Wednesday Night #1577

Written by  //  May 23, 2012  //  Antal (Tony) Deutsch, Herb Bercovitz, People Meta, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1577

If the truth were recognized, the difference in intellectual capacity between the least and greatest of us would be acknowledged as being minimal. Whether one believes it be the result of evolution or divine creation, each human individual strives to achieve recognition, through feigning superiority or by claiming to be privileged in having insight and knowledge denied others of his species.
Occasionally, but extremely rarely, an individual arises who places a greater value on the life of the victims of those who attempt to feign superiority by targeting and destroying them, than he does on that of his own life. Such a man was Raoul Wallenberg who forfeited his own life in order to save the lives of thousands.
– HB

A most welcome surprise guest was Alexandra Tcheremenska Greenhill, our beloved Chair of the West Wing of Wednesday Night, who was briefly in Montreal for the announcement that her start-up, My Best Helper, (check out the video featuring Alex) had been selected by The Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) as one of three companies that will work alongside over 250 tech start-ups from over 20 countries in a fully serviced development space at RocketSpace in San Francisco or the Plug and Play Tech Center (PnP) in Sunnyvale, CA. WOW!
Alex is also serving as the Chair of the Conseil scolaire francophone of British Columbia . She notes that there are now 36 French-language public schools in BC and that their clientele is growing at the rate of 7% per year. Alex is now off to the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference for 15 days of ‘brainforming’. And that is just this month’s activity.
Pierre Arbour
introduced Louise Fleischmann, who he has known since they were young neighbors in Shawinigan. Louise’s highly successful career in strategic communications has included senior posts with Pratt & Whitney, where she was the first woman to be named Director of Communications, and the Canadian Space Agency. She has taken numerous leadership roles in social programs, including the Conseil des ainés, and in the Liberal Party (federal and provincial).
And, as promised, Chantal Beaubien was with us.

Raoul Wallenberg
Leading off the evening of homage to the two exceptional Swedes (perhaps both spies?) from distinguished families, Raoul Wallenberg and Knut Hammarskjold, Tony Deutsch delivered a masterful summary of the historical and geopolitical context surrounding Raoul Wallenberg’s work among the Hungarian Jews of Budapest, his arrest by the Soviets and the mystery of his final fate.
While much of Wallenberg’s background and activities in Budapest has been documented, Tony reminded us that he arrived in Budapest in July 1944, armed with extraordinary powers, access to generous funding through the US War Refugee Board and 1500 Swedish passports for Hungarian Jews who had family in Sweden.
One of the recipients was a young graduate engineer, Vilmos Langfelder, who became Wallenberg’s driver and good friend.
The Nazis had already ‘cleansed’ the countryside outside Budapest. Some 430,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews, had been transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where 90% perished. In Budapest, some 200,000 Jews remained. Deportations had been halted by the Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, following interventions from President Roosevelt and the King of Sweden who may have finally been convinced of the truth about Auschwitz by the Vrba-Wetzler report, also known as the Auschwitz Protocols, written by two Slovak Jews who had escaped in April.
Wallenberg conceived the idea of the Protective Letter (NOT passport) that stated that the bearer is intended to travel to Sweden under a group passport and until that time is under the protection of the Swedish Legation. This document had no official status or validity under international law, was written in Hungarian and German, without a single word of Swedish, and the numbering system was intentionally deceptive so that it would be impossible to estimate how many had been issued. Nonetheless, the German and Hungarian authorities were impressed and the Letters allowed many Jews to survive.
But in October, the Regent was deposed and succeeded by the leader of the Arrow Cross. Adolf Eichmann returned and deportations resumed, this time as death marches to the Austrian border. Again, Wallenberg demonstrated incredible courage in accompanying the marches, bribing and bullying the Germans to release numbers of Jews to his custody.
In January ’45, as the Russians were on the verge of taking Budapest, Eichmann decided to blow up the Jewish ghetto where those who had no Letters of protection had been herded. With utmost courage, Wallenberg faced down the SS officer responsible for carrying out the act, reminding him that the Allies were winning the war and that if he did not carry out his orders, Wallenberg would testify on his behalf, whereas if he did, Wallenberg would ensure that he faced prosecution for the atrocity. Wallenberg’s argument prevailed and his action saved some 70,000 Jews.
Two days later, the Russians had taken the city.
Wallenberg went to meet with the Russian command to ensure that his humanitarian work was understood and carried forward. He believed that he would be welcomed as Sweden had looked after Russian interests in Hungary and he personally had protected some Russians in Budapest. So, he set off on January 17 with his driver, Langfelder. They are not seen again.

