Wednesday Night #1577 – The Prologue

The Prologue

On Wednesday May 23rd, the Montreal community will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving the lives of up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. A by-invitation-only (due to space constraints) Tribute Ceremony will be held in Raoul Wallenberg Square behind Christ Church Cathedral late Wednesday afternoon. Ron Meisels, who – along with his mother, step-father, grandmother, grandfather and cousin – was among those who owe their lives to Raoul Wallenberg, is a key member of the organizing committee.

Wednesday Nighter Tony Deutsch also has family who owe their lives to Raoul Wallenberg. In fact, he has in his possession two of the protective passports, designed and issued by Wallenberg, which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation, thus preventing their deportation and ensuring that they would be treated as Swedish citizens, exempt from wearing the yellow badge required for Jews. Like so many of us, Tony is deeply interested in Wallenberg’s fate and has prepared for consideration next Wednesday the following hypothesis on which he will elaborate (and he hints at more to come).

While I do not definitely know what happened to Wallenberg, I have a reasonable hypothesis I can defend.
He, at age 32, had no experience in the Swedish foreign service, but he arrived with authorization from Stockholm to operate outside established channels. The microfilmed records of the (U.S.) war refugee board make ample references to Wallenberg and a Swedish American joint project in Hungary. (The only thing the US could have contributed to this was cash, of which Wallenberg needed plenty to hand out bribes etc.) This was essentially a US-financed operation, to which the Swedes contributed a very able man and the diplomatic cover.
The Swedes were “neutral”, which was the only way they had to deal with the German military threat up to 1944, and the Soviet military threat thereafter. Providing cover for an American mission was pushing the neutral envelope in the eyes of the Soviets by 1945. Had Truman gone through with making the personal request to Stalin he offered to the Swedes, this would have been seen by the Soviets as crowning evidence that Swedish neutrality really meant cooperation initially with Germany and then with the U.S. .The Swedes had many issues with the Soviets in 1945. There was the story of manganese shipments to support the German war effort almost until the end. There were also the Baltic refugees who served in the German forces, and fled to Sweden in 1945.The Swedish position vis-à-vis the Soviets was very weak and vulnerable. This explains their symbolic efforts to help Wallenberg.
There is a great deal more detail, going beyond the usual journalistic story, which I propose to keep to its factual minimum.

Some time ago, we agreed that this Wednesday Night would be a fine occasion to also honour our good friend, Swedish diplomat and Wednesday Nighter, the late Knut Hammarskjöld, who in the early 1950s was sent as an envoy to Moscow in an attempt to secure the release of Raoul Wallenberg. Knut, who was close to the Wallenberg family, continued to explore leads, however ephemeral that indicated that Wallenberg had not died in 1947 as the Soviets insisted, and often spoke of his conviction that he had lived for many years following his arrest by the Soviets and could still be alive in the 1980s. There was even fascinating conjecture about how to introduce him into a world that had changed so drastically since his arrest in January 1945, and the role that Canada might play in supplying a safe house where he might be brought up to date on all that had happened in the intervening years.

Knut’s distinguished career was not, however, limited to his abiding interest in Raoul Wallenberg’s fate. As Director General of IATA, he led that organization for 18 years, many of which were turbulent and instituted some notable innovations including the program for developing nations which evolved into the IATA Training Institute (and gave birth to the IATA/Concordia MBA in Aviation). He later served as CEO of the Atwater Institute, the brainchild of the late Frank B. Common, Jr. – a private institute dedicated to the advancement of electronic information exchange at a time when few people understood the concepts. At the same time, he was chairman of two newspaper groups in Sweden, Chair of the Independent Commission for the Reform of UNESCO and Ambassador of Special Missions for the Director General of UNESCO. One of the many things we admired about Knut was his imperviousness to the effect of time zones.

In 1992, Knut was a panellist at the Couchiching Annual Conference. In view of the tumultuous events surrounding Quebec’s education system, we cannot resist quoting what he had to say then about the Swedish model and labour peace. It started with unions and management collaborating to avoid disputes and state intervention. They tried to solve the problems between themselves. Industrialists and labour had a common interest in ensuring that the politicians had no influence on their decisions.”

A great lover of art and architecture, it was almost inevitable that Knut would eventually take up residence in the iconic Habitat 67. He would have enjoyed Robert Galbraith’s feature story in Saturday’s Gazette (Note that unfortunately, Rob’s wonderful photos are not included in the on-line version, but we do have a print copy for all to view.)

