HC Deb 23 July 1982 vol 28 cc719-26

Motion made, Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Berry.]

2.30 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

If he is alive today, Raoul Wallenberg will be celebrating, if that is the right word, his seventieth birthday in 12 days' time. That makes him approximately the same age as the Leader of the Opposition and, as we know, that is an age which does not preclude all types of activity.

Without making odious comparisons, it can be said of Raoul Wallenberg that humanity owes him an enormous debt, and that can be said of hardly any other living person this century—if, indeed, he is alive.

In 1944 and 1945, whilst acting as a Swedish diplomat in Hungary, he repeatedly confronted the SS commanders taking persons of Jewish origin away to be murdered, and he claimed that they were Swedish citizens. As a result, when Soviet forces took Budapest, about 120,000 persons of Jewish origin were alive, this being far and away the largest Jewish community remaining in East Europe at the end of the Second World War. I doubt whether it can be said about any other man this century that he played a key role in saving the lives of somewhere in the region of 100,000 people.

The facts are plain and unmistakable. Raoul Wallenberg showed qualities of enormous courage and relentless persistence. He is, with justice, regarded as one of the great heroes of the twentieth century. A recognition of this fact is that only two men this century have received honorary American citizenship. One was Sir Winston Churchill, for the role that he played in destroying the Third Reich. The other, on 6 October 1981, was Raoul Wallenberg, for his part in saving the lives of some 100,000 people.

It was on 17 January 1945 that Raoul Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Soviet authorities in Budapest who, ever since, have refused to release him.

I raise the question of his fate today for a number of reasons. First, to this day the Swedish Government do not regard Raoul Wallenberg as being dead. The ambassador in London, Mr. Per Lind, has confirmed that the Swedish Government would welcome support in connection with Swedish intervention in an international forum.

On 15 April 1981 the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), answered questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall), my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) with these words: we shall do everything that we can to back up the Swedish authorities by supporting their representations. Also, we have told the Swedish authorities that we shall put them in touch with British subjects who may be able to help by giving evidence in support of the search"—[Official Report, 15 April 1981; Vol. 3, c. 310.] Secondly, I have received a letter from Raoul Wallenberg's sister, Mrs. Nina Lagergren, written on behalf of the Raoul Wallenberg Association, welcoming the inititative to raise inquiries about her brother in the House of Commons with deep gratitude. In this connection it is relevant that one of Raoul Wallenberg's cousins, Annis Bonsor is a British citizen, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) will be able to represent her views. As it is, quite a number of those whose lives were saved by Raoul Wallenberg came to Britain after the Second World War, and many of them went on to settle in North America and in Commonwealth countries.

Thirdly, the Church of Scotland, of which I am a member, greatly admires and respects the work carried out by Raoul Wallenberg. On a much more limited scale, Miss Jean Haining also tried to save people from being murdered in Hungary during the war. She was sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered, and this year the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend Dr. Andrew Doig, took part in the service unveiling a memorial to her in Budapest.

It is relevant that, when Raoul Wallenberg went to Budapest, his mission was known to the British Government who even supplied him with names of British citizens and contacts so that he could protect them.

I turn to Raoul Wallenberg's fate. On 16 January 1945 the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister informed the Swedish ambassador in Moscow that the Russian military authorities had taken measures—as he described it—to protect Raoul Wallenberg and his belongings. On 8 March 1945 the Russian-controlled Kossuth radio broadcast that Wallenberg had been murdered. On 18 August 1947, the Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrei Vyshinski, said that Raoul Wallenberg was not in the Soviet Union and was unknown to the authorities. Vyshinski suggested that he had probably died in Budapest in 1945. That was untrue, as Soviet authorities later admitted.

Wallenberg was seen by a large number of witnesses, and in 1957 the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko wrote that a search of prison archives had revealed a hand-written report dated 17 July 1947 from the medical head of Lubyanka prison to the Minister for security services, Abakumov. The note said: I report that the prisoner Wallenberg who is known to you, died suddenly in his cell last night. Gromyko said that later Abakumov was sentenced to death and shot.

Gromyko's reply to the Swedish Foreign Minister contradicted Vyshinski's earlier reply. Gromyko made it all too clear that Wallenberg was well known to the Soviet authorities, and alleged that he had been killed in 1947. since then Raoul Wallenberg has been seen by many witnesses. I have 90 pages of evidence prepared in Sweden which reveals that witnesses had seen him in Russia. Many returning prisoners of war confirmed that they had seen him. During the 1950s many more witnesses spoke of seeing Wallenberg in prison, and said that he had been interned because the Russians regarded him as a spy.

