University pays tribute to Swedish ambassador

Craig Gustafson

Swedish pride ran rampant through the University on Wednesday as Raoul Wallenberg Commemoration Week continued.
The pride flowed as the University paid tribute to Wallenberg, a Swedish hero who independently led a mission in 1944 that rescued more than 100,000 Hungarian Jews in Budapest.
A year after his feat, Wallenberg was imprisoned by the Russian government and later reported dead. It is believed, however, that Wallenberg is alive somewhere in Russia.
Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish ambassador to the United States, met with College of Liberal Arts Dean Steven Rosenstone on Wednesday to discuss the missing hero.
“If you look upon his life, you see some of the loftiest ideas realized,” Ekeus said. “He acted shrewdly and sharply under tremendous stress.”
After saving thousands of lives during the Holocaust, Wallenberg was captured by the Soviets in 1945 during Joseph Stalin’s purges after World War II, Ekeus said.
After a short time in prison, the Soviets claimed that Ekeus, then 34, died of heart failure in prison.
Information released after Stalin’s death revealed news to the contrary.
Ekeus said accounts from Soviet prison survivors suggested that Wallenberg was alive and kicking.
“Even though he was isolated, he developed a system of knocking on pipes,” Ekeus said. “He created an alphabet. One knock was an A, two knocks a B, and so on.”
Using his system, Wallenberg related details of interrogation and delivered messages of hope to others.
The Soviets continued to move him from prison to prison until contact was lost somewhere in Siberia.
Wallenberg’s family still holds out hope that he is alive somewhere. If alive, he would be 88 years old.
The U.S. Congress gave honorary citizenship to Wallenberg. Aside from Winston Churchill, he is the only person to ever receive the honor.
The state of Minnesota designated Tuesday as Raoul Wallenberg Day. The University showed documentaries on the legendary Swede and held Wednesday’s luncheon to memorialize him.
Susan Larson of the center for Scandinavian studies said Ekeus was an excellent choice as the week’s special guest.
“He’s a person that has done quite a lot,” she said. “He was instrumental in the negotiations with Iraq.”
Ekeus was one of the United Nations ambassadors that prevented war over the recent nuclear and chemical weapons inspections in Iraq.
“These are the questions and people that should be talked about and celebrated at the University of Minnesota,” Rosenstone said.

Craig Gustafson covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.