Sweden’s Other Hero - a Portrait of Guy von Dardel
I first came to know Guy von Dardel in the early 1990‘s, when, as a young researcher, I attended the dedication ceremonies of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Lunching informally on a bagel in his hotel dining room, von Dardel immediately invited me to scout the buffet with him and asked me to address him simply by his first name. Fit and trim and full of energy, I remember being struck by his close physical resemblance to his brother Raoul Wallenberg.
Aside from his easy approachability, what immediately stood out was his sense of humor - when I made a suggestion to him about possible further research in the Wallenberg case, he gave a short look and with a wry smile quoted the German Emperor Fredrik the Great: “Ich werde darueber nachdenken lassen!“ ("I will have it thought about!").
While generous and kind, this first meeting also made it clear that he is not an easy person to get to know. In this Guy is utterly Swedish and truly old school.
Those close to him know that Guy is highly, almost eerily, intuitive and impulsive. This manifested itself most profoundly during numerous research trips to Russia, where he, well in his seventies, more than once left us breathless, bewildered and desperately trying to catch up to him when he was already halfway down the stairs to see - unannounced - some hapless Russian official; an absolute no-no in formal Russian etiquette. While this unpredictability could be maddening, he just as often caught the powers-that-be - Swedish or Russian - thoroughly off guard which provided many pointedly revealing moments. During formal meetings one could almost forget he was there until he would all of a sudden say something so affecting that it would instantly quiet the whole room and the discussion would take on an entirely new direction. All of us present instantly realized that we had caught a glimpse of the very same force of personality that people have ascribed to Guy's brother in Budapest.
During Guy's stay in Washington, I also met his wife Matilda - a striking personality in her own right. With her, Guy found his anchor, his true “reason for being." Their devotion to each other is complete and profoundly moving for anyone who has ever seen them together. She has made his fight her fight and it is only with Matti, their two daughters and their extended families by his side that Guy feels it possible to be truly himself.
To Guy, words have literal meaning. When Swedish officials used to tell him: “We are fully committed to finding the truth about your brother’s fate” he took them by their word. His scientific mind could not understand that the language of diplomacy is layered with a multitude of hidden meanings that escape the ordinary citizen. His bewilderment was genuine, but his natural decency was always such that he remained unfailingly courteous when the rest of us silently fumed about the often highhanded treatment he received from official quarters. Guy always assumed that the Swedish government's commitment to one of its own was a given - a tragic miscalculation and underestimation of the power of politics that also many other Swedish families have come to face.
Swedish officialdom has never figured out what to do with a person whose quiet insistence disguises a will of granite. Guy has no pretense, no ulterior motives, no hidden agenda, no angles and no fear. All he has is one question: What happened to my brother? That purity has turned out to be both an asset and a liability. With Swedish officials not daring to oppose him openly, he has endured the indignity of a steady whisper campaign behind the scenes. In recent years he was dogged by unfounded rumors of advancing senility, a particularly cruel and vicious form of discrediting one of Sweden’s brightest academics. Few people know that he was for years a highly regarded experimental physicist with a longtime appointment at Cern, Switzerland, as well as a full membership in the Swedish Academy of Science.
In contrast, matters have almost been refreshingly simple with Russian representatives: Guy’s dignity and gentle disposition, overlaying a steely resolve, have earned him palpable respect from hardened Soviet era intelligence men, although this of course does not change their opposition to his efforts.
Where his detractors in Sweden see only a nuisance and a stubborn old man, those of us who have been privileged to work with him recognize a personality of relentless will, driven by more than just deep affection for his missing sibling. Guy considers the search for the truth about Raoul a sacred duty, both to his brother as well as to his parents who led the campaign since 1945.
In this commitment Guy is as uncompromising as as his brother was in saving the Jews of Budapest. From the moment of Raul’s disappearance in 1945, he has never let up. It was he who insisted on a true investigation of Wallenberg's fate, spanning six long decades. Even before the official demise of the Soviet Union, he led a team of international researchers and human rights activists on the first ever visit by foreign scholars to Russia's infamous Vladimir prison.
Guy has forged friends and alliances from all walks of life and scientific disciplines to help advance his brother's cause. In 1985, in a daring, precedent setting case, he sued the Soviet Union in a U.S. court, alleging that Soviet confinement of Raoul Wallenberg had violated international law. He won in the first round, but the verdict was later set-aside, due to American fears that forcing the Soviet Union to comply with the ruling - to pay out millions of dollars in damages and to provide full answers about Raoul Wallenberg's fate -could have done irreparable harm to U.S.-Soviet relations. Guy also did not hesitate to request more in-depth answers from Sweden. In the mid-1990's, he was one of the first researchers to request access to newly opened records of the Swedish Secret Police (SÄPO) and the Wallenberg family archives. Ironically, only SÄPO permitted him a review.