Wallenberg’s fate

There was no immediate concern, however in early March, Wallenberg’s mother makes enquiries of the Soviet ambassadress in Stockholm and is told not to worry, he is safe, in good hands and will return soon.
Then on March 8, the Soviets announce on Hungarian radio that he had been killed by retreating fascists. No details.
The Hungarians honor his memory and erect a monument, but on the eve of its dedication, the ceremony is cancelled and it disappears. (But not before Tony saw it.)
Much later (1952/53) in a parallel action to the manufacturing of the Doctor’s Plot, the KGB arrest and interrogate a number of Wallenberg’s former associates, extracting confessions that they had murdered him for his vast amounts of money. However, Stalin dies and the procedures are halted.
There follows a long silence broken in 1957 by the Soviet announcement that Raoul Wallenberg had been arrested and died July 17, 1947 “of heart failure” (He was 35 years old).
Soviet records indicate that Langfelder died on March 2, 1948 (also of heart failure). But dates given by the Soviets are to be mistrusted as the Presidium had directed the KGB to always give false dates for prisoners’ deaths and only an approximate cause of death. [Note:  A May 2008 piece in TIME, The Enduring Mystery of Raoul Wallenberg, also refers to the fact that the Wallenberg family and generations of researchers have relentlessly pursued the possibility that the Swedish diplomat survived long after 1947, as a secret prisoner in the Soviet gulag system]
Tony also noted that
“On the night of July 22/23, 1947, when Raoul Wallenberg was presumably already dead, most of Raoul Wallenberg’s and Vilmos Langfelder’s cell-mates were interrogated one after another. According to the later statements of these cell-mates, the interrogators had two purposes. First, to find out what [they] knew about Wallenberg and his case and with whom they might have discussed it. And second, to prohibit any further talk about Wallenberg among the prisoners.” All were then placed in solitary confinement for a year or more and were warned never to speak of Wallenberg again. See: Interrogations in Lubyanka and Chronology of the Raoul Wallenberg case
Why was so little done to save Wallenberg? Was he ‘shopped’ to the Soviets?
The Soviets believed that he was a U.S. agent because of the funding he received from the WRB. Was there an OSS connection? He was recruited by Iver Olsen, who was also an agent for the OSS. Further, Allen Dulles was OSS station chief in Switzerland where the WRB also had representatives.
Swedish efforts on Wallenberg’s behalf were at best, tepid. Maintaining their neutrality during the Cold War was essential; admitting that the Swedish government had given Wallenberg diplomatic cover for his activities implied a joint US-Swedish operation. Therefore, Wallenberg was a potential embarrassment in post-war Sweden, which would explain the refusal of the Swedish government to accept President Truman’s offer to intercede with Stalin at Yalta and its failure to pursue the issue over the years. [Editor’s note: In February 2009, a lengthy account of the efforts of the family of Raoul Wallenberg on his behalf was published in the Wall Street Journal. It details the repeated inaction and stonewalling that they faced in Sweden. See The Wallenberg Curse. ]
What about the ‘sightings’ of Wallenberg reported over many years?
In Tony’s opinion, none of the numerous reports of sightings of Wallenberg after 1947 has ever been properly substantiated. Furthermore, given that he was of a certain physical Nordic appearance, there were likely hundreds of prisoners in the gulags who would have resembled him. [Editor’s note: The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States details a series of apparently credible accounts. Although Wallenberg is most certainly not alive today, there remains conjecture regarding when he died and under what circumstances].
Knut Hammarskjöld
Knut -along with Irwin Cotler, who spoke eloquently at the Wallenberg memorial service this afternoon- was one of those who believed that Raoul Wallenberg did not die in 1947 and survived for many years. Did he know something more than all that has been published?

