Blasieholmsgatan’s Secrets

In 1941, Raoul Wallenberg maintained a temporary office address at Blasieholmsgatan 3, in the heart of the Wallenberg family business sphere. The new information suggests that his contact with his famous relatives was closer than previously thought. It  also raises the question if after Wallenberg’s disappearance in the Soviet Union in 1945, these connections were intentionally de-emphasized. At the same time, the discovery puts the statements of a number of witnesses in the Wallenberg case in a new perspective.

For most visitors, the way to Stockholm’s water front leads through a block of beautifully restored office buildings at Blasieholmstorg and Blasieholmsgatan. The area forms the heart of the Wallenberg business group,  located right behind the famous Grand Hotel. In 1997, one of us (S. Berger) had the opportunity to accompany Guy von Dardel, Raoul Wallenberg’s brother, to a meeting there with Peter (“Pirre”) Wallenberg,  who was at the time the family patriarch.[1]

The surroundings were both fascinating and slightly intimidating. The hushed atmosphere in the ante-room, Wallenberg’s sudden arrival, with a small entourage, the exchange of pleasantries which quickly moved on to the business at hand. There the discussion promptly stalled, because Mr. Wallenberg would or could not provide what Guy von Dardel had come for: The documentation about Raoul Wallenberg’s contacts with Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg, Peter Wallenberg’s father and uncle, respectively

Surprisingly few of Raoul Wallenberg’s personal papers have survived, which has made it difficult to reconstruct his activities before July 1944, when he received a temporary diplomatic appointment   to aid Hungary’s Jewish population.

Our inquiry focused on the autumn of 1939, when Raoul repeatedly asked Jacob (his first cousin, once removed) for permanent employment in the Wallenberg sphere. Jacob had alluded to the possibility that the coming war would create certain problems and that Raoul could possibly assist him in addressing these challenges. It is unclear what precise problems Jacob Wallenberg had in mind and most experts believed that nothing further came of the idea.

After September 1939, however, Raoul’s requests for assistance abruptly stop. What happened? Did he finally give up trying to attract the attention of his powerful relatives?

At the age of twenty-seven, Wallenberg had come to a crossroad in his life. On the surface, he appeared aimless, without any promising professional prospects. In 1940, he abandoned his office at Kungsgatan , where he had previously maintained a small private firm. That year he devoted a lot of time to his military service, as an instructor in the newly established Swedish Home Guard.

So, how was he planning to earn a living? Recently new clues have emerged which may explain how he spent his time until July 1941, when he joined Mellaneuropeiska, an export-import business that specialized in trade with Hungary. Due to the war, most of this trade was handled in the form of barter or compensation transactions.

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Fig 1. Mellaneuropeiska’s letter head, September 1941; Source: The Hungarian National Archives, Budapest; Archives of the Hungarian Trade Ministry, Foreign Trade Section, Stockholm (K-520) – 8 –1941.

Originally, Mellaneuropeiska’s  office was not located at Strandvägen 7A, as was always believed. Instead, from July until December 1941, the company used an address at Blasieholmsgatan 3. [2]

The building was a stone’s throw from Stockholms Enskilda Bank (SEB) where both Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg maintained their offices. Marcus Wallenberg’s private residence was located just a few doors down, at Blasieholmstorg 11.

The letterhead (Figure 1) shows that Mellaneuropeiska was a fully functioning firm at this point, with plans to arrange for the import of 160 tons of gasoline from Hungary to Sweden on behalf of the Swedish State Purchasing Agency for Reserve Goods(Reservförrådsnämnden)

Some years ago, a woman by the name of Ms. Gertrud Larsson (her maiden name) testified that during the 1940s, she worked in adjoining offices with Raoul Wallenberg on Blasieholmen. She said she had been employed first as a secretary for the SEB and she later worked for two companies, Baltiska Oljeaktiebolag and AB Oljecentralen.  Both firms were located at Blasieholmsgatan 3.  They were part of the extensive Wallenberg family investments in the Estonian shale oil industry which produced fuel and important by-products such as cement for construction projects. Prominent Wallenberg business associates like Axel Axson Johnson, August Nachmanson and Franz Georg Liljenroth served as members of the board. Larsson’s statement was not taken seriously, because by the time she shared her experiences in the 1990s, she was already suffering from the first signs of dementia.

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Baltiska Oljeaktiebolag’s account statement from November 1940, witnessed by Gertrud Larsson; Source: Patent – och Registreringsverket (PRV), Sweden

Since then, her employment history has been partially confirmed. Still unconfirmed remains Ms Larsson’s claim that on at least one occasion she received a special assignment – directly from Jacob Wallenberg – to travel as a courier to Estonia. She also said that she met Raoul Wallenberg in connection with this special task. Several other witnesses who made similar claims were also ignored.

