Seanad Éireann - Volume 130 - 24 October, 1991

Adjournment Matter. - Fate of Swedish Diplomat.

Mr. Norris: I am grateful that the Cathaoirleach selected this motion, which I regard as very important and he had indicated to me at the end of the last session that it was one he regarded as appropriate. I am sure that the Minister, who has been very generous and helpful in his comments on previous occasions when I raised this matter, will also believe in its appropriateness. I would like to remind him of the debate we had on 12 July, 1990, when he made some comments which I found very helpful indeed. He said, for example, that he hoped Wallenberg was still alive and well. That involves a remarkable advance on the position of previous Governments who assumed automatically that Wallenberg was dead. This was a fairly universal and very easy presumption and one which I challenge and which those closest to Wallenberg, including Per Anger, the Second Secretary of the legation in Budapest during the period that Wallenberg was in that city, including his mother until her death, his sister and the members of the international Wallenberg committee, also challenge.

I would like to put it in the following way — in this country where we have democracy and a good judicial system, there is the established tradition of a presumption of innocence until somebody is proved guilty. In Wallenberg's case I believe a parallel presumption must exist, that he is alive until he is proved to be dead. The Soviet authorities have signally failed to produce any convincing evidence whatsoever, apart from one forged document, that Wallenberg is dead.

[199] On the last occasion I placed on the record of the House information about a woman, Oxana Bandera, who was incarcerated for a lengthier period than Wallenberg and was released having been imprisoned in 1941. She had disappeared, with no record whatever except a number and she emerged in 1989 after 48 years in labour camps without anybody having been aware of her existence. The onus of proof if the assumption is to be made that Wallenberg is dead is clearly on the side of the Soviet authorities but they have failed to do so.

May I point out also that the Minister referred last time to a statement by Mr. Boris Pankin where he expresses guilt and regret for the crime. He says: “The dead cannot be brought back to life. The only thing you can do is again praise his accomplishments and express feelings of compassion and guilt to his people and those closest to him.”

Then there was the release of some documentation, a passport, a prison file and so on. I would like to place on the record of the House the response of the Swedish Foreign Minister to this. He says: “It is very true that the handing over of certain of Raoul Wallenberg's belongings to his relatives by the Soviet side proves neither that Wallenberg is alive nor that he is dead. It really only confirms what was already admitted in 1957, notably that Wallenberg was imprisoned in the Soviet Union.”

On 12 July, we had a useful debate — even though it took place very late at night — because, among other things, the Minister said that successive Irish Governments had taken an active interest in the case and that the Soviet Embassy had been made aware of the Irish Government's view. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us this afternoon the result of that pressure and the response from the other side. I hope it has not been to state again inaccurately that Wallenberg is dead because there is no reason whatever for us to believe that.

I did not draw attention to the context in which I made my last appeal but it was about the time Brian Keenan was [200] released from captivity in Beruit. A number of other hostages have now been released. Throughout the world, and especially the western world, people are rightly horrified by the conditions under which these people were kept. They are horrified by the deprivation of social contact, by the length of time and they measure it in days. Wallenberg has been incarcerated since 17 January 1945. That comes to something over 16,000 days in confinement and much of it has probably been spent in solitary confinement.

I do not want to rehash the previous material but some of it is worth stating again for the record and in case somebody in the media, despite the emptiness on those benches, is taking an interest in this very important matter. I do not want to criticise journalists and I know that very often newspapers axe reports, particularly of Adjournment business. Senator Costello spoke in a most important debate yesterday on the question of Nicky Kelly. I have scoured the papers to see a report of that and I find its omission astonishing and it did not take place at 1 o'clock in the morning.

In case somebody is interested in taking up the story, Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who was requested by the Swedish Government to enter its diplomatic service. He had had contacts with Hungary, and particularly with Hungarian Jews, prior to the War and was sent to Budapest towards the end of the War to attempt to protect the remains of Hungarian Jewry. This he did in a remarkable fashion by going unarmed into the cattle trains which were taking these unfortunate human beings off to the slaughterhouse of Auschwitz. Probably the most important element there for us, confronted by mechanised barbarism on a gigantic scale as we are at the end of the 20th century, is the importance to have as icons, people of the valour, courage and nobility of Wallenberg, who, armed only with the human resources of their moral integrity could defy the armed might of the Gestapo. He issued Swedish protective passes to these wretched people. He established nearly 50 safe houses, placing [201] them under the protection of the Swedish Crown in Budapest and in the final days of the Nazi regime he managed to subvert the attempts of Adolf Eichmann to complete the destruction of the remaining 70,000 Hungarian Jews in Budapest. It is a most remarkable and inspiring story.