Some people are like chests with Chinese drawers; one is opened for an afternoon, a topic, or a person and when it is closed, another will open, but the contents from one will not spill over into the other. Knut was definitely a Chinese-drawer person. As those who had known him spoke about him and their relationship to him, the aptness of the Chinese drawer simile was clear.
He was a complex, fascinating individual, a superb diplomat who knew how to engage people without provoking them, always self-contained, in control of every situation, urbane and passionate about nature – and impossible for anyone to know fully – a man who had an air of mystery. “He was a spy; he often said as much”. Margo Somerville remembers him as consistently intellectually surprising, mentioning the many times that he would make a comment about something she was working on that would inspire a whole new avenue of thought.
Rick Schultz remembers the openness that Knut showed to a young academic. “He was a giant, but created no barriers with younger people.” Working with Knut to organize a conference for the Atwater Institute was a life’s lesson in how to control a process that was frequently subject to derailment thanks to the personalities, egos and personal agendas of the committee members. Knut’s unfailing politesse, combined with an ability to quietly control the process and ensure that everyone worked to accomplish what he believed should be done was a master class in diplomacy.
Many recalled his interest in young people, the courtesy with which he treated their ideas, encouraging their thinking and aspirations, quietly opening doors for them. Diana and David remember his special relationship with their children, who adored him because he treated them like adults and took a great interest in all that they were doing.
It would be hard to imagine a situation when Knut was not in control.
He was not talkative, and often there would be long pauses between comments, or sentences that trailed off into silent assumptions that the listener fully understood what followed. One could enjoy companionable silences with him. Nobby Gilmore recalls an early evening sitting quietly on the terrace at Habitat 67. “Women talk a lot” says Knut. Silence. “Yes (?)”, says Nobby. Another long pause. “Perhaps it’s their way of communicating with children … letting them know where they are …” Another pause and then time to go to the dinner table where the subject is not explored further. One of the many Chinese drawers was closed.
Whichever drawer(s) were opened to us, we each felt greatly privileged to have known – or perhaps, more accurately – experienced him.

Chantal shared some observations about her almost-six years in Cambodia and her love of the country that she is quick to point out is unique among the Southeast Asian nations. Israel will no doubt be a very different experience. It is early days for her at UNDP, where she is part of a team of 300 people. The challenges of working on socio-economic development (poverty alleviation) and governance issues will be huge, but she looks forward to meeting them.

The ‘student’ protests
“Across the world, the financial crisis may leave a whole generation of young people with opportunities that fall well short of their aspirations, perhaps to the point where they might even abandon hope for the future at all.”
These days, any conversation sooner or later turns to events surrounding the 100-day student boycott and the government’s actions. With the passage of Bill 78, there is increasing polarization of thought and Wednesday Nighters are representative of a range of opinions – and emotions. Some fear that the issue will prove as divisive as the Referenda, with family members and close friends ranged on either side, convinced that they alone have the truth.
However, at least for now, a few points can be agreed on.
– The initial purpose was to protest the increase in university tuition fees; the student associations (which represent at most only one-third of the university and CEGEP students) have been co-opted by a number of radical organizations and unions with their own agendas which would include toppling the Charest government and in some cases the entire system of government. Some are drawing parallels to the Arab Spring.
– The demonstrations have become increasingly disruptive and costly.
– Negotiations with the student representatives have proven fruitless as they are not prepared to give up any of their demands.
– The introduction of Bill 78 was not well handled by the Charest government – there was a lack of strategic communications roll-out to prepare the public for its passage.
Nobody seems to be able to provide a dispassionate analysis of its provisions and what they really mean. Furthermore, there seems to be an unwillingness as well as inability to enforce it.
– There is an outcry about trampling on the Charter of Rights, but scant attention is paid to the rights of the citizens (taxpayers) whose lives are being disrupted, or those of the students who are not boycotting.
Some are outraged by the continuing mayhem and believe that the protesters, especially the organizers, deserve the harsh treatment proposed by Bill 78.
Others admire the idealism and courage of the students in raising issues that have been swept under the rug for too long.
Some believe that the protests are a necessary form of civil disobedience – the natural result of disgust with the pervasive corruption at all levels of municipal and provincial politics (which admittedly is a long way from the initial stated purpose of the protests).
Others believe that the intransigence of the student negotiators cannot be overcome.
Some suggest that the Charest government should resign (call an election).
Others support the students’ demand for change, pointing to the dismal economic prospects for even university graduates today and the deep malaise of the youth around the world who face daunting challenges beyond those confronting previous generations.
Wednesday Night has no solutions and the evening ended without a sense that anyone left the gathering with the hoped-for reaction of “I hadn’t thought about it that way before”.
Leaving us to wish for the diplomatic skills and wisdom of the regretté Knut Hammarskjöld.

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