So much evidence was accumulated that in 1960 two Swedish supreme court judges assessed it and came to the same conclusion about the sightings. They said: The statements contain a large amount of information, the correctness of which it has been possible to check and they support each other. In our opinion, according to Swedish law, the present Report must be considered to make it probable—though it does not contain full evidence in this respect—that Wallenberg was alive at least in the beginning of the 1950s and at that time in prison in Vladimir. The judges' considered assessment carries infinitely more weight than the unconfirmed reply of Gromyko.

In 1961 there was further evidence of Raoul Wallenberg's detention in the Soviet Union. Professor Svartz was told by the Russian professor Myasnikov that he knew of Raoul Wallenberg, who was in a mental hospital. The Swedish Prime Minister wrote to President Krushchev, who became angry with Professor Myasnikov. The next time that Professor Svartz saw Professor Myasnikov the latter withdrew his statement and said that he did not wish to discuss the matter.

In 1978 news reached Sweden that a Russian Jew called Jan Kaplan had met a Swede in the Butyrka prison in 1975 who had been in prison for 30 years. Jan Kaplan passed that message out through several different sources, and the Swedish Government took up the matter. They were referred to Gromyko's reply, but no serious attempt was made by the Soviet Government to investigate the detailed evidence of sightings of Wallenberg.

It is significant that when the Swedish Prime Minister asked Soviet Prime Minister Kosygin to investigate all information and requested that a Swedish representative be allowed to speak to Jan Kaplan, that request was turned down. The Russian leadership gave the impression of being anxious that the facts of the case should remain hidden.

I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) is with us. He led a deputation to the Soviet embassy some time ago and I understand that he received a very unsatisfactory reply. I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In those circumstances it is understandable that many of the witnesses did not wish their names to be published on the grounds that if they were there might have been serious recriminations against their families in the Soviet Union. Indeed, 1,200 pages of Wallenberg documents remain secret so that there should be no persecution of relatives in Russia.

In 1979 the American Government, with the approval of the Swedish Government, raised the matter directly with the Soviet Union. 1 hope that today the Minister will make it clear to the Swedish Government that he, too, will join the American Government in giving whatever help he can to discover the whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg and to obtain his release if he is alive. Already at the Madrid conference Britain has raised the matter in an international forum and no satisfactory reply was received. Can the Minister assure the House that the matter will not be allowed to rest? As the Swedish Foreign Minister said on 13 May 1979: We always assume that missing citizens are alive, until we consider that convincing proof of their death is found. We must not give up. Raoul Wallenburg was a person of the deepest humanity and a great man in his own right. If the Russians should ask why we are so anxious about the fate of that one man, the reply must be that even if he had not been a person of great consequence he would still be entitled to justice and to freedom if he was alive.

I do not know for certain that he is alive. I do not even know with certainty how long he might have survived in Russian hands, although I am very much aware of the detailed evidence from witnesses to the effect that they saw him for many years after Gromyko said that he was dead. But whether he is alive or not, the struggle to draw his case to the attention of the world is of major importance to remind us, first, of the vital truth that a genuinely good man can achieve immense victories even in the most adverse circumstances, and secondly, that whatever their claims to Socialism and to justice, the Soviet Union is a country in which individuals can disappear without a trace and the full facts be systematically withheld for ever more.

One might argue that, by acting as a symbol of prisoners of conscience, Raoul Wallenberg continues to serve humanity as he did all his active life. Nevertheless, I very much hope that he is still alive and that our efforts might do something to secure his release. In any case, the forces of totalitarian injustice must be reminded that, try as they may, the individuals who suffer at their hands will not be forgotten.

2.42 pm
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

The House owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) for raising yet again the case of Raoul Wallenberg, that extraordinary hero of humanity.

In a recent visit to Hungary I met some of the 100,000 people whose lives he saved by his extraordinary bravery. Travelling almost anywhere in the world where there are survivors of Hitler's catastrophe one finds among Jewish communities people who say that it is due to Raoul Wallenberg that they now live.

It was another tragedy that he should disappear into the Soviet Union. His life and death, if there be one hereafter, are one of the great mysteries of the postwar world. We have only statements from the Soviet authorities that have been proved to be untrue, combined with a series of sightings and statements, each one of which on its own is almost unreal and unreliable, but when woven together form the cloth of reality that shows that this man is probably alive. Those who value his work and appreciate his heroism will not be prepared to accept the fact of his death unless it is proved in a way that has not so far been done.

