August 27, 2013

Raoul Wallenberg is still missing

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The fact that Wallenberg’s fate is still shrouded in mystery is the direct responsibility of the Russian authorities.

Sweden has instituted an official Raoul Wallenberg Day, which will be commemorated every August 27, starting this year.

To be sure, this is an important event which does justice, albeit somewhat late, to Wallenberg’s legacy. Moreover, the commemoration has a strong educational dimension as this year it will start with a Foreign Ministry seminar on the limits and possibilities of diplomacy for an audience of young diplomats, and will also include the dispatch of educational boxes with material on Raoul Wallenberg, the Holocaust and xenophobia to Swedish schools that will have to report on the ensuing activities created by this initiative.

In 2012, coinciding with the 100th birthday of the Swedish hero, the Swedish government created a special entity, led by Olle Wastberg, which coordinated all the commemorative events worldwide. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation had the honor and privilege to cooperate with this organization in several activities.

Earlier this year, a number of personalities, including former prime ministers Goran Persson and Thorbjorn Falldin, as well as Raoul’s own sister, Nina Lagergren, and sister-in-law Matti von Dardel, together with high-profile figures from Swedish politics and cultural sector, have backed a proposal to name Stockholm’s main airport after Wallenberg, as an important signal against anti-Semitism and racism, both in Sweden and worldwide.

The airport’s current name, Arlanda, has little significance and is quite arbitrary, as it was derived from “Arland,” an old name for the parish where the airfield is situated, where the “ad” was added in analogy with other Swedish places ending with “landa,” to denote “land.”

Our foundation, among whose members are more than 300 heads of state (former and incumbent), Nobel Prize laureates and even Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (better known today as Pope Francis), not only supports this worthy initiative but to a certain extent feels a humble sense of having pioneered the way.

Last year, we commissioned two busts of the Swedish diplomat which were deployed at the Ezeiza International Airport (Buenos Aires, Argentina), which hosted more than 8.8 million passengers during 2012, and at the Punta del Este International Airport (Uruguay). To the best of our knowledge, no other airport in the world has ever paid such a tribute to this great rescuer.

All these gestures, whether initiated by the Swedish government or by NGOs and the private sector, are all very well. Recognizing Raoul Wallenberg as a token of appreciation for what he did is of utmost importance.

Not less important, however, is the effort to instill his courageous legacy in the hearts and minds of the young generation. In Israel, for instance, we have in place an ambitious educational project headed by Eli Yossef (a gifted educator and playwright), whereby thousands of junior and senior high school students have been exposed to Wallenberg’s awe-inspiring feats ALL THIS is meant to grant visibility to Raoul Wallenberg the hero and role model.

And yet, we should not forget that he was also a victim, for on January 17, 1945, he was arrested by the Soviet forces that liberated Budapest from the Nazis, and was never to be seen again. According to most accounts, Wallenberg went to meet with the Soviet military chief in order to plan the future of the Jewish refugees. He and his chauffeur, Vilmos Langfelder, were imprisoned by their hosts, sent to Moscow and from 1947, they just vanished.

Unfortunately, the most likely scenario is that both of them were murdered by the Soviets, under direct orders of Joseph Stalin himself. This revelation was made back in 2006, in writing, by then-deputy ambassador of the Russian Federation in Washington, DC, Alexander Darchiev (currently head of the North American Desk of his country’s foreign ministry).

The fact that Wallenberg’s fate is still shrouded in mystery is the direct responsibility of the Russian authorities that are thwarting a full and unfettered access to the KGB archives. At the same time, quite sadly, this mind-boggling Russian behavior has been facilitated, to a great extent, by the unexplainable passivity of the Swedish governments in the past decades and the silence of some of the most prominent members of the Wallenberg economic empire.

Regarding the attitude of the Swedish governments, in his visit to Israel last year, Eric Ullenhag, the young and vibrant integration minister, candidly and courageously admitted the lack of initiative in this painful subject by stating: “I’m so proud to represent the same country as Raoul Wallenberg. But to be honest, I can’t be proud of Swedish history concerning Wallenberg. I am sorry we left the Wallenberg family too alone. I am sorry that we did not for a long time tell the story of Raoul Wallenberg. I am sorry we didn’t dare to do enough to find out what happened to the brave Swedish diplomat.”

Regarding the Wallenberg family – and we are not referring to Raoul’s late mother, stepfather and living sister, nor the von Dardel branch, whose campaigning for Raoul was so proudly led by Raoul’s late brother, Prof.

Guy von Dardel, and now by his wife Matti and their daughters Louise and Marie – history seems to indicate that Raoul’s powerful relatives at that time did very little to extricate Raoul from Soviet prison.

Our foundation is proud to have consistently addressed this issue as well, through various campaigns, letters to world leaders, petitions to Russian President Vladimir Putin and most recently through an announcement of a $500,000 reward to any person or entity able to provide scientifically verifiable information that could shed light into the fate and whereabouts of both Wallenberg and Vilmos Langfelder. This significant reward was announced in a meeting we held with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson.

We urge the Swedish government to step up the pressure on the Russian authorities to resolve this mystery. If Wallenberg is dead, he deserves to be buried next to his parents.

It seems that we could not save his life, but we should at least save his memory.

Eduardo Eurnekian is chairman and Baruch Tenembaum founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF).