HL Deb 15 February 1995 vol 561 cc699-713

3.19 p.m.

Lord Braine of Wheatley rose to call attention to the 50th anniversary of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the most terrible, heartbreaking story of man's gross inhumanity to man occurred during the lifetime of many of us. It was the murder of the majority of Europe's Jews by the Nazis. These innocent people, young and old, were slaughtered—not because of any crime that they had committed; not even because they posed the remotest threat to the power of the Nazis, but simply because of their religion. It was genocide on a massive scale.

The victims were worked to death, tortured, shot and gassed to death and their bodies burnt in huge incinerators. All of that took place in organised mass killings month after month during the Second World War. If there is a more monstrous story of sustained evil in human history, I have not heard of it.

In that ocean of cruelty and hate in wartime Hungary, one great heroic figure stands out—a brave young Swedish diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg. Indeed, he became one of the greatest heroes of all time. In the closing months of the Second World War, he responded to the appeals of the world Jewish community and left neutral Sweden to do what he could to save what remained of Hungarian Jewry.

So it was that in July 1944, Wallenberg went to what Simon Wiesenthal has referred to as, the slaughterhouse that was Budapest".

By that time some 5 million European Jews had already been cruelly murdered. The Nazis, aware that they were now losing the war, were obsessed with wiping out those who remained and were within their reach. Four months earlier, they had invaded Hungary with the declared purpose of exterminating the last remaining Jewish community in Europe. Obersturmbannfuhrer Adolf Eichmann was given the task of liquidating the Hungarian Jewish community. It is ironic that the Hungarian Jews, who had survived the longest in Nazi-occupied Europe, were now the quickest to be destroyed. In a two-month period, from 15th May to 8th July 1944, 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz in sealed cattle trucks.

Raoul Wallenberg became the head of a special department of the Swedish Legation in Budapest, charged with the task of helping the Jews wherever possible. He began by designing a Swedish protective passport to help them to resist both the Germans and the Hungarians. Wallenberg had previously learned that both the German and Hungarian bureaucracies had a weakness for symbolism. So he had his passports attractively printed in blue and yellow (Sweden's national colours), displaying Sweden's coat of arms and the appropriate authorisations. I have such a passport, although I have not brought it with me today. It is a work of art. Wallenberg's passports had no validity whatsoever under international law, but they served their purpose, commanding the respect of those they were designed to influence. At first, he had permission to issue only 1,500 passports. But he managed to persuade the Hungarian authorities to let him issue 1,000 more and, by one means or another, managed to get the quota raised again.

Altogether Wallenberg was to save the lives of 100,000 Hungarian Jewish men, women and children. At the risk of his own life, he distributed Swedish passports by the thousands, even following the death marches to the Austrian border, physically pulling people off the trains bound for Nazi concentration camps, confronting at every turn the Nazis and the death squads. He also successfully protected refugees in scores of houses that he bought or rented in Budapest, marking them with the neutral flag of Sweden.

As the Soviet armies encircled Budapest in late 1944, Wallenberg fearlessly continued his work. On 13th January 1945, a Russian soldier saw a man standing alone outside a building with a large Swedish flag flying above its main entrance. It was Wallenberg. Speaking in fluent Russian, Wallenberg told an astonished Soviet sergeant that he was the Swedish chargé d' affaires for those parts of Hungary liberated by the Red Army. He was invited to visit the Soviet military headquarters at Debrecen, east of Budapest.

On his way out of the capital on 17th January with a Soviet escort, Wallenberg and his chauffeur, Vilmos Langfelder, stopped at various "Swedish houses", where he bade farewell to his friends. He cheerfully told one colleague, Dr. Erno Peto, that he was not sure whether he would be the guest of the Soviets or their prisoner, but he thought he would be back within a week. Alas! he never returned.

According to reliable witnesses, Wallenberg and his driver were arrested and taken to Moscow, where they were thrown into prison. At first, the Soviet authorities maintained that Wallenberg had been taken into custody by the Red Army and that he was under their protection. However, nothing more was heard of him until 1947, when Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Vyshinsky, in answer to repeated Swedish inquiries, stated that he was not in the Soviet Union and his whereabouts were unknown to them.