I am sure that the House would wish the Government to do everything possible to convince the Soviet authorities that the case will never be forgotten until it is solved, to ask them for the good name of the Soviet Union to produce evidence that the family of Raoul Wallenberg can accept about what has happened to him, to release him if he is alive and to prove his death properly if he is dead.

In the recent Wallenberg hearing in Stockholm, we heard the evidence of people who loved and knew him and whose lives he saved. His case will not be forgotten in the House and I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West once again for taking the opportunity to raise the matter today.

2.45 pm
Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Nantwich)

I extend the personal thanks of the English branch of the Wallenberg family to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and indeed the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) for their kind words in support of his case and for raising the matter in the House today. I have little to add to what has already been said.

With the assistance of the Swedish Government, my cousin's family has striven for more than a quarter of a century by every means available to it to discover the fate of Raoul Wallenberg and, if he still lives, to secure his release. As the House will know, all those efforts have been to no avail. If indeed he lives, I trust that even now in the few closing years that may remain to him, the Russian leaders will relent, give him back his freedom and send him home.

If Raoul Wallenberg is dead, as many of us fear, and if no further word is heard as to his fate, let the Soviet leaders be warned of the consequences. Their system of government is founded on violence, nurtured and fed by human sacrifices such as his, and sustained only by fear. Until that system has been utterly destroyed and its leaders with it, the name of Raoul Wallenburg will live on in the West as a beacon and a shining example to those who follow in his footsteps and who will continue his fight for freedom and justice until they are restored in all the countries of Eastern Europe, including Russia itself, which now suffer the tyranny of Soviet rule. The Soviet leaders will rue the day they deprived Raoul Wallenberg of his liberty and trampled on the principles and standards that he represented.

2.47 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) on raising this subject today. It is particularly appropriate that we have had the benefit of the contributions not only of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), who is related to the Wallenberg family, but of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who participated in the hearings in Stockholm in 1981 which brought to light further information regarding the fate of Raoul Wallenberg.

It is particularly appropriate that the House of Commons, which has centuries of experience in supporting the cause of liberty and freedom, should on this occassion salute not only the memory but the achievements of Raoul Wallenberg. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West made clear in his eloquent speech, Raoul Wallenberg directly and indirectly helped to save the lives of up to 100,000 men, women and children. Anyone who has read the information available about his activities in Budapest in the closing days of the war cannot be other than intensely moved by the personal risks that he ran and the enormous and successful efforts that he made, the dramatic consequences of which allowed such a large number of his fellow human beings to survive at a time of great danger.

It is all the more tragic that such a man, who deserved the grateful thanks of the whole world, should have simply disappeared into the inner recesses of the Soviet prison system from which he has never emerged. His history is tragic but it is also noble in that the spirits of many thousands of people have been uplifted not only by his achievements in the closing weeks and months of the war but by the symbol that he has been for them in the years since his disappearance in 1945.

Reference has been made to the accumulating evidence and alleged sightings over the years suggesting the Raoul Wallenberg certainly survived for a considerable time after the end of the war and may even be alive today.

It is important to emphasise that two clear facts are now established beyond doubt and accepted by all who take an interest in this matter, including the Soviet Union. One is that Raoul Wallenberg, despite claims by the Soviet Union in the immediate years after the war, did survive the war.

He was not killed during the last stages of that conflict, but survived for at least two years, until 1947. That is not disputed by anyone, including the Soviet Union.

Equally, it has not been disputed since at least 1957 that during at least those two years Wallenberg was a prisoner of the Soviet Union, held in Soviet prisons. It is important to emphasise that those two factors are not in doubt or in question, even by Moscow. They are important because it shifts the whole onus to the Soviet Union to satisfy the family of Raoul Wallenberg and the whole international community as to exactly what happened to the man who was in their control for that time, and who may still be in their control.

It is clear from the evidence that has accumulated over the period that the Soviet Union has failed to discharge that heavy onus on it, and has failed in a number of ways. It has yet to povide a satisfactory explanation of why Wallenberg was arrested in the first place. His contribution in defeating the objectives of the Nazis in Hungary was so outstanding and obvious to all who lived in Hungary at that time that for such a man to be arrested is something that requires an explanation which we have not yet properly received. The fact that it is accepted that, at the very least, until 1947 he was kept a prisoner of the Soviet Union has not been fully explained.

