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by Rhonda Spivak, February 8, 2022


David Matas, Senior Legal Counsel for Bnai Brith Canada says that Canada, Sweden and the United states could all be doing more to make the Russians disclose the  fate of Raoul Wallenberg, who saved up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Wallenberg, an honourary citizen of Canada, the United States, Australia and Israel, and a Swedish diplomat, used diplomatic certificates of protection and a network of 30 safehouses to protect Jews from the horrors of the era.   


Bnai Brith  Canada presented a petition to Sweden on  January 27th 2022 to use its upcoming presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to request documents from Russia pertaining to the fate of Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg was last seen detained by Soviet authorities in 1945, and his fate since then is unknown. The Soviet Union initially denied having imprisoned Wallenberg before claiming he died of a heart attack in 1947, an unlikely event for a man in his 30s. 


When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review if the government of Canada could be doing more to uncover the fate of Raoul Wallenberg, Matas answered in an email  " Yes.  The fate of Raoul Wallenberg is knowable, but not known, because of undisclosed documents in Russia.  Researchers have pages of unanswered questions that could and should be answered.   Canada should be lending its support to this research effort by making the questions of researchers its own questions.
"Canada, at the time of the Nazi war criminal effort, had an agreement which allowed its own researchers access to Soviet archives with an undertaking that what they saw in the archives unrelated to their Nazi war criminal research effort would be kept confidential. Canada should negotiate a similar agreement with Russia for  Raoul Wallenberg research."


When asked if  the government of Sweden be doing more to uncover the fate of Raoul Wallneberg, Matas responded  "Sweden right now asks Russia to co-operate with researchers, but does not make researchers' requests its own requests, which it should.   Sweden is the current rotating chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, but has not made Wallenberg research a priority.  Both Russia and Sweden treat Wallenberg research as a bilateral affair, which it is not.  Sweden should do more to recognize the international dimension of concern about the fate of Raoul Wallenberg and publicly encourage and welcome support and efforts by Canada and other concerned countries."


Other governments aside from Sweden and Canada could be more to uncover the fate of Raoul Wallenberg, according to Matas. "Raoul Wallenberg is an honorary citizen of Canada, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel. All of those countries have a legitimate interest in his fate, by virtue of his citizenship in those countries. All of those countries should be adopting as their own the questions, requests for disclosure, and concerns of researchers, both separately and together, as a consortium, " Matas wrote in an email.
In Matas' view, efforts by Canada Sweden and the US  would make a difference in uncovering the fate of Wallenberg. As Matas wrote in an email, "Yes, governmental efforts would make a difference.  The history of Wallenberg research, and it has been going on now since he was arrested by the Soviets in 1945, is that the Soviets and the Russians make one assertion after another that everything has been disclosed and there is no more information available only to disclose, bit by bit, after concerted efforts, additional information."


"The problem here is not just cover up, though there may be some of that.  It is also the archival tendency in the Soviet and Russian systems to secrecy. Archivists rarely get into trouble for disclosing too little.  They have often, in Soviet and Russian history, got into trouble for disclosing too much.  Sustained international efforts to promote disclosure about Raoul Wallenberg would change the archival equation. In that context, archivists would have less to lose and more to gain from disclosure."


Matas believes that B'nai Brith's petition to Sweden is a timely and worthwhile initiative to uncover what happened to Wallenberg at the hands of the Russians during WWII. As he wrote to the Winnipeg Jewish Review in an email, the petition is a good idea. "How, in democratic countries, do we get governments to act?  The answer is through public interest and pressure. The more the public shows concern, the more likely it is that Canada and the other countries where Wallenberg is an honorary citizen will act."


Matas added, "Signing a petition does not take a lot of effort.  A little effort by a lot of people counts, in a democracy, for more than a lot of effort by a few"
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.