Through his actions, he saved 100,000 people. May I remind the House of the truth of the Jewish saying: “He who saves one soul, saves the universe.” Wallenberg saved 100,000 universes and then was allowed to disappear into the night and fog of the Russian Gulag archipelago. Nothing was done about it. Nothing or little was heard of it.

I introduced the debate the last time in the context of a reawakening of the conscience of the European Parliament about Wallenberg following a resolution, a motion of the European Parliament of 10 May 1990, proposed by Mr. Tindemans and supported by Mr. Habsburg which was passed unanimously. The importance of this was that it represented the kind of move I detected in the Minister's attitude, that there is now a presumption of Wallenberg's survival. Then on 28 August, 1990, I read a report in The Irish Times under a headline “Wallenberg Move” where it said:

In Moscow the Soviet Union has acknowledged that Raoul Wallenberg, who was credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War, may not have died in 1947 in a Moscow prison, a group of Canadian scholars said yesterday.

If we move on to 5 September this year the KGB, according to The Irish Times in another report was set to release Wallenberg files. The reformist newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda said yesterday it had “every reason to believe” that “sensational documents” would be published in the next few days on the fate of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews and so on, and it then repeated some of the material about Wallenberg's career. In Stockholm the daily Svenska Dagbladet said that Mr. Bakatin the newly appointed KGB chief was yesterday due [202] to give a visiting Swedish delegation a statement by an employee of the Swedish Embassy in Budapest at the time Wallenberg disappeared, a letter from a German soldier believed to have been in prison with the diplomat and a report on the fate of Wallenberg's driver, Vilmos Langfelder, who disappeared at the same time as Wallenberg after also being arrested by Soviet forces.

There have been further developments earlier in this year. At the end of the last session of this Parliament I had transmitted to me a report on Raoul Wallenberg and Vilmos Langfelder from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This is not this time the European Parliament, but, instead, another important parliamentary body. I emphasise this — the Minister, I am glad to say, is nodding because he is aware that it is no longer just cranks like myself who are appealing about Wallenberg. Serious responsible bodies and professional parliamentarians now utter and print reports like this which state their concern very clearly, and imply, also very clearly, their belief that Wallenberg may still be alive. I refer to the report of 13 May 1991 on Raoul Wallenberg and Vilmos Langfelder in which the rapporteur was a Monseiur Pontillon of the French Socialist Party. The question it dealt with was

the arbitrary arrest of Mr. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, in January, 1945 after he had saved some 100,000 people at the time of the mass deportation of Hungarian Jews to their death, and of his driver, Mr. Vilmos Langfelder and the contradictory statements about their fate made by the Soviet authorities, despite numerous reports of their survival.

Regarding the question of the “contradictory” nature a senior Soviet diplomat recently said, with disarming honesty, “why should they believe us now, we have told lies about Wallenberg so often. How can we expect the West to believe us when we say that we are at last going to uncover the truth of Wallenberg's fate?” It was also rather niggardly and parsimonious to produce [203] Wallenberg's passport and a document recording his existance in the Vladimir Prison — or Lubianka — in the light of the fact that the authorities on the KGB and the NKVD have consistently said they had the most remarkable and exhaustive documentation on all the prisoners within their remit.

The developments in the Soviet Union in the past few months have been extremely interesting and important in this light. Mr. Bakatin, the person who was being encouraging about the possibility of opening the Wallenberg file, was first of all moved sideways, by the very forces that attempted to destroy Mr. Gorbachev's vision of Perestroika and Glasnost, but now is back again. I believe this is a moment when the question can at last be answered, when someone like Bakatin is prepared to open the KGB files. My contacts, through an intermediary, with the academician Andreï Sakharov indicated that Sakharov himself had told people who interviewed him that he was certain there were major KGB files on Wallenberg, that there was no question of the KGB having lost the files which were in their possession. We must know where is the massive file on somebody of Wallenberg's diplomatic importance and social prominence, because of the enormous wealth and industrial influence of his family. There is no question of doubt. The records do exist. Only diplomatic pressure from people like ourselves can have this material released.