In his personal notes which are preserved at the Swedish National Archives, Raoul Wallenberg’s friend and business partner in Mellaneuropeiska, Kalman Lauer, recalled that Jacob Wallenberg had been Raoul’s “idol” and that Raoul served as “his private secretary during the time he worked at Meropa (Mellaneuropeiska) “. Lauer’s claim was largely  dismissed as an overstatement of his friend’s relationship with his famous relative.

Finally, a former employee of SUKAB (Sveriges Utrikeshandels Kompensations Aktiebolag) reported that he remembered Raoul Wallenberg well from the time Raoul spent working with his company. Founded in July 1940, SUKAB was a huge Swedish business conglomerate which also included most of the major Wallenberg industrial enterprises like Svenska Kullagerfabriken (SKF, a manufacturer of ball bearings ), Svenska Tändsticksaktiebolaget (STAB, a producer of matches and lighters) and L.M. Ericsson (a provider of communications technology).

During World War II, SUKAB coordinated virtually all Swedish trade with the occupied territories, including France (which Raoul Wallenberg visited in 1942) and the Baltic countries. The compensation trade conducted by Mellaneuropeiska would have fallen under SUKAB’s broader purview. The company was initially located at Norrlangdsgatan, but soon after it moved to Blasieholmstorg 11. Raoul Wallenberg’s uncle, Carl-Axel Söderlund (the husband of Raoul’s aunt Nita Söderlund) was one of its original board members.

Back in 1997, sitting in the well appointed Wallenberg family business office, Guy von Dardel knew only one thing: he needed to learn more about his brother’s personal and professional history. He requested all documentation concerning Raoul’s association with the Wallenberg family and Mellaneuropeiska. He also asked for direct access to specific Wallenberg family collections.

Peter Wallenberg was not in a gracious mood, however. Von Dardel’s request for access was denied and he never received any documentation beyond what the Wallenberg archives released later on, in the year 2000 (Nylander, Gert and Anders Perlinge, Raoul Wallenberg in Documents, 1927-1947, 2000; Banking and Enterprise No. 3, Stockholm: Stiftelsen för Ekonomisk Historisk Forskning inom Bank och Företagande.)

The few papers the Wallenberg archives did make available chronicle the contacts between Raoul Wallenberg and his relatives between 1927 and 1944. They show no written communications between Raoul and the Wallenberg brothers after 1939, for three whole years (until 1942), and almost none after that . For 1939 and 1940, only one meeting with Raoul Wallenberg was recorded in the visitors’ book at the SEB – in early January, to see Jacob. This was most likely a New Year’s visit which probably also offered a chance to discuss Raoul’s professional future. The next official meeting did not occur until May 1941, almost certainly in connection with the founding of Mellaneuropeiska.

The company’s formal owners – Carl Matthiessen and Sven Salén – were longtime business partners of both Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg, so Mellaneuropeiska’s initial location at Blasieholmsgatan is not necessarily surprising. However, the question is why the firm did not take up its location at Strandvägen from the start, where Salén had his main office? [3]

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Blasieholmsgatan 1-3, Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the address was clearly temporary, Raoul’s presence there during the years 1940-41 suggests that his contacts to the Wallenberg sphere was perhaps closer than previously thought. According to the witnesses, he was learning the intricacies of wartime trade. This meant first and foremost trade with the occupied areas.

Did he also concern himself with specific problems arising from the war, such as Sweden’s business interests in Estonia, for example, as has been alleged? From June 1940 – June 1941, Estonia found itself under Soviet occupation, which created numerous challenges for Swedish and Estonian entrepreneurs and the need for protection of their assets; as did the subsequent occupation by the German Nazi forces. These same problems arose later on in Hungary.

While Raoul Wallenberg was clearly not formally employed by the Wallenbergs, he may have been groomed by Jacob as a man for special assignments. Among the documents missing from Raoul’s private papers are his address books and appointment calendars from before 1944, as well as his international passports for 1939 – 1941 and for 1943.[4] Only his official Kabinettspass from 1941/42 – a special travel document issued by the Swedish government – and both his diplomatic and private Swedish passports, issued in June 1944, are currently available to researchers. As it turns out, these gaps in the record may not be entirely accidental. A source who wished to remain anonymous but who knew Raoul Wallenberg well during the 1940s, indicated in a statement that Wallenberg did “confidential work for the Swedish state” under the guise of his business activities.

During the war, high level business men like Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg who maintained a broad network of influential professional and political contacts, ranked among the most important sources for domestic and foreign intelligence services. The Wallenberg family has traditionally maintained very close ties to the Swedish intelligence community. Colonel Carl Björnstierna, head of the Swedish Foreign Intelligence at the Swedish General Staff until 1942, was married to Jacob and Marcus’ sister Sonja. He also happened to be a good friend of Mellaneuropeiska’s owner, Carl Matthiessen. Both men in turn were on very good terms with the British Military Attaché Henry Denham.