The assertion in 1957 by Mr. Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Minister, that Wallenberg died in 1947 is based on an alleged piece of paper that suddenly emerged in the inner recesses of the Soviet prison bureaucracy and which, as far as I am aware, has never been authenticated, and the reliability of which we are of course not in a position to test.

The saddest aspect is that if the Soviet Union could deny any knowledge of Wallenberg's whereabouts and existence right up to 1957, what credence can we give to the assertion, in and since 1957, that he died some 10 years before that? Clearly the onus is on the Soviet Union to provide the international community and the family of Raoul Wallenberg with conclusive evidence, and it has failed to do that.

Her Majesty's Government do not know whether Wallenberg is alive. We have no firm evidence to suggest conclusively that he is alive, but equally, we have no evidence that would lead us to assume that he has died. The evidence that has emerged on frequent occasions over the years consistently points to at least the possibility that he has survived those many years of incarceration. That is important in considering this question.

My hon. Friend asked what assistance the United Kingdom Government could give. From a technical point of view, we have no strict locus, in that Raoul Wallenberg is a Swedish citizen who had no direct relationship with this country. However, we never for a moment thought that that was sufficient reason for not interesting ourselves in the case. It is a case which has shocked the conscience of the world and in which every freedom-loving Government must involve themselves and do what they can to help the Swedish Government in their efforts to secure knowledge of Raoul Wallenberg's fate and his release, if he is still alive.

We shall continue to look closely at any new evidence that may emerge and that may point to his whereabouts and fate. We have assisted the Swedish Government over the years in contacting people in this country—British citizens and others—who may have been former inmates of Soviet prison camps and who may be in a position to help the Swedish Government in their efforts. In addition, as my hon. Friend said, at the Helsinki review conference in Madrid November 1980 the British delegate spoke in favour of the Swedish attempts to open the issue and bring pressure on the Soviet Union to clarify the circumstances and give a proper answer to the questions that have been constantly raised.

I give the unqualified assurance that we shall respond as helpfully and constructively as possible to any initiative taken by the Swedish Government in which they feel that we could perform a useful role with others in the international community in seeking a resolution of this great tragedy.

Although the background to the Wallenberg case is unique, his fate is not. Over the years, tens of thousands have disappeared in the Soviet Union. Few have had the international reputation of Raoul Wallenberg, which has maintained the interest of the world in his case, but we should not forget that the nature of the Soviet system has had consequences of the sort graphically described by my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich.

Throughout the realm of human rights, the concepts of personal liberty and freedom which all hon. Members, whatever their political views, take for granted have been neglected in the Soviet Union. Some of the cruder brutalities of the Stalinist system have disappeared, but major erosions of the quality of life and personal liberty remain.

Perhaps the Soviet Union believed that the Western world would gradually lose interest in the fate of an individual who disappeared as long ago as 1945. Public interest in issues often fades after weeks or months and especially after years. It is remarkable that, far from interest in Raoul Wallenberg having declined over the years, the reverse is true. Interest in the man and his fate is probably greater today than at any time since the war.

The decision of the United States Congress to award Raoul Wallenberg honorary citizenship, the Stockholm conference attended by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West, this debate and others in many parts of the world are proof that the cause of Raoul Wallenberg, what he stands for and his achievements during his short active career as a diplomat have had a major impact.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is proposed to hold a major Wallenberg exhibition in London in the autumn? Will he assure the House that if the exhibition takes place, as is hoped, under the auspices of an all-party and interdenominational group the Government will do what they can to help that exhibition and to bring forward even more evidence to commemorate the life and, if necessary, the name of a great man?

Mr. Rifkind

The Government will respond as sympathetically as they can to any new initiative, in this country or elsewhere, in which it is thought that British involvement and encouragement might assist. It is right to continue to recognise that this is primarily a matter for the Swedish Government, but we shall not hesitate to do anything that is thought to be useful or appropriate.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West for doing the House and the issue a great service by renewing our interest. The Government believe that the fate of Raoul Wallenberg is not only a demonstration of the basic inadequacies of the Soviet system, but that, irrespective of the wider issues involved, Wallenberg as an individual made such a major contribution to a humanitarian cause and achieved so much in saving the lives of so many of his fellow human beings that we should be doing less than our duty if we did not do all in our power to discover his fate and, if he is still alive, to ensure his release, for his sake and for that of his family.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock.

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