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The Thorny Truth

    On August 28 Dr. Guy von Dardel, Raoul Wallenberg’s maternal half-brother, died peacefully in Geneva, Switzerland, having just reached his 90th birthday. On September 3, at a simple but elegant ceremony at the Eglise Evangelique, von Dardel’s notable contributions were celebrated in a heartfelt eulogy. However, his death received little coverage in his native Sweden, despite his membership in the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences and previous position as Professor of Physics at Lund University.

    Nor does the article that appeared in the September 11-18 edition of FOKUS written by former Ambassador Harald Hamrin, in charge of the Wallenberg case at the Swedish Foreign Ministry (UD) from 2002-2006, do von Dardel any justice. Having consistently ignored von Dardel’s inquiries as to the status of UD’s promised actions on the Wallenberg question, Hamrin finally picked up his pen. With barely restrained indignation, Hamrin concluded his ‘obituary’ with this jarring statement about a man whom many regard as his heroic brother’s equal:

    “Ett irritationsmoment förblev Guy von Dardel in i det sista, det skall också sägas, även i ögonen på de UD-tjänstemän – jag var under ett antal år en av dem – som hade ansvar för »fallet Wallenberg«, den största persondossiern i UD-arkivet. Han knöt till den svensk-ryska arbetsgruppen amerikanska »oberoende forskare« som uppvisade glödande entusiasm, men stundom också ofullständig forskarcompetens.”

    English translation: “In the eyes of UD officials, it must be said that Guy von Dardel remained a thorn in the side to the last; I was …one of them, … in charge for some years of the Wallenberg case, the largest archival collection of documents in the UD. He brought into the Swedish-Russian Working Group American ‘independent researchers’ who showed glowing enthusiasm but also moments of incomplete research competence.”

    Hamrin’s comments demonstrate that there still exist in the Swedish Foreign Ministry (UD) those who want the Wallenberg case to “just go away.” Over the past 65 years, UD’s pursuit of Wallenberg’s fate has been characterized by the hard working efforts of responsible diplomats muted by the inertia of others. Whether the periods of neglect indicate conflicting interests or lack of ability to meet the challenges of the case is unclear. But it is no secret that certain UD and Swedish intelligence officials, sincerely attempting to move the case forward, have had to contend with those who find no benefit in the truth and remain unwilling to support any action that might have brought clarification to Wallenberg’s fate. It was precisely UD’s unwillingness to commit to a steadfast and serious investigation for the truth to which Guy von Dardel objected so strongly.

    It is not by chance that the leading film documentary about Raoul Wallenberg, created in 1983 and relying on many of the eyewitnesses from the 1981 International Wallenberg Hearing in Stockholm, is called “Buried Alive.” In spite of the global awareness generated by this conference, nothing moved until Guy von Dardel and Nina Lagergren, as Wallenberg’s next of kin, were invited to Moscow by Soviet authorities in 1989 to be given his personal possessions with the repeated Soviet claim that “Walenberg” died in 1947. At that time Dr. von Dardel requested and received access to the notorious isolation prison in Vladimir where, according to prisoner reports, Raoul Wallenberg was most frequently sighted after his alleged death date.

    In 1990, von Dardel led the first independent investigation ever of the Soviet political prison system. This team included Dr. Rolf Björnerstedt, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations; Professor Irwin Cotler, later Minister of Justice of Canada; Arseni Roginsky, a former political prisoner in the Soviet Gulag and later director of the human rights group Memorial Society; and Professor Marvin W Makinen, a former prisoner in Vladimir and a member of the faculty of the University of Chicago. Makinen is one of the American “independent researchers” mentioned by Hamrin. Examining prison documents, this investigation brought forth evidence that “very important prisoners” were concealed as numbered prisoners and kept in isolation. While other prison documents identified several of these prisoners, critical information was lacking in at least three cases.

    Having demonstrated that relevant information could be uncovered, von Dardel campaigned to continue the investigations further. His actions led to the formation of the Swedish-Soviet Working Group and, after 1991, the Swedish-Russian Working Group on the Fate of Raoul Wallenberg. Although the independent researchers were already ad hoc consultants to the Working Group, between 1998 and 2000 they were able to carry out more systematic and in-depth projects, thanks to their unprecedented access to Russian prison archives. Thus evidentiary statements, collected by the UD and other organizations worldwide, could be evaluated through investigation of prison registries, prisoner files, transport records, and other classified documents. This research, conducted under the immediate oversight of both the Swedish and Russian governments, reflects a period of unusual inter-governmental cooperation.