Over time, Guy has tried hard but so far has not been able to rally the Swedish public to support his quest, a fact that bothers him deeply. Since 2001, especially after the final report of the Swedish-Russian Working Group, which he co-founded, Guy’s isolation has been profound. He has been made to feel ever more strongly that some consider his insistence on the truth about Raoul Wallenberg's fate somehow unreasonable, and that many believe he ought to resign himself to the inevitable. Through it all, Guy has remained undaunted. What drives him is the knowlegde that solving the Wallenberg case is not impossible, but mostly a question of political will. In a decade long project, he and his team of researchers have developed a working methodology, that, if finally implemented, would undoubtedly answer the core question: Did Raoul Wallenberg die in July 1947 or did he live beyond that date?
The decades of fight, however, have taken a heavy toll. About fifteen years ago, Guy developed Parkinson’s syndrome which reveals itself in ever more debilitating, Parkinson-like symptoms. With characteristic stoicism, Guy has endured and he himself would never volunteer any of these sentiments. However, the stress has shown itself in subtle ways. During travels to Russia, he would suddenly slump in his chair, his arms covering his face. He would become perfectly still, a figure momentarily immobilized by pain and grief. Once, in a moment of true despair, he suddenly stood up from his lunch and said flatly: "They are too strong for me." Just as quickly, he would recover and fight on all the harder. True to form, he has always insisted that all of us who work with him make sure to take in Russia's rich cultural gifts, no matter how packed a schedule we faced -- a testament to his spirit that enthusiastically and unreservedly embraces the Russian people.
Like his brother so many years ago, Guy understands one fundamental thing: Change begins with one individual and one voice. With his defiance, in his quiet way and in the face of overwhelming odds, Guy has cleared his own heroic path. He has truly been his brother’s keeper, and hopefully one day Sweden will recognize his exceptional character, his class, as well as the enormity of his achievement.
In February 1992, when the ARK Project received its first grant to search for Raoul Wallenberg and missing foreign prisoners of war in the Soviet Gulag, I flew to Geneva to meet Guy von Dardel. I was wearing a folk multicolored jacket from Central America which, in the conventional business world of blacks and greys, could be spotted from far away. So I assured Raoul’s brother that he would readily recognize me. Two minutes after I came into the area where we were to meet, a bus full of young Canadians, all in rainbow ski jackets, poured into the terminal. It was impossible for Guy to find me, or vice versa. Twenty minutes went by of ‘wilderness wandering’ and frantic search. Finally, the crowd parted – and I saw a man from behind, in a black coat, striding toward the phone. ” Ah!” I though. “He walks just like Raoul.” So I ran after him, “Excuse me!! Are you Guy?” And it was.
Only later, recounting this event to Guy’s beautiful wife, Mathile, I realized how presumptuous I must seem: How could I, a woman of forty nine, possibly know how Raoul Wallenberg walked? It must have been the dark coat, I thought, which so resembled the one in the famous photograph of negotiations at a roundup, Raoul with his hands clasped behind his back. Still, I remained haunted by that question and the only answer that ever came to mind, particularly after the photos of Raoul were aged by Horace Haeffner of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children -- was the power of DNA.
When one searches for a man as intensively and for as long as this, the object of search often seems to have the aspect of “up close and personal.’ At least for many of those who never knew Raoul. He’s a friend one doesn’t question --- Raoul. But for Guy, his determined stride not only introduced me to Raoul in motion, but showed me the impact and force of movement that characterized Maj von Dardel’s boys overall.
On that same day, after a long discussion about Raoul’s case and what I believed, or thought, or didn’t dare guess; Guy took me to CERN. I saw not only the product he had worked on for so many years -- (LEP, the Large Electron-Positron Collider), but the personal respect his colleagues afforded him – a high honor. Let’s face it: Guy, recognizing my poetic, mystical, tendencies as a scholar of religion, made a point of taking me into his lab and showing me the ropes. This was step one of my “conversion’ from belief to scientific objective standards, to which Marvin Makinen contributed a major portion as mentor – while work in the Russian archives themeselves added a strong dose of logic. (That is, “logic” to the degree that Gulag prison records are based on a highly meticulous and orderly system, visible to those who break the code.)
