Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Unsolved Mystery of Raoul Wallenberg's Fate

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating front-page article by Joshua Prager about the still-unresolved case of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish envoy who was snatched by the Russians from Budapest at the end of World War II, while saving Jews for America's War Refugee Board (subject of my documentary film, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?). Following the war, the Swedish government abandoned him, and the US did little--until Ronald Reagan made an issue of it--to locate "our man in Budapest." After Reagan, not much...His niece Nane is married to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, yet still the Russians have not released the Wallenberg file. And I was present at a meeting in Washington a few years ago when Louise von Dardel, niece of Raoul Wallenberg (pictured above), personally handed a letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell asking for American help in prying loose Russian records of his arrest and subsequent fate. So far as I know, sadly, nothing came of it...

So, it was interesting that Prager's article explains why we still don't know what happened to Wallenberg--Western governments deliberately abandoned Wallenberg because of the Cold War, even Sweden's leaders and members of his own family didn't want to know:
Peter Wallenberg, 82, says his father, Marcus, who co-headed the family bank, had told him that Raoul's mother had asked the Wallenbergs not to interfere. "You didn't do things without total government consent," he added. "And there was not total government consent in regards to Raoul."

'Slippery as an Eel'

Mr. von Dardel increasingly scorned that government. He wrote that ambassador Rolf Sohlman was an "ineffective bastard," prime minister Erlander "slippery as an eel," foreign minister Undén "horrible."


The year was 2000. The siblings were to assume their brother dead. But Ms. Lagergren couldn't bring herself to do so. The time, she says, "was not ripe yet."

In January 2001, the Swedish-Russian group that included Mr. von Dardel published its final report on Mr. Wallenberg. It was inconclusive.

Days later, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson phoned the siblings. Recalls Mr. Persson: "It was an expression of apology from the kingdom of Sweden."

The prime minister failed to comfort. "How can one call after so many years?" asks Ms. Lagergren. "Just call?"

In short order, Mr. von Dardel broke his hip, got a pacemaker, caught pneumonia and, says his family, spoke less and less. He stopped speaking of his brother.

His doctors were unsure why. His family wasn't. "You understand now," says his daughter, Louise, "that the illness is Raoul Wallenberg illness."

In 2003, a commission appointed by the Swedish prime minister published "A Diplomatic Failure," an open critique of Sweden's policy toward its missing diplomat. "Diplomatic opportunities that might have helped Wallenberg were missed," says Sweden's current deputy foreign minister, Frank Belfrage.

Mr. Lundvik, the ambassador who long handled the Wallenberg case, is more blunt. "The Swedish government did not want him back," he says.

In 2005, Mr. von Dardel's younger daughter, Marie Dupuy, emptied the contents of her father's living-room closet into her Peugeot and drove it to her home in Versailles, France. She divided some 50,000 pages into 75 bins. One was devoted to her father's career in physics, 74 to his missing half-brother.


Eight days later, Mr. von Dardel sat silently in Room 233 of a Geneva hospital. Belted to a recliner chair, his hospital bracelet sliding over his thin right forearm, he listened to this reporter recount his family's search.

"I think it was very unfair," he said in a faint voice, of the brunt of two suicides on his sister. "Nina was in the center position."

Talk turned to the search.

"One should go to the top," he said.

Vladimir Putin?


What would he like to tell the Russian leader?

Days before turning 89, Mr. von Dardel summoned his strength: "If we sit down...try to find out...the real hope would be if new information..."

Did he still think about Raoul?

"Yes, I do," Mr. von Dardel answered in his strongest voice.

Later, he added: "I see him in Russia."
Let me add my voice to the chorus: "Mr. Putin, Release Raoul Wallenberg's file!"
UPDATE: Recently received this email:
Dear Mishpucha,

Hope everyone is well.

Please find enclosed as an attachment a very moving Wall Street Journal newspaper article entitled "The Wallenberg Curse," by Joshua Prager. (You can also find the article at:

It is the story of how the Raoul Wallenberg family tried to obtain justice for diplomat rescuer Raoul Wallenberg. As many of you know, Raoul Wallenberg volunteered to rescue Jews in Budapest from July 1944 through January 1945. He is credited with saving the lives of 20,000 Hungarian Jews.

On January 17, 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet Army in Budapest.

It has been 64 years since Raoul Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviet occupying forces of Budapest. Still, there is no conclusive evidence as to what happened to him. Still his family grieves.

Raoul's brother, Guy von Dardel, and his sister, Nina Lagergren, have been seeking to determine the fate of their brother for decades. This has been an enormous emotional and financial burden for the family.

As you will see in the article, Raoul's mother and stepfather committed suicide in 1979 related to the emotional strain.

The family feels that the world has lost interest in finding justice for Raoul Wallenberg.

The Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats Project supports the Wallenberg and von Dardel and Lagergren family in their quest for justice.

Our Project has included Raoul Wallenberg in all of our exhibition venues. We have sponsored Louise von Dardel, daughter of Guy von Dardel, to attend many of the Visas for Life exhibit venues. This included meetings with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Senators Feinstein and Boxer. We are presently developing a program to honor Raoul Wallenberg as part of a program to commemorate the activities of the US War Refugee Board, of which Raoul Wallenberg was an integral part.

The Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats Project encourages the United States, Russia, Sweden, and Israel to continue the seek justice for Raoul Wallenberg and his family. We will continue to support the family in any way they feel appropriate. We hope you will join in that support.

If you wish to support the Wallenberg family or relay letters of support, please contact me at

Best regards,


Eric Saul
Executive Director
Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats Project
Institute for the Study of Rescue and Altruism in the Holocaust, a nonprofit corporation
810 Windwood Place
Morgantown, WV 26505
(304) 599-0614