That was a blatant lie. Soviet prisoners of war, chiefly German, who were released in the early 1950s confirmed that Wallenberg had indeed been captured and imprisoned in Moscow, first in the dreaded Lubyanka and then in Lefortovskaya prison. The Swedish Government intensified their inquiries, only to be told by the Soviet authorities that they had nothing to add to what they had said on the subject back in 1947.

Again, during a visit to Moscow in 1956, the Swedish Prime Minister raised the matter with the Soviet leadership. He produced irrefutable evidence that Wallenberg had been imprisoned by the Soviets. The Soviet answer to this was not given until the following year—in the form of a note from the Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to the Swedish Ambassador in Moscow. In that note—to which the Soviet Government have unfailingly referred every time there have been inquiries from the West—it was stated that, as a result of a thorough investigation by the Soviet authorities, it had been discovered that a prisoner named "Walenberg"—with one "1", which is the Lithuanian spelling of the name—ha.d in fact died from a heart attack in 1947 in the Lubyanka. It was also asserted that all the documents pertaining to his case had disappeared and that there was only a handwritten report about his death made by the head of the prison hospital service, one A.L. Smoltsov, who had since died. It seems that Smoltsov had informed the Minister for State Security, Abakumov, who himself was later to be executed in the purges of the Security Police, that Wallenberg was dead. Abakumov, of course, was a convenient person to blame for having misled the Soviet Foreign Ministry in the first place. There was lie after lie, deception after deception.

I must tell noble Lords that the Swedish Government have never accepted—and as far as I am aware, no Western government has accepted—the Soviet line that Wallenberg died in 1947. Why should I say that? The answer is that there is abundant evidence that he was alive after that date.

Further evidence did come to light in later years indicating that Wallenberg was alive but imprisoned in the Soviet Union. Indeed the great Russian historian Solzhenitsyn has testified that he met a Swede fitting Wallenberg's description during his own imprisonment.

Is it possible then that Raoul Wallenberg could still be alive? Well, it is not impossible. If he were alive today, he would be just two years older than myself. Spartan conditions have on occasions—many a doctor can testify to this—proved beneficial to a long life. Incredible though it may sound, during his research for the BBC's brilliant "Man Alive" documentary on Wallenberg, John Bierman met a Russian Jew, Leonid Berger, who was allowed to emigrate in 1978 after spending no fewer than 35 years in Soviet jails.

It is my duty to draw your Lordships' attention to rumours being circulated that the family of Raoul Wallenberg now accepts that he is no longer alive. There is no truth in this. Indeed, contact has been made with United States Congressman Tom Lantos, who was himself rescued from death by Wallenberg and is the only survivor of the Holocaust to be elected to the United States Congress. The Congressman's office contacted Nina Lagergren, Wallenberg's half-sister, and she has categorically denied that any member of the Wallenberg family concedes that he is dead. I am happy to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to Congressman Lantos, who has kept Wallenberg's name alive both inside and outside the United States Congress and was also responsible for him being granted honorary American citizenship.

It is now generally accepted that during his stay in Hungary Wallenberg saved 100,000 lives. We should never, never, never, never forget this. May I humbly suggest that we should honour this brave man by following the example already provided by our American friends and allies by making him an honorary British citizen? In an almost poetic sense, honorary citizenship is uniquely appropriate to Wallenberg quite simply because he used the privilege of Swedish citizenship to save thousands of innocent lives. Indeed, conferring citizenship—the instrument Wallenberg exercised with so much courage, generosity and imagination —accounts not only for the fact that thousands who were granted Swedish citizenship by him are still alive today and have children and grandchildren, but also for the fact that, following his example, other countries which were neutrals in the war—Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the Vatican —granted citizenship as a means of saving Jewish lives.

Why then even after all these years should we in Britain honour Wallenberg's name in this way? The answer is that, with no thought for his own safety, in what has been called "the slaughterhouse that was Budapest", he accomplished the impossible. Sometimes alone, sometimes with others, he thwarted the designs of the most murderous regime the civilised world has ever seen. He bribed the unspeakable Nazis; he charmed them on occasions; he lied to them; he certainly threatened and bullied them; and used every other means he could devise to save the lives of the Budapest Jews. He was a Swedish diplomat. He had some authority. He even entered the deportation trains himself to pull off innocent human beings who would otherwise have gone to a cruel death. He worked incessantly, at great personal risk with utter disregard for his own safety, and through the sheer force of his example inspired hundreds of others to assist him.

At the end, when the Red Army entered Budapest, and what little remained of Nazi rule collapsed into anarchy, Wallenberg worked on tirelessly. He told a Swedish diplomat who urged him to seek cover in the Swedish Legation: For me there is no choice … I'd never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing inside myself that I'd done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible".

So it is that we remember Wallenberg because he has become more than a hero of our times. He symbolises the central conflict of our age, the determination to remain human, caring and free in the face of unspeakable tyranny. What Wallenberg represented in Budapest was nothing less than the conscience of the civilised world. By abducting and imprisoning him, the Soviet authorities did more than violate the long-standing rules of diplomacy accepted by civilised nations and their governments, they demonstrated contempt for everything his dedication and bravery in Budapest had achieved.

Yet even the Soviet Union of those days did not succeed in suppressing his achievements. Just as the Nazis could not keep him from his mission, so the Soviets failed to obliterate his legacy.

All mankind owes a great debt to this man, not only for the 100,000 lives he saved, but also for the example he gave us as to how one man with the courage to care, even in history's darkest hour, can become a beacon of light and can make a difference.

There are two very good reasons for remembering this courageous man. First, because as the author Milan Kundera observes, the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. Secondly, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the world may little note nor long remember what we say here, but surely it will always remember what Raoul Wallenberg did to salvage the dignity of the human spirit from what was a hell on earth. It is a great honour to pay tribute to him this afternoon. I beg to move for Papers.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, your Lordships' House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Braine, for ensuring that we have this opportunity, shortly after the 50th anniversary of his disappearance, to remember Raoul Wallenberg, and for the very moving way in which he introduced our debate. The noble Lord and I had many occasions in another place to participate together in debates relating to human rights. I welcome this earnest that we may continue to do so.

We welcome the debate for three reasons: first, because it is right that we should remember a man who was directly instrumental in saving more lives probably than can be credited to any other individual of his generation. Not only did he respond to a call for help. He was constantly thinking of new ways to accomplish his mission, seeking out new opportunities for rescuing those who were otherwise condemned to perish; and, as the noble Lord said, he exposed himself constantly to the risk that he would himself fall victim to the regime.

So far as I am aware, Raoul Wallenberg was the only person in the Second World War who confronted Nazi officials in their own headquarters and told them that, if they proceeded with what they were then proposing, he would personally see to it that they were hanged as war criminals and compelled them to back down by sheer audacity and will-power.

It is ironic for a man who faced so many risks that he fell victim to a risk which he almost certainly could not have envisaged: that he would be arrested, not by the Nazis, but by one of the Allied powers to whom he was turning for help in what he was seeking to do.

At a time when so much media attention is devoted to those who bring shame on the human race, it is good to see more attention being paid to someone who enhanced our humanity. I hope that in reply the Minister will respond to the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Braine, and set out the Government's intentions as regards conferring honorary citizenship on Raoul Wallenberg.

The second reason why the debate is welcome is that it is possible, even now, that someone somewhere may learn of our anxiety and will shed further light on what became of him. After repeated assurances from the Soviet regime that nothing was known of Raoul Wallenberg, in 1957 an official note was sent to the Swedish Government stating that on 17th June 1947 the superintendent of the infirmary at Lubyanka prison had sent a note to the Minister of State Security—which is not entirely without significance—to the effect that Wallenberg had died in the prison of a heart attack. That note added that nothing else was known of the matter.

That was a startling development for two reasons. First, until then the Soviet Government had responded to every inquiry by insisting that there was nothing to indicate that Wallenberg had ever been in the Soviet Union. Either that was a deliberate lie or no one had even troubled to make the inquiry. Secondly, it did not accord with what was known of the practices of the Soviet bureaucracy, which insisted on full documentation for everything that it did, and it was most careful to retain the documents. Perhaps more importantly, it is inconsistent with a great body of other evidence that he was alive and imprisoned at least until 1955, and there is strong reason to believe that he was alive substantially longer than that. It is not impossible that further information may emerge, although one hesitates to raise false hopes. Debate such as this may serve to remind the world that the files are still not closed.

The final reason for welcoming the debate is that, unhappily, Raoul Wallenberg was not the last victim to be numbered among those who disappeared and whose disappearance must be laid at the door of the regime under which they lived. It has happened many times since the Second World War. There are some whose fate was discussed in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Braine, and me. There are still hundreds of people whose families are left wondering what has become of them, hoping against hope that one day something will happen which will enable them to return to their homes.

This is not the occasion to mention any of them specifically because we are remembering one heroic individual. However, there may be those who were instrumental in the disappearance of others and!who hope that, after exhaustive inquiries, questions asked and repeated and the blanket of silence remaining, one day those who ask the questions will grow weary, the curtain will be drawn on the matter and the world will forget. This debate may serve as an opportunity to your Lordships to send a message to tyrants the world over: "You may cause your victims to disappear; you may protest that you have no answers as to what became of them; but do not delude yourselves that the inquiring voices will sink into silence. Not only will we not forget such victims, but there are those who will not cease to remind the world about the unanswered questions, and those questions will continue to ring in your ears". I hope that, together with our tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, that message will go out from your Lordships' House.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, it may be of interest to your Lordships to know that in recent years the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe considered whether Raoul Wallenberg was alive and, if not, what had happened to him. I refer to the manner, occasion and place of his death. Early in 1991, the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe referred the issue to the committee on legal affairs and human rights. I was chairman of that committee, which appointed a rapporteur, M. Pontillon, to examine the facts in so far as they could be established. Perhaps I may summarise those facts in so far as they were capable of being established. The committee was fortunate to hear in person Mrs. Simone Lucki, the Secretary General of the International Committee of Inquiry. She was able to bring before the committee a number of relevant details.

Raoul Wallenberg was born in 1912 and belonged to one of the wealthiest and best-known families in Sweden. In 1939 he became the European representative of a major trading house whose chairman was a Hungarian Jew. This association and numerous journeys through Europe made him fully aware of the fate that the Nazis had reserved for the Jews and he decided to defend their cause.

At the request of the Jewish organisations and of President Roosevelt, the founder of the War Refugee Board, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the young Wallenberg, who was appointed attaché to the Swedish delegation in Budapest, on a rescue mission.

His first operation involved the granting of protection certificates, known as Wallenberg passports, to Hungarian Jews who had family links—sometimes real but more often imaginary—with Sweden. He also placed 32 buildings under the protection of the Swedish Crown. As far as can be established, some 30,000 Jews sheltered in those buildings. In November 1944, as the first death marches got under way, he succeeded at the last moment in preventing the implementation of the Eichmann plan, which would have led to the extermination of the approximately 70,000 Jews in the Budapest ghetto.

On 17th January 1945, following the entry of the Soviet troops into Budapest, Raoul Wallenberg went to the Soviet army headquarters in Debrecen with his driver, Langfelder. They never returned. Those facts are reasonably well established.

There is some evidence, although not a great deal, to support the proposition that Wallenberg survived. Were he alive today he would be about 83 years of age. There is some evidence to suggest that the Soviet authorities suspected Wallenberg of spying because of the support that he was receiving from the United States. Since his disappearance, Sweden has made numerous requests for information about him.

The Soviet Government initially stated that they had placed Mr. Wallenberg under their protection. Then they claimed to have no knowledge of the case until in 1957 Mr. Gromyko stated that Mr. Wallenberg had died of a heart attack in the Lubyanka prison in 1947 but that his body had been cremated, the death certificate had been destroyed and all the medical personnel then in service were now dead. That was Mr. Gromyko's assertion. The Kremlin maintained that position until August 1989, when the Soviet Ambassador to Sweden, Mr. Boris Pankin, announced that Mr. Wallenberg had been assassinated by Soviet agents and that Moscow would do everything possible to recover his body. Therefore, there was a measure of ambivalence there.