There have been further developments. In August, 1981 I received a report from Reuters Newsagency in New York which states:

Montreal law professor, Irwin Cotler said in a telephone interview that he expected that Vadim Bakatin, the new head of the Soviet KGB, would open secret KGB files that would show whether Wallenberg was dead or alive.

Cotler said he and Bakatin worked closely together in 1990 when Bakatin was head of the Soviet Interior Ministry and Bakatin had pledged to do all [204] he could to find the truth...

Cotler said that over the years, the KGB has offered different versions of what happened to Wallenberg, including the claim that he had been executed because he had information linking Stalin's henchman, Laventi Beria to co-operating with the Nazis in the last days of the war.

When I met with Bakatin in September, 1990, I asked him if Wallenberg was alive and he said, `I really don't know, but no one will ever say in five years from now that we obstructed the truth, whatever that truth may be.'

Newspaper reports then referred to “sensational developments” in the Wallenberg case. Then, of course, we were into the maelstrom, the upheaval that took place in the Soviet political situation generally. What is interesting is that the head of the Soviet Interior Ministry said “I don't know whether he is alive.” That is an admission I would ask the Minister to take very carefully on board. The man with major responsibility does not know and admits he does not know. He admits also that the KGB have played a major role in frustrating the discovery of material relating to Wallenberg.

My views have been accentuated in this draft resolution from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, by the discovery of documents, the most recent dated November, 1990 testifying to Mr. Wallenberg's detention in the USSR since 1947— the Soviet position is still that he died in 1947 — and by numerous support by former prisoners of war and Soviet and foreign political prisoners of Mr. Wallenberg's survival after 1947.

I would like to place some further factual evidence of Wallenberg's survival on the record because I am sure that, from the information that will have been provided to the Minister by his civil servants he will be aware that there are numberous testimonies. This is not, unfortunately, the scope of debate in which I can place on the record of the House the voluminous testimony that does exist. I can say this: the enormous body of [205] material that has been sifted through by the Swedish Foreign Office indicates one thing that is incontrovertible, there is a source or sources within the Soviet prison system generating information about Wallenberg. That is all I will say. Maybe it is spurious. I do not believe it is, at least, I do not believe all of it is but going back to my presumption of survival which we owe, morally to Wallenberg, we must presume that there is some serious substance here, particularly when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe give documented evidence of it. They say, for example:

“Among the recent accounts are those of Josip Terelja, who in 1987 stated that he had met a Ukrainian who had known Mr. Wallenberg in 1953.”

That may seem a long time ago, but then we move forward.

They said that Elena Butova, a doctor at Vladimir Prison, examined him around 1980, 35 years after he was imprisoned. According to the Swedish writer, K. Fant, Mr. Wallenberg was alleged to have been treated at the Blagovechtchensk Clinic in Siberia on 22 December, 1986. Andreï Sakharov was also convinced that Mr. Wallenberg had survived and right up to his death made attempts to trace him.

If I had the opportunity, I could go into the discordant testimony, for example, of two totally discredited Soviet politicians, Vyshinsky and Gromyko, which not only conflicts with the evidence as we now know it, but they also conflict with each other. Among the things they said was that exhaustive inquiries had been made in the Lyubyanka, Vladimir, Lefortovo and so on. No such inquiries were ever made. This is not a hysterical statement made by an unrepresentative Irish parliamentary figure like myself; this is documented in the report of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and this is what it says at paragraph 13:

The international Committee of Inquiry on Wallenberg's fate visited Vladimir Prison in September, 1990 [206] with the full support of the Soviet Ministry of the Interior. It was given access to prison files going back to 1941. Its examination showed that the Soviet authorities had not undertaken any researches on Mr. Wallenberg and that individuals were sometimes detained under a number and not according to their surname. Their examination also enabled them to check the evidence of former prisoners. The Commission concluded that the Wallenberg file, which according to the Soviet authorities had disappeared, was in the hands of the KGB.