Per Jacobsson, an executive in the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) who would later head the International Monetary Fund (IMF), worked as an agent for Swedish Intelligence throughout the war. It was Jacobsson who in September 1940 transmitted a request to Jacob Wallenberg from prominent Jewish entrepreneurs in Hungary to temporarily “Aryanize” their businesses – to formally replace Jewish board members and directors with Aryan ones, in order to disguise the true ownership of their companies. It is quite likely that requests such as these played at least a partial role in the founding of Mellaneuropeiska.

Similar types of companies specializing in the wartime compensation trade were formed for the Baltic countries, including Transkandia which dealt mostly with Latvia and which was headed by the lawyer and businessman Wilhelm Moberg, a friend of Marcus Wallenberg. It too was located on Blasieholmen, at Blasiehomstorg 9.

Aside from the immediate wish to assist friends and business associates, these activities mainly served to protect long-term Wallenberg business investments and to secure Sweden’s economic interests in the post-war economy.

Helmuth Ternberg, deputy head of the Swedish C-byrån (C- Bureau, foreign intelligence agency under the Swedish Armed Forces), secretly traveled to Hungary  in 1943 and 1944, to develop contacts with the Hungarian resistance and to prepare for the coming Soviet occupation. Ternberg was well acquainted with the Wallenbergs and worked for them in various capacities after the war. His brother Egon was one of Raoul Wallenberg’s godfathers.

Carl Bonde – the stepson of another Wallenberg sister, Ebba Bonde – served as the head of Swedish counterintelligence.  One of his officers, Thorsten Akrell, secretly delivered two radio sets to the Hungarian resistance in Budapest in 1944, where he also met with Raoul Wallenberg. It was with the help of Akrell’s old friend, the director of AB Industridiesel, Carl Hardeberg, as well as Helmuth Ternberg, that Jacob Wallenberg tried to contact the Soviet leadership in 1954, to obtain information about Raoul’s fate.

It needs to be determined once and for all how extensive Raoul Wallenberg’s contacts were with the Wallenberg sphere and what exact training he received. Was it simply a way for the Wallenberg family to keep him at arm’s length, while also making use of his abilities? And were these connections intentionally de-emphasized after Raoul’s arrest, in order to protect him, by keeping the contacts to his relatives out of any discussions?

Or did the Wallenberg brothers worry that his knowledge of the inner workings of the Wallenberg sphere could be harmful to the family’s reputation?

Marcus and Jacob’s remarkable passivity after Raoul’s disappearance in the Soviet Union in 1945 continues to raise important questions.

Seventy years later, it is time for both Sweden and Russia to finally reveal everything they know about Raoul Wallenberg’s background and his fate.

[1] Peter Wallenberg died on January 19, 2015. See David Segal, “Peter Wallenberg, Patriarch of a Swedish Dynasty, Dies at 88,” The New York Times, January 19, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/20/business/peter-wallenberg-patriarch-of-a-swedish-dynasty-dies-at-88.html?_r=0.

[2] In 1940, the building was formally owned by a Captain Carl Ljungberg (1873-1975). He served as the head of the SEB’s real estate office and its chief of personnel. In 1941, Blasieholmsgatan 3 was sold to the Hotell Esplanades Fastighetsaktiebolag. Ljungberg had begun his career in the Swedish Navy. From 1916-1919 he served as the chief of the National Budget Commission’s Transport Department. As such, he had concerned himself with questions of national supply and rationing of goods, precisely the type of problems Sweden faced in 1941. How concerned Raoul Wallenberg was about these issues shows a letter he wrote regarding Sweden’s food supply situation in February 1944; see Raoul Wallenberg: Letters and Dispatches 1924-1944, New York: Arcade Publishing, 1995.

[3]   Mellaneuropeiska seems to have moved to Strandvägen 7A by about November 1941. It is listed at this address in the Swedish Röda Boken for 1942. (The Red Book, an official Swedish register for street addresses and their occupants) . Most entries for this annual publication are compiled by the month of November of the previous year (in this case November 1941). The company used the old letter heads – with Blasieholmsgatan 3 crossed out and Strandvägen 7A penciled in – until at least January 1942. According to Mellaneuropeiska’s official registration documents filed in July 1941, the company’s original postal address was Frihamn (the Stockholm Free Harbor). This was the address of Carl Matthiessen’s Banankompaniet, under whose umbrella Mellaneuropeiska functioned.

[4] It is known that Raoul Wallenberg maintained personal address books and appointment calendars, in 1944 and in earlier years. Source: Kalman Lauer’s private papers, The Swedish National Archives.

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