Indeed, there are numerous testimonies, going back to the death of Stalin, during the 1970s and then January 1981, when a Wallenberg tribunal was set up. Several individuals have stated that they met him or heard reports of him on various occasions and in different locations within the Soviet Union. Among the recent accounts are those of Josip Terelja, who, in 1987, stated that he had met a Ukrainian who had known Wallenberg in 1953; and Elena Butova, a doctor at Vladimir prison, who examined him, or so she says, in 1980. According to the Swedish writer, K. Fant, Mr. Wallenberg was alleged to have been treated at the Blagovechtchensk Clinic in Siberia on 22nd December 1986, and she is specific about the date. Andrei Sakharov was also convinced that Wallenberg had survived and said that he had met people who had met him.

In October 1989, Mr. Wallenberg's family was invited to Moscow, where the KGB passed members of that family a series of objects belonging to Wallenberg—a prison record drawn up when he was in the Lubyanka, a diplomatic passport and foreign currency. The Soviet weekly, New Times, has devoted several articles to Mr. Wallenberg and in October 1989 it launched an appeal for information about him.

Other than the proposition, which has not been sustained, that the KGB was to open up its files, those are all the known facts which the rapporteur to the legal committee, M. Pontillon could establish.

There is one other matter to which I should refer. In November 1990 the committee found listed in the archives of the Soviet Council of Ministers a letter dated February 1947 which referred to Wallenberg's presence in the Lefortov prison. That was discovered by chance, which, of course, is in contradistinction to the earlier KGB position.

Those are the facts which M. Pontillon established in so far as he had access to information and records. The Legal Committee of the Council of Europe decided that such evidence as was before it could not lead it to a firm conclusion as to whether he was still alive or had been killed or died earlier.

The matter still stands before the Legal Committee of the Council of Europe. It has not closed its files on the matter. Mr. Esperson, who was that committee's rapporteur to Russia on the question of Russian accession to the Council of Europe, a matter currently before the council, was asked on a recent visit whether he would make further inquiries. That he did, but they were of an inconclusive character. In 1991 the committee asked the then USSR visiting delegation if it would care to comment and explain further but it achieved nothing of a positive nature. Currently it is asking, and has asked, the visiting delegation from the Soviet Federation for its observations, and the matter stands before the committee in that regard.

I thought that those factual matters might be of some interest to your Lordships' House.

3.56 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, as a former compatriot of Raoul Wallenberg, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Braine of Wheatley, for raising yet again in this House the question of what happened to Raoul Wallenberg.

The noble Lord's speech gave us the background and the details of what we know, which is very little, about what happened to Raoul once he disappeared behind the Iron Curtain on 17th January 1945. He was the most courageous man of whom I can ever remember hearing because when he was working in Budapest, he was working in the district where Eichmann was in charge of the extermination of the Jews. He had to meet Eichmann and had to go over his head in order to save the people whom he managed to save. As a born Swede, I am tremendously proud of the man who saved 100,000 lives in Hungary.

Considerable efforts have been made by the Swedish Government and by this Government too. On 19th March 1987 in this House I tabled a Question which asked the Prime Minister, who was then visiting the USSR, whether she would consider raising the question of Raoul Wallenberg during her visit to that country. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, replied that she would draw the matter to the attention of the Prime Minister. I thought that that was a good opportunity to raise the matter again because Gorbachev was then in power in the Soviet Union and he had made many pronouncements on the importance of human rights. I am not aware of what the Prime Minister achieved in that regard because I never received any information.

Andrei Gromyko finally wrote and claimed that Raoul Wallenberg had died suddenly in his cell and that his body had been cremated. Later he implied that perhaps he had been killed. Moreover, the Minister for Security Services —Abakumov—was sentenced to death and shot. But that is no answer to our questions, because since that reply was given by Gromyko, to the knowledge of the Wallenberg Society in this country, there have been at least 24 sightings in various prisons in the Soviet Union, the last of which was as late as 1980.