    The focus of the independent research projects was to yield critical evidence in answer to the central question: Did Raoul Wallenberg die in 1947 or did he survive beyond that date? Some of the more salient results achieved by the independent researchers were:

    · the most complete study of the historical aspects of the case after Wallenberg’s disappearance, including discussion of possible offers of exchange (or full information) in the 50s and 60s, as well as behind-the-scenes aspects of the controversial Svartz-Myasnikov encounter, which raised the possibility of Wallenberg being alive in a Moscow psychiatric facility in the early 60s;

    · a more in-depth study of the meticulous reporting system for the fate of equally prominent foreign prisoners showing that invariably autopsies were performed, death certificates issued, and both prisoner files and death registries preserved for future accounting;

    · a thorough review of currently available witness testimonies with respect to the Wallenberg case, as well as a formal review of other Swedish prisoners held in Soviet captivity. This systematic cross-referencing of information allowed for a far more effective evaluation of witness statements;

    · the study of the prisoner files of many of the most important eyewitnesses and of analogous cases in order to verify reports and compare the processing of prisoners who were repatriated vis-à-vis those who died or disappeared;

    · review of the procedures for the return of the currency and personal possessions of foreign prisoners to determine the possible relevance of such possessions being returned to Wallenberg’s next-of-kin in 1989;

    · the uncovering of a chronological series of numbered prisoners sentenced in Moscow during the 1947-1948 period, coinciding with the times in which the paper trails of Wallenberg and of his assistant, Vilmos Langfelder, disappeared.

    · the development of a computer-based methodology that accounts for occupancy of cells in Korpus 2 of the Vladimir Prison over time. Cases of long-term “empty” cells, including one in which Wallenberg was identified as a prisoner in solitary confinement by a retired prison employee, are indications that unknown prisoners existed whose identifications are not to be found in the card registry of the prison. Classified documents specify offices or officials’ reports where such names or numbers are listed or found.

    Thus, documents from both Vladimir and Moscow allowed the independent researchers to cut through conflicting eyewitness testimonies and to pinpoint concrete instances where the unknown prisoner could have been Wallenberg. To ensure the success of this ground-breaking research, the independents pressed for the identification of those few numbered or unknown prisoners they had uncovered because, in the absence of Wallenberg’s personal or investigative file, this information could help reconstruct his paper trail. The independent researchers also asked the Swedish government to request access to specific Soviet intelligence files known to remain in Russian archives that would provide crucial information for their follow-up analysis.

    In January, 2001, the findings of the Swedish-Russian Working Group were presented at an international press conference in Stockholm, at which time a 362-page Report of the Swedish-Russian Working Group was released. In Section XIV, “Following up the report,” it is stated: “So many questions remain unanswered and the Wallenberg file cannot be closed.” This statement is followed by a list of 17 “Outstanding Unresolved Matters.” Although this list is far from complete, it includes questions that, if answered, would help clarify critical moments in Raoul Wallenberg’s incarceration. This section concludes:

    “As long as there is no fully reliable proof of what happened to Raoul Wallenberg, the questions relating to the testimony of a number of witnesses must be kept up-to-date and satisfactory explanation obtained. This is particularly valid for the Vladimir Prison and the issues concerning the empty cells.”

    All of this implies a serious effort on the part of the Swedish government to follow up on the findings of the independent researchers. Unfortunately the requisite commitment was lacking. By late 2001, the focus in the Wallenberg case in the UD had shifted from clarifying his fate to a historical inquiry that centered primarily on his mission in Budapest. No further use was made of the findings of the independent consultants although their work was funded through a considerable amount of Swedish taxpayer kronor. Nor were the 17 Questions ever handed over officially to the Russian side to pursue. Much of this shift took place while Harald Hamrin was in charge of the Wallenberg case, i.e., after the Swedish-Russian Working Group had been disbanded.

