By Sabina Clarke
Editor’s Note: The following is the conclusion of the two part series about renowned attorney Morris Wolff’s crusade to rescue his client, Holocaust Hero Raoul Wallenberg, from a Soviet gulag. Wolff lived on Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill from 1975 to 1985. His daughter Lesley graduated from Springside School in Chestnut Hill in 1993, where she was class valedictorian and the University of Pennsylvania. Another daughter, Michelle, attended Springside School and graduated from Harcum Junior College in Bryn Mawr.
I read with fascination Morris Wolff’s spellbinding book, “Whatever Happened to Raoul Wallenberg?” chronicling his 28- year quest representing his client, Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg. This true story, packed with intrigue, suspense and high drama, trumps a James Bond thriller.
It involves encrypted cables between Wallenberg and the U.S. State Department, hidden KGB files, White House memos, secret documents, cloak and dagger meetings, daring rescue attempts, bold disguises, cryptic messages, anonymous phone calls and mysterious deaths under suspect circumstances.
It also involves former Russian Premier Leonid Brezhnev, who in 1945 was the Red Army’s arresting officer, and after arresting Wallenberg, he stole the ‘Wallenberg Diamonds’ from the safe in Wallenberg’s office. The jewels had been entrusted to Wallenberg by many Jews on their way to the death camps. This fact was later confirmed to Wolff by several reliable sources including John Erlichman, former President Nixon’s Chief Counsel.
Through it all, pointed warnings were given to Morris Wolff from powerful people in high places suggesting that he abandon his lawsuit on behalf of Wallenberg. Yet, Wolff pushed on, ignoring all warnings while taking on the U.S. State Department, the White House, the U.S.S.R. and prestigious law firms who all tried to squash his efforts to secure Wallenberg’s release.
Aided, at times, by a few brave individuals who also took considerable personal risks, Wolff uncovered concrete information revealing behind-the-scenes machinations aimed at stopping his investigation into the disappearance and whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg. He recalls his friend Earl Silbert, a former Watergate prosecutor, saying to him, “I think you may want to back off this case. This is not a game of tennis. There are some pretty strong forces working against you —including the FBI, the CIA and other forces at high levels of government.”
When warned by President Reagan’s former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Fairbanks that the Russians might try to kill him and that he was “interfering with the conduct of foreign affairs” Wolff replied, “Only a bullet will stop me, and you are not about to order that; are you?”
This is a tale of heroes and villains and a fascinating glimpse into our legal system and its shameful derailment precipitated by the interference of the State Department and the White House as well as Russia and Sweden and their Wall Street and Washington, D.C., law firms acting as hired guns for the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York and the Enskilda Bank of Sweden. All were in bed together. All conspired to squash Wolff’s case, and in the end, they almost did.
Wolff’s quest for justice for Wallenberg has taken him all over the world collecting first-person recollections from Wallenberg’s friends and associates and those who were rescued by Wallenberg. With some, Wolff has forged close and lasting friendships.
Now with his new book and some heavyweight book blurb endorsements from former President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Anatole Scharansky and others, the Wallenberg story should wind up on the world stage once again, thanks to a May 10, 2011, letter to Wolff from President Obama stating, “Morris Wolff in 1989 went to Israel and enlisted the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, in a daring raid to rescue Raoul Wallenberg. On April 30, 2011, we copied that strategy and took out Osama Bin Laden. The use of a carefully planned and wisely implemented strategy is a hallmark of Morris Wolff’s legal work in the U.S. Federal Court in achieving a great victory for his client, a hero whom we all celebrate…..”
Encouraged by his friend and associate, retired Federal Judge Arlin M. Adams, who has reviewed the procedural facts of the case, Wolff plans to go back to court and seek a reversal of Judge Aubrey Robinson’s decision. (In 1989, Judge Aubrey Robinson dismissed the case and overturned Judge Barrington Parker’s legal verdict on behalf of Wallenberg; in 1984, Judge Barrington Parker, who presided over the case initially, ordered the Russians to release Wallenberg immediately and pay $39 million to the Wallenberg family.)
In essence, says Wolff, Judge Parker’s decision was ignored. The case was moved, four years later, from the closed docket of Judge Parker to the open docket of Judge Robinson — a judge of equal jurisdiction. This, according to Judge Arlin M. Adams, retired federal appellate judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, was an “extreme example of judicial misbehavior” and something that had never been done before. Simply put, the Executive Branch of our government interfered with the Judicial Branch of our government, violating the separation of powers clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Wolff plans to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a reinstatement of the Parker decision, the collection of the $39 million with compounded interest and the immediate release of Wallenberg — realizing that Wallenberg is almost certainly not still alive. (If he is, he would be 99.) Wolff estimates the current value of the case at $142 million. But for Wolff, who has worked pro bono all these years, the case has never been about money; it is about getting justice for Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved more than 1000 Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
If Wolff succeeds in getting the Wallenberg case heard before the Supreme Court, any monetary award would go towards the creation of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Altruistic Studies —which was agreed upon by both Wolff and Wallenberg’s family from the outset.
Wolff hopes to have the case heard before the Supreme Court, citing Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “Cases involving ambassadors, public ministers and consuls can be brought directly to the United States Supreme Court which shall have original jurisdiction over such matters.”
Since Wallenberg qualifies as an ambassador or public minister, his case can be heard directly by the Supreme Court, via petition, with Chief Justice John C. Roberts presiding. “This”, said Wolff, “will provide Chief Justice Roberts with an opportunity to correct his earlier error.”
Editor’s Note: In 1983, Chief Justice John Roberts, then Assistant Counsel to President Ronald Reagan, advised Reagan in a memo to ignore Wolff’s letter seeking Reagan’s help in freeing Wallenberg and to “dodge the Wallenberg issue” —despite Reagan’s initial directive to act to free Wallenberg.
It was not until 2005, during the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice Roberts that Wolff was contacted by E.J. Kessler, investigative reporter for The Jewish Forward, that he learned why he did not get a response from Reagan and why President Reagan did not use the law Wolff laid before him, citing the U.S. Hostages Act, to free Wallenberg. Until 2005, the Roberts memo had been buried in the Reagan Library.
(“Whatever Happened to Raoul Wallenberg?” is published by The Educational Publisher, of Columbus, Ohio. To order the book online for $24.95, visit Wallenberg.EduPublisher.com. Wolff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)