This is according to the International Commission. I would like to raise again the possibility of this file being opened, and I hope the Minister will make representations to the Soviet authorities. I regret that the Soviet Ambassador is, ironically, leaving today. I had the opportunity of meeting him some months ago when he arrived and whatever his political indiscretions he was a most charming and helpful man. I feel very sorry about his personal situation. I had the opportunity of discussing the question of Wallenberg with him and, I must say, I found him most open on this matter.

When a group of journalists and lawyers from the Soviet Union visited this country, under an important exchange programme between this country and Russia, I think it was about May of this year, I brought them into this august chamber and explained the way in which our Parliament works and so on. I then dragged the little trail of Wallenberg across in front of their noses and I am very glad to say they were instantly engaged and interested and I recorded a television film for transmission in Russia which requested information about Wallenberg.

I would like to go back to this promise made by the former very fine Soviet Foreign Minister. I am sure our own Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs will agree with me that Mr. Shevardnadze was a remarkable and courageous man. In December 1989 Mr. Shevardnadze promised to open the [207] KGB file. That is where we must ask that the matter be pushed.

This is important for all of us in terms of humanity particularly when one thinks that Walter Rauff, the man who invented the gas chamber was spirited away by the Allies and died comfortably in his bed in South America, that Dr. Mengele, the doctor of Auschivitz died in a bathing accident off a beach in South America. These people lived on in comfort while we sat silently and allow Wallenberg to disappear. That silence has now been broken and I believe that this country with its record in international human rights, with its proven neutrality, can be a voice that will be heard.

I would like the Minister also to consider one thing that has been done that costs nothing. I know that we have to be economical with time and also with money. I know that the economics of this country are not great but this is something that will cost nothing. Israel, the United States of America and Canada have conferred on Wallenberg honorary citizenship of their countries. Could we not, Minister, have an all-party move initiated by the Government, something positive to give people hope in these difficult days, to make Wallenberg an honorary citizen of Ireland. We can then have the correct locus standi to make the direct approach in Moscow through our Ambassador to ascertain the fate of somebody who would then not only be a glorious member of the human race, but would also be an honorary Irish citizen. I am sure the Minister will agree with me that we would not be honouring Wallenberg, we would be honouring ourselves by accepting him as a citizen of Ireland.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Calleary): Senator Norris can be assured that whatever else I might call him I would not call him a crank. There are many things that I do call him at night, in particular at 1 o'clock, when he insists on raising matters on the Adjournment, but certainly not that. I would like to thank him for [208] raising this matter and, indeed, for his contribution which has, as usual, been very well researched.

The matter is one that has been with us for a long time, and continues to be of considerable concern to international public opinion, and, as those of us who frequent this House know, to Senator Norris.

We are all aware of the heroic efforts made by Raoul Wallenberg to rescue thousands of Hungarian Jews from the hands of the Nazis. Wallenberg, if still alive, and I sincerely hope he is, is a Swedish citizen and at the time of his disappearance, as Seantor Norris set out, was a diplomat on the staff of the Swedish Legation in Budapest. That he was remarkably successful is an indication of the tremendous courage and determination that he devoted to his task.

On 17 January 1945, he and his driver were arrested by the advancing Soviet army. What happened to him after his arrest is a matter of uncertainty and speculation to this day. It appears that he was transported to Moscow and held at first in the notorious Lyubyanka prison. However, for some years the Soviet authorities denied that he had been arrested or that they had any knowledge of his whereabouts. As Senator Norris said, it was not until 1957 that Mr. Gromyko, then the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, announced that Wallenberg had died in Soviet custody, apparently from a heart attack, in July 1947. This continues to be the official Soviet position, although occasionally accounts that are at variance with this official version appear. For instance, in 1989 the Soviet Ambassador to Sweden said that Wallenberg had been killed by Soviet agents shortly after his arrest.

There continue to be doubts that Wallenberg died in the manner and at the time stated by Mr. Gromyko. There have been numerous reports as instanced by Senator Norris, over the years that Raoul Wallenberg was alive and being held somewhere in the Soviet prison system, and many people believe that Wallenberg is still alive today.