When next I met Guy von Dardel it was in May in Moscow. The ARK Project’s live-search system had worked; we discovered Victor Hamilton in a psychiatric facility outside of Moscow under an assumed name – and made world news. Guy and Marvin were in Moscow for a Working Group meeting, and saw the article about our discovery in the Moscow Times. Again we arranged to meet – this time for dinner in the apartment of Ark’s Associate Director, Boris Yuzhin, where I was staying. Although there was virtually no food to speak of at that time – and the lines endless --- when Nadezhda Sergeevna heard that Raoul’s brother was coming for dinner – she disappeared into a closet I’d never even noticed and re-emerged with a leg of lamb which she displayed triumphantly. This lamb her brother had slaughtered and brought to her so that she and her children would not starve while her husband was in the Gulag. She hadn’t even cooked it when her husband received amnesty and finally came home. Such the charisma of the name Raoul Wallenberg among Russians whose loved ones had been taken from them abruptly, who spent many anxious years not knowing if they were alive or dead. Such, the honor and friendship extended to Guy von Dardel as the brother who came in search of him.
Over dinner, Guy quizzed Boris and I extensively about the discovery of Hamilton – how it was done, what we had learned – particularly interested to learn that there existed, at an a much earlier period of time, a group of “special foreign prisoners’ known as the “diplomatii” who traveled from one psychiatric facility to the next. Eventually, it was rumored that they had all been transported to the East – where indeed there have been reports of an elderly Swede in Kazan and Blaghoveshenk. (Only days later I would interview a woman who had tried, since the mid-Eighties, to get word out through Radio Free Europe of an elderly Swede who lived in a small community where she served as doctor for a time.)
In 1994 Guy and I began traveling together to try and generate a serious search for Wallenberg in the various psychiatric facilities. As I was already aware from my work in Sychovka in 1992, the records of the “diplomatii” and those of that period had been removed – also forwarded to Blaghoveshenk. And yet Guy would not give up. These efforts, combined with visits with officials in the Working Group, witnesses, KGB retired archivists (always with a meal involved and a lot of congeniality) -- generated support, but not the smoking gun which not only his government but the international media was demanding of him.
One morning, when it seemed that the outside team which Guy had hired was not producing anything of substance, Guy knocked on my door at the special pension for scientists where we all stayed during our research trips. When I looked at his face, I saw for the first, and perhaps only time, his despair. I knew that he had been up the night trying to find an alternative that would work. Again, I was struck by his resemblance to his brother – at least in the photo taken for his driver’s license. Raoul’s pictures always show sad eyes, but not turbulence – except for that one which had a painful melancholy.
Guy and I went for a long walk that day, ironically stopping a half block away from a psychiatric facility on the outskirts of Moscow where Raoul was reportedly held in the Eighties --- but we were unaware of that particular eyewitness sighting at the time. It was then that I came to the conclusion that the only way to find Raoul’s paper trail was to give up all speculation about the whys of his arrest and focus completely on prisoner records and live search. That is, to take the system which Guy had already set in motion in Vladimir and ARK through its work in psychiatric facilities and find a way to go deeper than we had before. For me the answer was to spend as much time as possible in Moscow – no longer come and go -- to involve the powers-that-be directly with our needs to know. And indeed, thanks are due to the Russian Government for releasing certain classified materials long requested – and the Swedish Government for giving full support to these demands.
It was also at that time that I came to see Guy as Raoul’s heroic equal. Raoul went into Budapest like a comet. He had power behind him – the strength of the Allies, if not the Soviets, the protection of the Wallenberg Empire in dealing with the Germans. His achievements during that six month period are monumental; and yet as those who worked with him have testified --- during the treacherous Arrow Cross period, he knew his powers were all but exhausted.
The despondency and brokenness, the depression which Raoul endured then , could only have been compounded by his captivity at the hands of the Soviets. From afar, we tend to think only of his end – whether he was shot, poisoned or died of a heart attack. Only those who have come close know the nightmare and torment of captivity on the day to day, or worse – for those of the Disappeared who have been pronounced dead but live on for decades like the “diplomatii.”
Guy in the “Free World” had the force of movement which Raoul once had – but not the international sceptre to empower his miraculous achievements. This he created himself, through his tireless networking, through the scientific community, and ultimately by generating a Working Group of both the Swedish and Russian governments.
I remember it now as if yesterday – that first day in Geneva, sitting in the living room, having tea with Matti – while Guy disappeared into the basement to retrieve a document. He left the door open as he descended into his archive. I suddenly felt the excruciating pain which this man experienced voluntarily, out of filial love. – and I asked myself: “How can anyone endure such pain and live?”
But then I asked myself: “Or is this Raoul’s pain that Guy feels and which impels him to go on.??”
It was then that I understood: between the one who is lost and the one who must find, there is not only an invisible bond, but shared strength and shared suffering.
Susan Ellen Mesinai
Written to honor Dr. Guy von Dardel’s 90th Birthday in May 2009.
Dr. Marvin Makinen