    This inaction over a five year period has led to a serious regression. On August 4, 2007 (Raoul Wallenberg’s 95th birthday) the Foreign Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt wrote in his blog:

    Även om det funnits vittnesmål om att han överlevde längre och vi inte har fått absolut klarhet i varje del talar i dag det mesta för att Wallenberg efter sin arresting av de sovjetiska säkerhetstjänsterna i Budapest avrättades i Ljubjanka-fängelset i Moskva 1947.

    English translation: “Even if there are witness testimonies that state that . . . [Raoul Wallenberg]. . . lived longer and even if we do not have absolute clarity in every aspect . . . [about his fate], today most indications are that Wallenberg after his arrest by Soviet security forces in Budapest was executed in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1947.”

    Bildt’s comments harken back to Cold War times when speculation was rampant because of lack of access to the data necessary to verify any report. More importantly, Bildt’s statements gave the Russians a clear signal that the Swedish government had once again lost interest in the full truth. A month later, at a press conference in Moscow in September, 2007, FSB Chief Nikolai Patruschev resurrected the 1957 Gromyko Memorandum that asserted that Raoul Wallenberg had died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-five, but that all files or evidence had been destroyed. That is, in response to Bildt’s statement that Wallenberg had been ’executed’ in Lubyanka Prison, the FSB Chief re-introduced the previous Soviet position of forty years earlier, namely that the Swedish diplomat had died of “natural causes.”

    Thus, the debate has reverted from evidence-oriented presentations to referencing old, unsupported allegations without requisite, forensic proof. Both Sweden and Russia have chosen to ignore the ground-breaking research that had been carried out during the 10-year history of the Swedish-Russian Working Group. This regression has been endorsed even though none of the doubts about the Smoltsov document, upon which the Gromyko Memorandum is based, have been resolved. Russian officials have also noted that Wallenberg’s name has not been found in the cremation or death registries for the 1947 time period or in the decade registry. These books cannot be altered without leaving a trace.

    For Sweden to revert to a speculative position on Wallenberg’s fate now, when improved access to Russian archives combined with state-of-the-art methodologies could produce forensic evidence, speaks for itself. It is not our place to analyze the motivations of Foreign Ministry officials for assured failure in the Wallenberg case. The simplest explanation for the inertia of the UD is that independence of movement, or even “an inquiring mind,” are traditionally off-limits to a Swedish official whose station is behind a desk. This limitation Raoul Wallenberg understood only too well when he demanded that he be allowed to use “unorthodox means” for his historic rescue mission in Budapest. This may also explain how Harald Hamrin can brag about being in charge of the largest archival collection in the UD without feeling any shame for his failure to act on the information at his disposal or even to respond to Wallenberg’s next of kin.

    But Guy von Dardel considered the search for his brother a sacred duty. He became even more resolved after the tragic death of both of his parents so that the sacrifices of his loved ones not be in vain. Like any responsible family member, von Dardel demanded the right to look for his brother and to ask questions to the end. Little wonder his efforts intensified when he saw that, in spite of the groundbreaking work carried out in Russia for nearly a decade, his brother’s case was once again slipping into oblivion.

    While, technically, the Swedish Foreign Ministry remains in control of the Wallenberg case, Harald Hamrin’s response to the death of Guy von Dardel raises a deeper question. In view of the UD’s inconsistent regard for standards of evidence or for Wallenberg’s human rights, to whom should Wallenberg’s case really belong? After sixty-five years of waiting for a satisfactory response, the answer may well be: To those who will “do right by him.” These include his family; Swedish officials with a responsible commitment to the case; independent researchers who developed methods for tracing Wallenberg in the Gulag; other nations who have the right to advocate on Wallenberg’s behalf as their honorary citizen; and grass roots organizations and foundations worldwide that understand the importance of bringing closure to the case. In generations to come it will include anyone moved to take action by Wallenberg’s humanitarian deeds and the haunting spectre of his tragic, unresolved plight.

    Yet for anyone who considers Wallenberg’s fate at the hands of the Soviets an ongoing concern, there is a painful lesson to be learned: Even in the most open of societies, the truth is not always welcome. Thus, any well meaning person intent on establishing the truth can become a “thorn in the side” of those who are uninterested, uncaring, and willing to settle for less.



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