[209] Whatever the correct situation, it is important that the truth be known. Wallenberg's efforts on behalf of is fellow man have earned him the right to the solidarity of the peoples and governments of the world. It is therefore fitting that this House should debate the issue today, as it has done in the past. Such debates are a clear indication of the concern felt by the Irish people and by this House for the fate of Raoul Wallenberg. It is a concern that is shared by this and previous Governments. We have, on a number of occasions, made known our concern to the Soviet authorities, in particular within the framework provided by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. We will continue to do so when circumstances indicate that such action could be helpful to the efforts to ascertain what happened to Wallenberg and appropriate occasions present themselves.

While Governments and individuals can continue to make their concern felt, I must stress that the responsibility for elucidating what has happened to Raoul Wallenberg lies first and foremost with the Soviet authorities. This is also the sentiment that underlies the Draft Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to which this motion makes reference. Unfortunately, in the past, the Soviet authorities have failed to discharge this responsibility to the satisfaction of world opinion.

There are welcome signs that the Soviet Government itself is now aware of the importance of clarifying the matter. Much of this is due to the enormous changes that have taken place in the Soviet Union in the last few years, and to the fundamental transformation that that country is experiencing since the failure of the attempted coup in August. Recent reforms, including the dissolution of the KGB will, it is hoped, radically reduce the power of the security services and place them under democratic control.

The appointment of the liberal democrat, Vadim Bakatin, as Chairman of the KGB in the aftermath of the failed coup has already led to developments in the [210] case. On 4 September, Mr. Bakatin handed over to the Swedish Ambassador in Moscow five previously unknown documents from the KGB archives concerning the fate of Raoul Wallenberg. Bakatin said that these were all that it had been possible to find in the KGB archives, and admitted they did not throw full light on the matter. The documents apparently contain little new information, and neither confirm nor refute the official Soviet version of what happened to Wallenberg. The Swedish Ambassador has expressed gratitude to Mr. Bakatin for his action.

This latest development follows a number of earlier moves on the part of the Soviet authorities which were intended to demonstrate their goodwill. In 1989, as referred to by Senator Norris, the KGB returned a number of Mr. Wallenberg's personal effects, including his passport, to his family. Last year, the Soviet authorities gave permission for the international commission which has been established to investigate the Wallenberg case to examine the files of the Vladimir prison, where he was apparently held for a time in 1945. This commission, which is non-governmental, is made up of a number of international experts, including Soviet citizens. One of these, Kronid Lyubyarsky, is reported as saying that the members of the commission were given access to some 100,000 files and compiled much useful information about a number of foreigners held in the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s. They did not find the Wallenberg file although they became convinced that one had existed. They were also able to talk to former prison staff and to people who claimed to have seen Wallenberg in prison. However, they were not successful in establishing what had happened to him.

The Swedish Government very naturally, has taken a special interest in the case of its citizen. A joint Swedish-Soviet working group was established this summer and has now begun working on the case. This is a significant development. The group held its first meeting on 26 September and will meet again this week. The Swedish members of the [211] working group include Professor von Dardel, who is Wallenberg's half brother. Our information is that the Swedish side are satisfied with the progress made to date but it would appear that the work of the group is still at a preliminary stage and much still remains to be done before it can reach conclusions. I hope that the group will be successful in this task.

I think it right to allow the Swedish Government, in the first place, to pursue its efforts to establish the fate of Wallenberg, a Swedish citizen and official representative of that country at the time of his disappearance. The Government here, however, are prepared to provide any assistance to Sweden that that country considers might be useful in these efforts.

We also trust that the Soviet Government will assist fully in the work of establishing the truth of the matter and will ensure that justice is done once the truth is established. I am encouraged by the recent statement of the Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr. Pankin, in conversation with Mr. Wallenberg's half-brother, that [212] the Soviet Union is sincerely interested in the final elucidation of the fate of the Swedish diplomat and ready to render all necessary assistance in this regard.

It seems, therefore, that circumstances are now, more than ever before, favourable to establishing what happened to Raoul Wallenberg after his arrest in early 1945. I believe that the work of the joint Swedish-Soviet working group offers the best way to obtaining the information which has eluded all of us to date. I trust that the group, in due course, will be able to answer all outstanding questions about this episode which is an unhappy reminder of an appalling past.

Mr. Norris: I would like to thank the Minister for his very full and humane reply and to express one hope; that is, that he may find it possible to transmit to the Swedish and Soviet authorities his interest and the interest of the Irish Government in this matter.

The Seanad adjourned at 4 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 October 1991.