I spoke to Mrs. Nina Lagergren, Raoul Wallenberg's sister, after her visit to the Soviet Union during which she was given his diplomatic passport and various other possessions. I asked her whether she believed that he was still alive. She said, "I can never, never put it out of my mind that he might still be alive". When there is a man about whom there is so much doubt, one must always hope that something will come out of the Soviet Union to answer all the family's questions.

All over the world, not only in Sweden but in many other countries also, Wallenberg Societies have grown up to try to put pressure on the Soviet Government. For example, the British society held a vigil outside the Soviet Embassy each year on 4th August on his birthday. The last one was held as late as 1985. In October 1982, the Wallenberg Society in this country mounted an exhibition in the House of Commons which the Prime Minister attended to commemorate Wallenberg's 70th birthday. The exhibition then travelled to various parts of the country.

It was with tremendous pleasure that we received the information that Ronald Reagan had signed legislation to confer an honorary citizenship on Raoul Wallenberg. He is the only man this century, apart from Winston Churchill, on whom that honour has been conferred. I believe that we should do the same.

The Private Members' Bill which was introduced in another place under the ten-minute rule on 22nd March 1989 by Mr. David Amess received its First Reading, but it was turned down by the Government because they claimed that it would set a dangerous precedent to confer an honorary citizenship on a man like Raoul Wallenberg.

This year we are commemorating the end of the Holocaust and the horrors of the Nazi extermination of Jews, Catholics, gypsies and all kinds of people in Europe. I believe that we should commemorate at the same time the memory—if it is a memory—of the man who was responsible for saving the lives of 100,000 Jews. We should commemorate his outstanding courage and humanity by conferring an honorary citizenship on him in this country.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the whole House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Braine, for having used the opportunity this afternoon to raise such an important matter which involves the honour of the entire United Kingdom. Speaking personally, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend who expressed on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition sentiments which I feel quite sure will be endorsed throughout the House. Again, from my own point of view, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, makes, I am happy to say, much of my speech completely unnecessary. I say that because he gave us a complete and factual account which not only reflects on the noble Lord's power of marshalling and presenting the facts but also on the pertinacity of the Council of Europe in thoroughly investigating the whole matter and bringing it to our attention.

The events that we are discussing this afternoon occupied but six short months of one person's life. He was a young Swede, aged 32, who had studied architecture and who came from a well-known family in Sweden. He decided on the basis of what he saw in Budapest, and on the basis of reports that had been given to him, to devote his life at that point to a series of actions which were extremely brave. He displayed a bravery which was, for one man, almost incredible to relate and which carried with it every day, every second arid every minute the risk of his being killed along with those whom he sought to save. Therefore, we ought to consider Raoul Wallenberg as someone who is a little special.

The fact that our then wartime allies, the Russians, took him in on 17th January 1945 did not make much impact at the time. Both the noble Lord, Lord Braine, and myself were in the forces overseas. We and the whole country were concerned and preoccupied with winning the war against the Nazis. At that time the courage of Mr. Wallenberg could hardly have attracted the publicity that it would undoubtedly attract today or possibly during the period immediately after the war ended. Those were the six crucial months.

It is perhaps not realised that the Russian act of perfidy in confining Mr. Wallenberg in the Lubyanka from 17th January onwards was surpassed only by their cynicism some four years later when the people of Budapest wanted to erect a monument to him in that city. It was done. But before it could be dedicated, the Russians ordered its destruction, thereby confirming in the perceptions of most ordinary people their complete wickedness and perfidy in the matter.

I regret to say that some of us over here, including myself, who were possibly under the illusion that the great alliance of the Soviet Union and the West was still in some kind of teetering existence, probably did not do what we ought to have done in investigating further matters that had been brought to our attention. To that extent, we are all a little culpable, though of course not those who were not alive at the time. However, I—and I am approximately the same age as Mr. Wallenberg would be were he alive today—had some inkling of it; but we all failed him.

