full account of how the search for Wallenberg has been handled to date.
5. Form a small group of international experts. In close coordination with the Swedish side if possible, the group should pursue a sharply defined set of questions in the Russian archives and seek full access to specific Russian files. Other countries, including Israel, should also be urged to open all their files on Wallenberg. All governments should agree to release information on him to researchers, perhaps protecting sources. The duration of this work should not exceed six months.
6. Take concrete steps–even if small–individually to honour Wallenberg’s memory and appeal for action:
-Speak to young people about Wallenberg;-Send a letter or email to the prime minister, opposition leaders and your own MP; approach any of these for a conversation or to meet them in their offices; telephone any or all of them to discuss the Wallenberg case;
-donate money to one of the Raoul Wallenberg associations
Wallenberg research is a matter of urgency in part because his siblings, Guy von Dardel and Nina Lagergren, are still alive. At some point hopefully, all files that shed light on the fate of their
brother will be disclosed. However, we would all agree that “justice delayed is justice denied.” It would be a further shame if Wallenberg’s family pass on without knowing the truth about his fate.
Some responsible for Wallenberg’s fate and its cover up probably remain alive. Those responsible should be held to account. It is quite likely that the fear of being held to account is a reason why full disclosure is so difficult. The murder of Wallenberg and the cover up of that murder, if he was murdered, is one of the great crimes of the twentieth century. Ideally, any surviving perpetrators should be brought to justice, but at the very least what they did should be exposed.
The UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance applies to Wallenberg. Even though Russians are presumably not actively hiding him in their prison or hospital system now, inadequate investigation, a failure to release relevant documents, denying the case the priority and attention it deserves can all amount to violations of the declaration. It imposes duties on all states to investigate the fate of a disappeared person.
International law also requires all states to protect persons with diplomatic and consular status, which were Wallenberg’s as Legation Secretary to the Swedish mission in Budapest while holding a Swedish diplomatic passport. As such, he deserved international protection. Violation of the safety or security of a diplomat amounts to a crime under international law. It falls on every state to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of such crimes.
In a recent development, the current head of Moscow’s FSB’s archives directorate stated in “Vremya Novosti” (January 14, 2009), that the “time and cause of Raoul Wallenberg’s death are yet to be determined”, and that from the Russian point of view “the Wallenberg case is not yet a closed chapter”. He made reference to the fact that researchers have presented questions to Russian authorities which require answers. Hopefully this finally signals Russia’s willingness to consider allowing access to the critical files needed.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good… The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people… In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The inaction by much of the world during the Holocaust emboldened Hitler to commit crimes against a larger number of people. Indifference and inaction by successive governments in Russia, Sweden, Hungary and other countries in solving the mystery of Wallenberg’s fate has denied victims of the Holocaust the opportunity to express their gratitude toward his heroic defiance against Hitler. Worse yet, by failing to properly honour Wallenberg for his courage, dignity and humanity, we collectively fail to celebrate some of the most enduring elements of the human spirit.
It is such failure that has resulted in similar tragedies taking place in other parts of the world. Rwanda and Darfur are two recent examples where indifference and inaction have resulted in human disasters that continue to shame us all as millions of people have suffered the indignity of genocide and crimes against humanity.
In Matas’ words: “Putting aside solving the mystery of the murder of Raoul Wallenberg, if he was killed, is killing him twice over. Saying that his murder does not matter is a way of saying that he does not matter. Ignoring the murder of Wallenberg means murdering his memory. In that murder we would all be complicit. If we are truly to honour and remember Wallenberg, we must not only remember his life. We must remember his death. However, we cannot remember what we do not know. Only by unlocking the mystery of his death can we truly honour his life.”
The time for action is now! Solve the Wallenberg mystery now!
The contents of this talk are, of course, entirely my responsibility, but I’d like to thank the following for their inspiration and advice: Susanne Berger, Max Grunberg, Foralove Katz, David
Dinner to Commemorate the Heroism of Raoul Wallenberg
Hon. David Kilgour
Agudath Israel Congregation
April 24, 2009