Appropriately, given this Wednesday’s theme, we will be joined by a welcome, infrequent visitor. Chantal Beaubien, who in November 2011, received the Lawyer of the Year Award from the Young Bar Association for pro bono and community involvement work, is briefly in Montreal on her way back to Jerusalem from New York. She has very recently been appointed as a Legal Specialist to the UNDP office in Jerusalem, where she will be working on socio-economic development projects in the Palestinian territories. Her previous work in Cambodia included the outreach program for victims of the Khmer Rouge regime for the hearings of the United Nations Tribunal as well as for the Trial Chamber of the UN Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

No doubt, the evening’s discussion will also include references to the G8 and NATO meetings and the gradual change in attitude towards Austerity policies. The situation in Europe is growing more grave and more desperate, yet the Camp David G8 communiqué is almost laconic — “We agree on the importance of a strong and cohesive Eurozone for global stability and recovery, and we affirm our interest in Greece remaining in the eurozone while respecting its commitments”. Hardly surprising when RCI headlines its story G-8 leaders differ on approach to economic crisis – Still not much to go on, is it? Perhaps we can take comfort in the Irish Times headline G8 growth team win in austerity v stimulus debate

In this connection, we call to your attention that Kimon Valaskakis will be speaking on Navigating challenging waters: Canada, Europe and Greece 2012 and beyond at 6 pm on Thursday (May 24th). For more information and if you would like to attend, please RSVP to Maria Karageorgou; (514) 499-5313.

What to say about Bill 78 and the nightly demonstrations of students and their allies? [Again tonight — Des arrestations lors d’une autre manifestation à Montréal] Opinions among Wednesday Nighters range from outrage that Bill 78 limits rights granted by the Charter [Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey calls Bill 78 a “terrible law” that suspends the freedom to association, express and protest, without sufficient reason. “What I note in this law is that there is no opening for discussion — what kind of education we want to have, is higher education a question of preparing for the job market, or a more academic question, to promote learning? There is none of that. This is simply an attempt to end a debate, to appear strong and determined.”] to regret that the Charest government did not act more swiftly and decisively much earlier in the game. Meanwhile, Beryl Wajsman posts on FaceBook on students and the Charter: A municipal administration, as well as all levels of government, has the responsibility to ensure peaceable movement of people and traffic. Public order. The freedom of the city for all. The Charter gives no group the right to ensnare a community at its whim. Bravo! We look forward to the forthcoming editorial.

Our final comment on the topic (for now) is to recommend Lysiane Gagnon’s view of the current confrontation: Le clivage franco-anglo
Dans la crise étudiante, il y a un net clivage entre la région montréalaise, où se concentre l’agitation, et le reste de la province. Même le cégep de Limoilou, qui a toujours été un foyer de contestation étudiante, fonctionne normalement…Mais il y a un autre clivage, encore plus spectaculaire, et celui-là a en quelque sorte scindé la ville en deux. C’est celui qui existe entre les francophones et les anglophones.
Not incidentally, Congratulations to Beryl and The Suburban for picking up 12 QCNA awards with seven first place honors including Best Overall Newspaper.

As always, we try to find some cheerful note or obscure information to offer to counter the seriousness of our proposed topics. Tonight, for those of you who have reaped the rewards of early investment in FaceBook (you mean, you didn’t?), there is an outstanding property available in England that we know you will want to purchase (much better investment than the painting of Stephen Harper au naturel, but also more expensive) Winnie the Pooh’s 16th century home is on the market Cotchford Farm, the childhood home of Christopher Robin Milne that inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories, is for sale for the first time in 40 years. What a lovely setting for Wednesday Night!
Much closer to home may we suggest a visit to Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition, now making its world premiere at the Montreal Science Centre. Beyond showcasing original Lucasfilm props and memorabilia – from Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon to Princess Leia’s infamous slave bikini – the exhibit, produced by Montreal-based X3 Productions, takes fans of all ages on an interactive quest. Based on the science of human identity, this inventive journey revolves around the question: What forces shape you? Are you more Jedi than Jar Jar?


One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1577 – The Prologue"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson January 26, 2013 at 11:06 am ·

    Forwarded by Tony Deutsch:
    Second World War survivor amazed to see her picture on Canada Post stamp honouring Swedish diplomat who saved her life – a Winnipeg woman discovers that her schutz pass is featured on the new Canadian stamp honoring Raoul Wallenberg.

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