It is true that many years later in, I believe, 1987, a memorial was finally erected in Budapest to the memory of Mr. Wallenberg. A report in the Independent on Thursday 12th October 1989 carried a feature which said: On a grass verge along Szilagyi Erzsebet avenue in Budapest stands a bronze figure flanked by blocks of granite, bearing the inscription: 'While good fortune stands by your side, friends are plentiful. But should grey clouds gather, you are alone to withstand the storm'". That is a poignancy which Mr. Wallenberg has left all Western society and, for that matter, the world. Therefore, I believe that we should honour him in some expiation perhaps for the many omissions which we or our predecessors may have made in the past.

I am bound to say that it would have done no harm at the meeting of the CSCE which took place on 5th and 6th December in Budapest (the first time that that organisation, or for that matter any other European organisation, had met there) when the cavalcades passed for someone to have left an official wreath and made some gesture on behalf of the memory—and I fear that it must now be considered a memory —of that very gallant gentleman.

There was a time in 1985 when the matter was raised in another place. I am not at all sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Braine, who at one time was Father of the other place, was present at the time. However, according to The Times on 21st March 1985: Mr. Sumberg asked Sir Geoffrey Howe to make any invitation to the Soviet Union to attend ceremonies in Britain to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of VE day conditional on the revelation of details of", Mr. Wallenberg's death. Sir Geoffrey Howe replied that he did not think it would be, appropriate or effective to set preconditions to foreign representation at our national commemoration". He did, however, say a little later in another place, The Soviet Government claimed he died in 1947. But I can assure Mr. Sumberg we will continue to make inquiries about this matter until we receive a satisfactory answer". The question I have to ask Her Majesty's Government is whether since that time they have received a satisfactory answer, and, if they have not, what after 1985 did they do about it? In the meantime I should like to associate myself with the sentiments which have been so movingly put in this House that we should follow the example of the United States in conferring honorary citizenship upon this gallant gentleman.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Braine of Wheatley for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. I was enormously impressed by his speech and indeed by those of all the noble Lords who have spoken today. The story of Raoul Wallenberg is indeed an almost unbelievably extraordinary and wonderful one, and there is very little that I can add to the information which has been given today, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, and I certainly cannot match the oratory.

As is well known, in January 1945 Raoul Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Red Army. Exactly what happened to him remains a mystery. Persistent attempts to unearth proof of Raoul Wallenberg's fate have been unsuccessful, as we have heard from many noble Lords today. New hope came in the dying days of the Soviet era. A new working group replaced the Wallenberg International Commission amid signs that the Soviet authorities were prepared to display greater commitment and openness. This is now the official body engaged in the ongoing investigation. On the Swedish side, the group includes Wallenberg's half-brother as well as police and Foreign Ministry officials. The Russian team is drawn from the staffs of the foreign, justice and interior ministries. We continue to give that group our support and urge the Russians to do likewise. The group has met 11 times since it was established. Its meetings have been both in Stockholm and in Moscow. The last was in November 1994: the next is scheduled for next month in Moscow.

The group has two major tasks. First, it is trying to identify and collect all the relevant documentary evidence which is available. Secondly, it is responsible for interviewing anyone who may have knowledge about the disappearance of Wallenberg, or his subsequent fate. Interviews are not restricted to Russians. There may well be others, for example those who were held in prison at the same time as Wallenberg, or who heard reports of his whereabouts from other prisoners. We understand that the group will publish a first report later this year, but progress has unfortunately been slow. We understand that there has been no major breakthrough. Every rumour and every scrap of information has to be checked out, but there is no doubt about the group's commitment. Despite the frustrations there are certainly no plans to wind up its work.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, said, it is enormously important that we do not give up the search. Those who cause people to disappear should know that we will never cease to ask after them. My noble friend Lord Braine and others have raised the question of whether Raoul Wallenberg might be granted British citizenship. Of course I am not in a position today to give an answer to that, but I guarantee that I will draw this debate, and all that has been so movingly said, to the attention of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, said, many people in this country and elsewhere have been active in keeping Raoul Wallenberg's name alive. I am delighted to learn that my honourable friend David Amess has been successful at least in securing that a memorial will be placed in Cumberland Place this year. Raoul Wallenberg was a most extraordinary man. We have heard today testimony to his bravery, to his extraordinary principle, to his disregard for himself and to his audacity. Even listening to today's descriptions of what he did I find it impossible to understand how he did it. It is unimaginable to me that anyone could actually achieve what he achieved in the circumstances that existed at that time. He saved 100,000 people. My knowledge of history—and I admit it is not that extensive—includes many people who have killed 100,000 people. My history books refer to plenty of people who have killed only a few. But I can think of no other example in human history of someone who has saved 100,000 people.

We must remember Raoul Wallenberg. It is not healthy just to remember the villains, however salutary that is. We need the heroes as well. The evils that Raoul Wallenberg fought are with us today. We need to remember what one person can do against even the most terrible regime that we have known. I hope that this debate will play a small part in that remembrance.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, I am deeply grateful for the support that noble Lords have given to my Motion and for the way in which all of them have spoken, and to the Minister for his closing remarks. All have spoken from the heart about the terrible story I unfolded earlier concerning the fate of the Hungarian Jews during the most terrible of all wars.

The cruelty to which hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children were subjected in Hungary and indeed elsewhere in Europe knew no bounds—no bounds at all. It horrifies us still today. I recall saying in another place some 13 years ago that we in the West should never ever allow the Soviet Union to think that we will forget Raoul Wallenberg who saved the lives of 100,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazi holocaust. At that time the Soviet Embassy in London was refusing to see British Members of Parliament of all parties just to discuss the matter quietly and in a civilized fashion.

I hope the House will permit me to say that it seems incredible that one man, a diplomat representing a neutral country—not a country at war—who was posted to Budapest, managed with the utmost bravery and skill to save at least 100,000 lives. As the Soviet armies closed in on Budapest, with the hope of bringing to an end the agony that everyone in that part of the world had suffered, he was seized, imprisoned and held in defiance of all civilized behaviour by a regime whose own brand of threats, cruelty and persecution were to menace the world at large long after the Second World War had come to an end. Even now I find it shaming that during the earlier periods when Wallenberg was undoubtedly alive in Russian hands there appears to have been no effective action taken by the wartime allies to secure the release of one of the greatest heroes of our troubled century.

However, it is not too late—and the debate has illustrated that your Lordships do not think that it is too late—for today's Soviet Union under its new leadership to set in motion the kind of inquiry that should have been made long ago. It should be a matter of honour for its leaders to come clean on what their predecessors did. If any man could have defied his oppressors with spirit and determination it was Wallenberg. This remains a matter I find very difficult to understand. Until firm evidence of Wallenberg's death is produced we should not assume that he is dead. As I said in the course of my earlier speech, if he were alive today he would be only two years older than I am.

In his moving book Righteous Gentile—the missing hero of the holocaust, John Bierman concludes: So we confront the ultimate question about Wallenberg. Is he still alive, somewhere out there in the Gulag Archipelago? On the evidence, maddeningly incomplete though it is, the answer has to be: Quite possibly, he is. As long as that possibility exists, it seems unthinkable"— and I gather from what other noble Lords have said that it is unthinkable to us all— that free men should abandon him to his fate". I hope that this short debate will enable a wider audience to understand what this great man achieved at the peril and the cost of his life, coming as he did from a neutral country but concerned as he was with the appalling cruelties to a vast number of human beings. What he did on behalf of those persecuted, tortured and slaughtered souls should live on in the memories of civilised men and women for decades to come.

A Noble Lord

My Lords, withdraw the Motion.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, what I should like to do is to move for Papers. Emotion overcame me and I forgot the proper procedure, which was to withdraw my Motion, but on the understanding that I can call for Papers.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Taylor of Blackburn)

My Lords, the Question is that the Motion is, by leave, withdrawn. Is it your pleasure that the Motion is, by leave, withdrawn?

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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